How to stop dogs digging in the garden - expert tips to save your lawn and flowerbeds

No matter how patient you are with your dog, garden digging can be infuriating. Here's what the experts recommend

Dog resting on grass
(Image credit: PDSA)

If any furry pawed friends are currently treating your garden like a digging site, you need to know how to stop dogs digging in garden so you can go back to enjoying your outdoor area without unwanted mess.

Dogs have a mind of their own when it comes to digging, and you might find that no matter how much you command your pup to stop, he or she carries on scurrying at the earth relentlessly. Dog friendly garden ideas can only go so far; you need to know how to stop dogs from digging in garden to be able to solve the matter once and for all. 

'Digging is a natural behaviour in dogs, going back to a time before domestication,' says Axel Lagercrantz, CEO, Pets4Homes. 'Canines would dig holes to bury their prey, meaning it could then be hidden and saved for later. This is why some dog owners today may notice their dogs burying their treats, which is an example of their instincts prompting them to save food.'

So, digging is a natural behaviour in dogs, but that still doesn't mean you want your dog to dig away and ruin your garden landscaping ideas. We've asked pet behaviour experts how to stop dogs digging in the garden, so you can change your dog's behaviour and save yourself a lot of hassle. 

Dog pulling up grass with mouth

(Image credit: ManyPets)

How to stop dogs digging in garden

'After spending hours perfecting your garden for summer, the last thing you want is your dog digging holes and ruining your flower beds,' says Victoria Kerr, Pet Nutritionist, Naturo. 'Mischievous digging can be frustrating but there are several things you can do to discourage this behaviour.' 

The methods in our guide are all expert-approved, and they will help significantly reduce - and eventually eliminate - the digging problem. Here's everything you need to know about how to stop dogs digging in the garden.

Headshot of vet with dog
Dr Emma Scales-Theobald

Dr Emma Scales-Theobald is a canine behaviour and nutrition consultant and is Pooch & Mutt’s canine behaviour expert. Dr Emma has a PhD in Veterinary Medicine and Science from the University of Surrey, specialising in canine behaviour, health and welfare. Additionally, she has an MSc in Animal Behaviour from University of Exeter and a BSc (Hons) Psychology with Human Biology, from University of Plymouth. She also works as a Research Fellow with vHive at University of Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine, researching Quality of Life in canine and feline osteoarthritis and other canine research.

1. Train the 'leave it' command

'When you see your dog start to dig, redirect their attention to something else, such as a really tasty treat,' says Dr. Emma Scales-Theobald, Pooch & Mutt. 'As your dog turns and takes a few steps away, give them the treat and say ‘leave it’, so they pair getting a treat with stopping what they’re doing and walking away.'

Your dog may already be well trained - or you might have recently bought a pup and you're still in the early stages of teaching them the ropes. Either way, if they are digging in the garden, practise the 'leave it' command as Dr. Emma describes, and it should start to discourage them from digging.

2. Distract them

Small white dog in garden with watering can in mouth

(Image credit: Tails.com)

You can also try distracting your doggie so that their attention is turned away from digging and redirected towards something else. 'Play a game with them such as fetch or chase, or give them something to keep themselves occupied, such as toys, a puzzle feeding toy or a long-lasting chew,' suggests Dr. Emma.

Though this isn't a long-term solution for how to stop dogs from digging in the garden, it's a good option for stopping the digging when it starts to happen.

3. Make sure they're getting enough exercise

'Some dog breeds require more exercise and playtime than others, and the first cause of digging is likely a combination of a lack of exercise and boredom,' says Dr. Nick Horniman MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and Founder, MyPetsVet. 'Dogs, especially younger puppies, crave activity and ways to work off their energy, so I would recommend physical activities like playing fetch, running and swimming.'  

If you think your dog's digging behaviour might be brought on by a lack of exercise, this should be top of your list to try. Take them for a walk and let them release some pent-up energy before you let them in the garden.

Woman and dog looking at each other
Carolyn Menteith

Carolyn is an accredited dog trainer and behaviourist specialising in companion dogs, puppies and rescue dogs, and is a member of the leading professional organisations, all of which promote positive, reward-based methods.

Qualifications and accreditations include:
Dip CABT, Full member of INTODogsABTC listed as an Accredited Animal Trainer, APDTKCAI, ICAN Accredited Behaviourist

4. Create cool areas in hot weather

Two dogs sat in shade on patio

(Image credit: PDSA)

'Weather can impact a dog’s behaviour,' says Carolyn Menteith, Dog Trainer and Behaviourist, tails.com. 'If temperatures are extremely warm and they have no place to retreat out of the heat or a place to cool down, you may find your dog digging holes in order to find shelter or some cool earth to lie in.'

