Problematic behaviors can be loosely divided into two groups. The first, are variants of normal behavior that can be annoying to families, but can respond well to management and understanding. The second set of behaviors that are behaviors that are distressing and dangerous to dogs and humans. Both of these sets of concerns can result in damage to the human animal bond and lead to the rehoming, or relinquishment of pets. The following are examples of “normal” behaviors that dogs exhibit that can managed, and how to help manage these behaviors.


Most dogs like to dig, although some dogs dig more than others. It is when dogs “dig to much” that it serves as a problem or frustration to owners.

Why do dogs dig?

  • To aerosolize existing scent
  • To leave a scent of their own
  • Objects they find while digging are interesting or they “play back” with them (ie. Tree roots)
  • To search for an animal they hear or smell
  • Because they are curious and no one is interacting with them
  • Because they are hot and are trying to find a cool place to lay down.
  • To extricate something to chew or eat (truffles, old bones)

Roles for olfaction (smell)

  • When dogs dig they aerosolize scent that may have been hidden
  • Most of the information dogs obtain from their physical surroundings is through their sense of smell. This is likely why dogs some times scratch before or after they eliminate to help learn about their environment. A dog’s sense of smell can be equated to currency.

Hidden objects and play

When a dogs dig the find objects. They may find an object, like a toy or bone that they previously buried, or a tree root, bulbs, pr other surprises. These are all objects that enhance the dogs intellectual environment. For example a dog digs, finds a tree roots and they may “play back”. People tire relatively quickly vs a tree root. The tree root will sit and tug back longer than a person will.

Auditory cues

Dogs may also dig in response to something they here. Often they may here or smell another critter. For example moles, voles, mice, or rabbits may burrow underground to some extent. If the dog sniffs, listens, and paws a bit then moves on to another area and repeats it is likely they may hear something underground that we as people cannot hear.

Intellectual Curiosity

Dogs often dig just because they are curious. Dogs are very social, curious, and active and may just dig because they want to explore their environment. Many of these dogs if provided more interaction or stimulation through their environment may stop digging. For example, dogs that have a playmate (i.e. another dog), or go to an interactive day care may stop digging.   

How can we help meet the digger’s needs?

  • Fill a sturdy kid’s pool with dirt and hide treats/ toys and allow the dog to dig in that area.
  • Fill a sturdy kid’s pool with water, and float toys. We can add toys with frozen foods or “food- sickles” to help engage the dog. This especially helpful in hot weather
  • Some new food toys incorporate food into a puzzle type toy. (Roll A Treat Ball)
  • For dogs that dig for thermoregulation providing other means to help control temperature like fans, pools, or a kiddie pool may help resolve digging.

Do some breeds dig more than others?

While any dog can dig, some seem to be more excited about digging than others. Jack Russel terriers, rat terriers, and other similar breeds have been bred to hunt earth dwelling creatures. This has been imprinted genetically.

Written by Dr. Matt Bauer

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