Digging is one of the most common ways dogs escape from the yard. It can be a hard behavior to stop because digging is a natural, instinctual behavior for dogs.
Dogs dig for a number of reasons:
- to bury food and bones.
- to make a cool place to lie down.
- when they smell or hear small prey animals under the earth.
- when they want to roll around in the dirt.
- to make a den or whelping area in the wild.
Reasons why dogs dig and escape
Digging is an extremely common behavior. Some breeds of dogs have even been developed and encouraged to dig such as some of the Terrier breeds. They were developed to dig and hunt rats and other vermin, or to “go to ground” after fox.
Dachshunds were bred to dig and go underground to fight fierce badgers. If you have a Terrier or a Dachshund, then stopping digging behavior can be even more difficult than with other dogs.
If you do have a dog who digs his way under the fence, he could hang around your yard instead of heading for the hills or taking a tour of the neighborhood. Consider yourself lucky. Some breeds are more inclined to roam once they have escaped from home. If you have a Sporting breed or a Sighthound, for example, you will probably find yourself chasing your dog for quite a while.
Many of these dogs have lots of energy and they love to run. When they get the chance to get out of a fenced yard they really live it up, at least for a while. Even some of the Scent hound breeds, such as the little Beagle, can be hard to bring home if they catch the scent of something interesting and begin following their nose. A Beagle chasing a rabbit can end up a long way from home.
All of this information is not to scare you but to let you know that dogs get out of the yard and run around for lots of different reasons. Most of the time a dog is having fun when he gets out, though some dogs can get out of a yard because they are frightened of fireworks or other loud noises.
Stopping digging in the yard
If your dog is digging holes in the yard there are a number of ways you can try to stop the behavior. Discouraging digging in general will often stop the behavior before your dog starts digging under fences. It can prevent the behavior from becoming a determined habit.
Holes in the yard are both unsightly and they can be dangerous if you step in one and fall or twist an ankle. If your dog is digging holes to bury toys or bones, or just for fun, the easiest thing to do is fill them back in with soil. However, this won’t stop your dog from digging them up again or digging new holes.
You can also fill them in with small pebbles which are easy to buy at any hardware or home store. Dogs don’t like the feel of the pebbles on their paws and they won’t dig there again. Or, you can fill in the hole with soil and cover it with sod or grass seed. Then, place a layer of chicken wire over it. The chicken wire is invisible from a few feet away and it will also keep your dog from digging there.
All you need are some inexpensive wire cutters to cut the chicken wire and a few ground stakes to hold the wire in place.
Some people recommend filling holes with dog poop. This might discourage your dog from digging in the hole but it’s not really a good way to dispose of dog poop. And, if your dog has any inclination toward eating feces, this will only encourage him.
Another method for stopping digging in the yard is using sprinklers. The advantage of using this method is that it can stop your dog from starting new holes, too. You will need to use a manual sprinkler system so you can turn it on and off yourself when you wish.
You will also need to watch your dog when he’s outside. When you observe your dog starting to dig somewhere, turn the sprinklers on so he gets wet. This will deter most dogs from digging. Of course, some dogs enjoy playing in the water from the sprinklers, so it doesn’t work for every dog. If you can’t be home to watch your dog when he’s outside, this method won’t work.
Many dogs will stop digging if you increase their overall exercise. They dig because they are bored so if you get them out for a good run or take them for longer walks every day, they are less likely to be bored. They will be less likely to look for “interesting” things to do in the yard, like digging.
Remember that just because your dog has a fenced backyard does not mean that he gets a lot of exercise. Many dogs do not self-exercise. They need their owner to encourage them to get more exercise.
Another way to discourage inappropriate digging is by making a sandbox for your dog. This is the same kind of sandbox that children play in, but it’s dedicated for your dog’s use. You can use wooden timbers to set up the sides of the box and then fill it with children’s play sand.
You could also use a hard plastic kiddie pool as a sandbox. Place some of your dog’s favorite toys in it and half-bury them. Call your dog over and start digging with him to show him that it’s okay for him to dig there. If your dog has his own place to dig, it can stop him from digging in places where he shouldn’t dig.
Digging under fences
If your dog is digging under fences to escape, you can use some of these same methods to stop the behavior. Start by checking your fence thoroughly and finding out where your dog is getting out.
Chances are, your dog has found a low place along the bottom of the fence, or a soft spot in the ground where it’s easy to dig.
You can “patch” these places by filling them in with marble chips or pebbles from your local hardware or home store and then covering the entire area with chicken wire. Chicken wire is invisible from a few feet away so your neighbors won’t see it, but your dog won’t like the feel of it on his paws and he will leave the area alone. It’s easy to attach the chicken wire to your fence with garden twist ties.
For a longer term solution, you can plant hedges or roses along the fence where your dog is getting out to keep him away. Roses have the added benefit of having thorns which are a good deterrent to dogs who like to get too close to the fence.
If you can’t find the place where your dog is getting out, check for bushes and small trees along the fence line. They can sometimes make places in the fence where a dog can wiggle under or through.
Patching the fence is a short-term solution. If you would like to make your fence dog-proof there are other things you can do.
You can dig a trench around your entire fence and add fencing below the current fence line. This will stop most dogs from getting out. If your current fence is 36 inches tall (a common fence height), you could sink another 12 inches of fence below the fence line. This can be an expensive project and it is easier to do it before you put up a fence, but it will stop a dog from digging under the fence.
You could also dig a trench along your fence line and pour in concrete. This will stop digging, but your dog might still be able to lift up the bottom of the fence unless you are careful to set the bottom of the fence into the concrete.
Another way to stop your dog from escaping from your yard is to use an electronic or wireless fence. With this kind of fence, you can install a buried cable around your property (this can be done professionally or you can do it yourself). Your dog wears a collar with a receiver. The cable emits a frequency that will shock your dog if he gets too close to the fence.
Dogs are trained about the cable and the property boundaries, so, they know they are not supposed to go near them. Most of these systems will give your dog a warning tone before they shock your dog. Wireless systems are highly effective and do keep dogs in the yard.
The main drawback is that they don’t keep any other animals (or people) out of your yard. However, you can always use them in conjunction with a traditional fence if you like. If you use a wireless system it is important to remember to replace the batteries on the collar as necessary.