Dog Behaviours Explained: Digging

Just a quick thought for the day. You may have at some point wondered why your dog digs in the garden (or neighbour’s flower bed) and buries her toys. It’s a funny, characteristic habit of our canine cousins and so it’s interesting to have an idea of what might be going on in your furry friend’s mind when they do it.

Wolves would naturally dig to cover and protect any excess food, as leaving it out in the open would invite rivals to eat it – or worse still, attract new competitors and predators through the smell alone. When your dog buries their new bone or favourite toy, it could be a throwback to this wolfy survival instinct.

All dogs will dig for one reason or another, with some being more prolific burrowers than others (such as the terrier trying to get down a rabbit hole!). Larger, colder climate dogs with thick coats such as huskies and malamutes are more likely to dig in order to cool down, or to create a hollow in which to rest or sleep.

You will have undoubtedly noticed that your dog digs with her front feet whilst throwing the soil under and behind her, but fills the hole with her nose. If you see your dog pushing her bowl away with her nose after she eats, this could be part of the “digging ritual” and may indicate that she is being fed too much (as she’s saving some for later).

If you’re a keen gardener, you might also have experienced the frustration of discovering that your dog has dug up your beautifully planted flower bed, but try not to be too upset – the variety of scents emanating from the freshly disturbed earth can just be too much for the canine nose! It’s best to keep a separate spot for the determined digger, where they can hide their bones and toys to their heart’s content, whilst your tulips are allowed to flourish in peace.

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14 comments

  1. Please could you explain why my dog chases wheeled vehicles of all shapes & sizes including cycles. She’s not aggressive towards the vehicle!

    1. She is displaying prey drive behaviour which is instinctive in carnivores who need to seek/pursue/capture/eat the animal they are focussed on. This chase instinct is triggered by fast movements and various dog types will focus on one or more parts of this prey drive. ie greyhounds chase more and terriers grab and bite more. I am glad she is not aggressive at the end but please do keep an eye on her of course as she runs the risk of being run over.
      All the best, Andrew

  2. Very interesting and informative article. Helped to explain my JRT’s habit of burying his chews in my flower planters. Rather annoying but when I see him and catch his attention I can’t help but laugh at him. He looks at me with potting compost all over his face and paws. I must try and get a photo of it as it is so funny.

  3. Good info. Can anyone explain why our beagle digs patches in the garden and chews the roots of the grass. She’s 15 and has done it for years!!!!! Happy husband; not xx

  4. I gave my labrador a new soft toy pheasant for her birthday, she had showed interest in playing with a similar toy which belonged to my friends dog. Immediately she took it from me she went into the garden and obviously buried it, as she returned with a very muddy nose and no toy. This was six months ago, never seen it since.

  5. We have a lovely Cocker Spaniel that loves to go on his chain in the garden and dig holes to bury toys and bones . He also gets a bit fruity when on his chain and wonder why this should be . Any thought on this .

    1. Hi Frank,
      I will assume by ‘fruity’ you mean a bit more protective of his patch around the chain 🙂
      It seems likely he was being ‘resource guarding’, best to go back to basics and go on walks teaching basic obedience with positive rewards. Also good to ensure you can recall your Cocker if he is off lead. Alternatively might be worth contacting a dog behaviourist as it is important to cut this behaviour early. This is assuming I understood the definition of fruity of course 🙂 All the best Andrew

  6. I once planted 30 Dutch Iris, but only got a couple of blooms as my poodle/something cross dug them up time after time. I went into the garden one day to find her sitting in the hole she had made, surrounded by bits of Iris. I eventually persuaded her out of the hole and discovered next door’s puppy at the bottom, none the worse for being sat on.

    Many years and three dogs later, I had to cover a part of the garden in broken slabs, like a strange crazy paving as every time I left the new terrier pup outside, all I could see was her tail wagging while she was face first in a hole. Her predecessors had been buried there one and fouryears earlier.

  7. My Maltese terrier, digs holes and buries treats all the time. He also digs and lays in the holes out of the way, especially in summer months.
    The annoying thing is though, he does the same ‘digging’ at the carpets and rugs in the house. Some he has ruined by pulling the woollen threads loose. Then after a mad ten minutes doing this he lays on them, as though he has built a nest. He is eleven now, and it seems to be getting more and more frequent.

  8. My Maltese bitch, now nearing 15 years old, refuses to do a pee in the garden at night before sleeping. Waiting for 20 mins+ and putting her back does not help. This results in her waking at 4 a.m., barking to go out, but then refusing to do any thing again in the garden. I have put down puppy pads, sprayed newspaper, caught her pee and spread it in a specific garden area loved and used by my other Maltese dog. However, no luck and lots of very early mornings for me. She has ‘pooed’ in the living room this morning. Any ideas gratefully accepted, please.

  9. My dog is a Romanian rescue dog, about 3 years old – at first she was very nervous and wary of everyone, men particularly, and other dogs, but I am gradually coaxing her out of her nervousness. However, she hates lorries, vans, bicycles and people wearing hi-viz jackets, and if we are out walking when one of these passes, she rears up, twists round on her lead and barks furiously. I am afraid a cyclist may fall off in fright. How can I stop this? She also buries crusts of bread left out for the birds, which I understand – and I have given up on having an immaculate garden as long as she can run around and have fun! I do not know her history, except that I can tell from her behaviour, particularly when I first got her, that she has been beaten and ill treated. I have only had her 8 weeks but she trusts me now and has a loving home.

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