Skip to content

Why do dogs dig?

Digging is a common behaviour in dogs, but did you know there are many reasons why dogs dig? As a natural, instinctive behaviour, dogs should be afforded opportunities to dig, and digging can usually be accommodated for without creating any inconvenience to owners. For some dogs, however, digging can be a sign of underlying frustration or distress. Understanding the difference can be the key to your dog’s wellbeing.

As with all behaviours, your dog’s digging requires your understanding and management to ensure his or her wellbeing. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour or if their digging appears excessive or related to underlying distress, seeking veterinary attention is the best approach. Your veterinarian can screen for any health problems, advise you about behavioural issues and refer you to a trainer or veterinary behaviourist as needed.

Read on to learn more about why dogs may dig and how you can help them.


Digging is a normal behaviour in dogs, although some dig more than others. Even if your dog doesn’t leave great holes in the yard, they will most likely dig up anything they can smell, such as buried cat faeces or blood and bone fertiliser (which if ingested can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs, so it is best avoided in areas dogs can access). And of course we are all familiar with the way dogs ‘dig’ their bedding before lying down.


Digging is more common in dogs such as terriers or small hound breeds such as Dachshunds, whose digging instincts have been intensified by selective breeding to optimise their ability to hunt rodents or flush out prey from burrows. These dogs use their acute senses of hearing and smell to detect underground prey, even including large insects. If you notice your dog always digs in one particular area, appears highly excited, barks or puts their nose into the ground, it’s most likely their digging is for hunting purposes! Dogs can become obsessed with hunting, but this can be managed by supervising them in the yard and humanely controlling rodents (prey) while avoiding any traps or pesticides that could harm your dog.

Burying treasure

Some dogs dig to bury and later retrieve their treasures, whether these are bones, other food items or prized toys. If your dog forgets where they have left their stash and then goes on a frantic search that creates holes everywhere, providing a designated digging area is a good solution.

Comfort and protection

Dogs are inventive and resourceful, and they may dig a hole to cool themselves in the soil in hot weather or to seek protection from the cold, wet or wind, especially if they are left outside without adequate shelter. The drive for this behaviour can be minimised if dogs are kept indoors in extreme weather, and provided with access to fresh water and a safe outdoor shelter that protects them from the elements, including cool shady spots for when it is hot. Even so, your dog may still like to curl up or lounge in a hole in the ground! In this case, you can try providing an ‘approved digging area’ that is in an area protected from the elements.


Dogs who are left outside for long periods without company, exercise or mental stimulation often resort to digging to relieve boredom and work off excess energy. To prevent this situation, it’s important to ensure a dog’s needs are being met by daily exercise, company, games and training sessions and by having chew toys such as food-filled Kongs in the yard for stimulation.

Trying to escape

Dogs who dig along the fence line may be attempting to escape. If this is to find a mate, this could be helped by having them desexed. However, digging to escape is often due to separation anxiety if dogs are left alone for long periods, which may also be accompanied by excessive barking and destructive behaviour. Dogs are social animals and are not suited to being left alone for extended periods. Ways to avoid this include doggy day care, a dog minder or a dog walker to help break up the long periods you might be away from your furry friend. It’s important to understand that dogs with separation anxiety are very distressed, so owners are best advised to seek veterinary advice.

Digging is a natural and enjoyable behaviour for dogs, so the best approach is to provide your dog with opportunities to dig in an area that is acceptable for you. Provide your dog with an 'acceptable digging area', which could be a fenced area with a suitable substrate where you can bury your dog’s food treats, chews, balls or toys. Using positive reinforcement such as treats and praise when your dog digs in their specially approved area will keep them coming back! If this is not possible where you live, outdoor supervision with alternative activities such as games or training can help to prevent problematic digging.

Dogs should never be punished for acting on a natural instinct. To avoid damage to any special garden areas, limit access to these areas (at least temporarily while your dog is learning to use their 'acceptable digging area') by placing rocks or fencing around it.

While behavioural issues may not be covered by pet insurance, you may wish to consider a policy in case your dog suffers an injury or illness, to cover eligible vet bills. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first year’s premiums will go towards supporting the RSPCA.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.