Seeing your dog dig a hole and then lay in it may seem bizarre, but it is more common than you may think. Equally, there is a reason why they do it. But why is this? Why would a dog feel the need to and is it something you should look to stop? I spent some time researching to find out exactly what this behavior is all about.
So, why do dogs dig holes and lay in them? Dogs generally dig holes and lay in them to feel better or ease discomfort. It is usually because they are too hot, or too cold, and either want to cool down, or warm up. Otherwise it may be that they are stressed and want to rest in a safer, more secure area underground.
There are many reasons why a dog digs holes; but the specific act of laying in them is an interesting one.
Besides, some breeds are more keen to dig than others. It has been an important trait for many hunting breeds for generations.
In fact, some breeds even have developed front paws to assist them in the process. The Dachshund for instance, who was specifically bred to burrow and catch badgers.
Have you ever seen their front legs; cute but big, broad and well-arched.
Nevertheless, you may not have a Dachshund but still may notice it in another breed.
Let us now take a closer look at the specifics involved with digging and laying before we turn to other reasons a dog will dig.
We will also be looking at whether you should let them and how to safely and effectively stop them if it is a concern for you, your property, and your families safety.
Why Do Dogs Dig Holes Then Lay In Them?
The two main reasons why a dog will dig a hole and then lay in them is to adjust their body temperature and/or to feel secure in a safe place.
Let us now take a closer look at each one:
Adjust Body Temperature
Whether it is too hot or too cold, a dog can use the ground to regulate their body temperature.
If its a warm summers day, your dog may be digging to access the cooler dirt down below.
From there, getting in and laying on top of this dirt is much more comfortable than the remaining hot ground. While also helping to cool their underbelly.
We must consider that dogs do not sweat like us humans. Their sweat glands are mostly on the pads of their feet and on their nose – areas with little fur.
As such, with few areas of body-cooling sweat glands, dogs have to consider other mechanisms and opportunities to keep cool.
The ground can be one of them!
On a cold winters day, digging is most likely to be in an area where there is sun.
Feel Safe And Secure
Dogs are pack animals by nature, and long before they were domesticated lived in big groups.
As part of this they would sleep together, usually in a secluded den (or even a holes dug into the ground) that was more secure and safe.
These places helped the dogs to feel protected from any potential intruders, whilst also reducing their exposure to the elements to keep them warm.
So, a dog may definitely be digging and laying in a hole if they are stressed. Or, want to create a safe place to rest.
Other Reasons A Dog Digs
We’ve already looked at digging as a means of temperature regulation and for security, but why else would a dog want to dig?
Its important to learn of these different motivations to ensure you can identify the cause, and take proactive measures to limit them if it does become a problem.
The other main reasons include:
- To flush out prey or dig for rodents/small animals – this is especially true for some breeds, like Terriers.
- To get closer to a smell or sound – which may be coming from something dug underground or even a small animal such as a mole.
- When nesting – common for female pregnant dogs.
- Bury and retrieve bones and other concealed possessions.
- In an attempt to escape – to get to something/other animals outside of a property,
- Out of boredom or nervousness – such as during separation anxiety or when they have been left alone for too long.
Why Is My Dog Trying To Dig In The House?
If your dog is trying to dig in the house, it is likely due to one of five different reasons: in an attempt to get more comfortable, out of instinct, due to boredom, to uncover a smell, or in an attempt to hide a toy or a prized possession.
Either way, a dog digging inside can become a very troublesome, destructive and persistent behavior.
It is something that will need to be addressed to protect your home and your furniture.
Training your dog to stay off the furniture, purchasing them a separate dog bed to sleep, keeping them active and mentally stimulated and even cage training are all potential resolutions.
Should I Let My Dog Dig?
Whether you should let your dog dig will depend mostly on where they are digging, why, and how destructive the behavior is.
For instance, if your dog is digging in a particular and quiet area of your yard, it may not be too much of a concern.
However, if it is somewhere a lot more social, or is happening all too often, it could become dangerous or a real issue.
This is especially true if you have guests over or younger children whom can trip over and really hurt themselves.
Its important to remember that dogs dig instinctively; its a part of their nature and something you can never really truly ‘stop’.
However, you can certainly discourage it and proactively take measures to prevent it from happening as often, or in particular places.
Here are some practical tips to stop your dog digging:
- Encourage your dog to come inside when playtime has finished
- Do not leave them outside alone for too long or too often
- Give your dog sufficient attention and ensure they are sufficiently stimulated both mentally and physically
- Help your dog better to regulate their body temperature by either getting them a doggy coat, or an insulated dog house for them to access in the winter. In the summer, provide them with shade, or a small paddling pool for them to cool off in.
- Consider getting your dog a bed with a raised edge, to help them feel more secure when lying down and to add a sense of security – like they would get from a hole.
Either way, the first step of the process is to determine the underlying cause.
Only then can you really reduce your dogs motivation to dig, as opposed to simply redirecting it to another location or causing new behavioral problems such as chewing, excessive barking/whining, or attempting to escape.
You may even want to consider allowing your dog an allowable digging area, that has boundaries and is considered separate to the rest of your yard.
You can even add softer dirt to this location and then bury food, toys or other items for your dog to dig up. Start with the items higher to the surface and then over time dig them deeper.
This will entice your dog to the new, designated area and away from the rest of your property!
Not ideal but definitely a workaround.
Other than this your only other real options are supervision and distraction; but these will only work while you are present.
Do Dogs Dig Holes When They Are About To Die?
Dogs do dig holes and lay in them when they are about to die; although they do not know they are dying.
Instead, this act is a means of protecting themselves in the moment, and as a means of giving themselves the best chances of survival.
Dogs isolate themselves and will try to conceal themselves when they are injured or in pain.
This is why so many dogs die on their own, away from the owners. As sad as it may be to discover.
Its all part of their instinct; from their former years as wild dogs who needed to keep themselves safe from intruders and predators.
Besides a weak dog is not really capable of fighting back – making them an easy target.
Hiding is therefore a sick dogs only real way of staying safe and concealed.
They’ll even do this despite all of the care you may have given a dog over the course of their lifetime.
Older dogs, and those with declining health, are much more likely to do this than younger, more fit dogs.
But, the tell-tale signs are that they will wander off or find somewhere particularly private.
Otherwise, they may need to dig nearby as that’s as far away as they could physically get.
So long as you are taking your dog to the vets, getting regular screenings and are aware of any illnesses or injuries, then this should not generally be a concern for you as an owner.
If however, you have an older dog who is suffering with a particular ailment or condition, it is certainly something to be aware of.
Dogs can be really funny at times.
Laying in a large hole that they have just dug is just one example.
It may seem strange and almost random, but there is certainly method in this behaviour.
For the most part it should be nothing to worry about; your dog got a little cold or a little too hot.
They are simply responding to their environment, using an instinct they have developed over generations.
You should find that when the climate changes they may naturally stop.
But do remain vigilant, supervise and monitor your dog.
Try to identify why they may be digging and do all you can to give them a safe, comfortable environment.
While digging can never truly be stopped outright, you can do a lot to minimize where your dog digs or how often.
If your dog is showing any signs of illness or discomfort, or they are older, be sure to liaise with your vet. Dogs do dig when they are about to die; even if they do not yet know it.
I couldn’t finish off on this sentiment.
So, I would like to leave you with this instead.
Remember; all dogs dig.
Its what they do.
The trick is to find out why.
Only then, can you get a better understanding into the thought process of your dog; and take any measures to properly stop it!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.