With UK summers scorching and sizzling more than ever, the heat may be getting to your doggie. Knowing how often to water your garden in the heat will help keep your grass cooler, but encourage them to lie in the shade as well so they're less tempted to dig. Place cushions and toys in cooler areas and give them a treat when they lie there.

5. Use deterrents

Dog with tongue wagging on grass

(Image credit: Tails.com)

You can also encourage your dog to keep away from their favourite digging spots by placing deterrents. Use scents that are unfavourable with dogs like cayenne, citrus peel, vinegar, and fresh herbs. Place these is a small sac or drawstring bag so you don't have to create any mess in your garden.

'You can also place non-fragrant deterrents in the space, such as rocks, which will make the area less appealing to dogs, stopping them from digging,' suggests William Mitchell, Owner, Sutton Manor Nursery . You could even create aesthetic rock garden ideas, and strategically place these in your dog's favourite digging spots.

6. Get rid of other garden residents

Another effective way of knowing how to stop dogs digging in garden is to get rid of any other animals or insects that might be encouraging your dog to dig. Dogs are curious creatures, and they have a tendency to dig to see what wildlife is lurking beneath the grass. 

'Try using safe, non-toxic or humane ways of keeping other wildlife out of your garden or call a company that will do it for you,' says animal behaviourist Carolyn Menteith. 

You can learn how to kill ants nest in lawn if you've spotted this in your garden and your dog keeps digging around it. Or if it might be fuzzy moss on your grass that's encouraging your pup to scratch away at it, in which case you need to get clued up on how to get rid of moss on lawn.  

7. Amp up the scope of your outdoor furniture

If you're still struggling to get your dog to stop digging, consider upgrading your outdoor furniture so that they simply don't have as much space to dig. 'Your dog is unlikely to go on a digging spree if there's not a lot of room for it to dig,' says Steve Chilton, Garden Expert, LeisureBench. 'Maybe this is a good time to create that outdoor seating area you've always dreamed of?'

This may not be viable if you're working with small garden ideas, but even if you can't add more furniture, consider rearranging what you already have. Spread out the garden chairs, move the table so that it's next to the flowerbeds; do whatever you need to do to stop your dog from digging.

8. Create a designated digging area

Dog resting on grass

(Image credit: PDSA)

Lastly, if you've tried all the above steps and you're dog is still persistently digging, create a designated digging spot to contain the issue. This will at least keep the dog away from your flowerbeds and other areas of your garden you want to remain unspoiled. 

'Set up a sandpit (or similar) in this area - making sure whatever you use is safe and non-toxic - and fill it with treats and toys so it is the most interesting and rewarding place for your dog to dig,' says Carolyn from tails.com. 'Encourage them to dig here and make it a game you can join in with - so they are rewarded for digging in their own space.'

Now you know all the best ways how to stop dogs digging in the garden, you can go back to enjoying your garden without mounds of dirt spoiling the view!

FAQs

Do dogs outgrow digging?

Digging is a natural behaviour in dogs. Even if your dog doesn't dig in the garden, you may notice it scratching at floors, which comes from its instinct to either dig for prey or bury their food for later. 

'While dogs may not outgrow this inbuilt instinct to dig, you can reduce digging behaviour through training,' says Axel from Pets4Home. 'Although whether they completely stop digging depends on the dog and their own tendencies.'

Terriers, for example, are more inclined to dig, as are beagles. They can outgrow the behaviour if consistent measures and training are put in place, but be careful not to punish your dog for digging; it is a natural behaviour after all. 

'For those dogs who love to dig, or whose breed or type means that they are just wired that way, punishment is unfair, damages your relationship and is often unsuccessful,' says Carolyn. 'Having an appropriate outlet for this behaviour that you are both happy with, however, is often the perfect solution that allows the whole family to enjoy time in the garden.'

How do I stop my dog from digging when stressed?

Stressed out doggies are more likely to start digging in the garden, so take steps to make them comfortable and at ease. Make sure your dog is getting adequate exercise and playtime, as this will help keep their stress levels down.

'If digging continues, make sure that your dog has their own space, whether a dog bed or ‘den’, that they can go to when they are stressed,' says Axel. 'This offers a respite for dogs who might feel anxious or trapped, which may, in turn, help to reduce digging behaviour.'

If possible, try and identify what might be causing your dog's stress, so you can eliminate any contributing factors. 'Maybe you’ve moved house, or have building work going on - it’s likely something outside of your dog’s routine that has made them feel unsafe,' says Shauna. 'Try to remove that stress if possible, or reduce it by making sure your dog has a safe place to retreat to, and by sticking to our dog’s usual feed, play, and exercise routines.'

Katie Sims
Contributor

Katie Sims has been writing for Ideal Homes since spring 2022. She qualified from her Master’s in Media and Journalism in 2021 and has been writing freelance since. She has worked on Ideal Home’s ecommerce team where she researched the best home products on the market, and on the news team, researching the latest trends for feature pieces.