When our Border Collie Izzy first came into our lives she loved to dig holes. By holes, I mean she would dig to the center of the earth if we didn’t catch her in time! Just why Border Collies dig holes is something that I want to delve into in this article. And, I want to share some tips to help you stop your Border Collie from digging holes in your garden or yard!
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Why do Border Collies dig holes?
The most common reason why a Border Collie will dig holes in gardens or yards is typically down to boredom. Border Collies are accepted to be the smartest dog breed out there, so if you find that they are digging then it could be that they are under-stimulated. While this may seem simple, there can be a number of things that can cause boredom, including:
- Feeling like they don’t have a job to do (after all they’re working dogs)
- Being left alone for too long during the day
- Not having enough stimulating play options
Of course, there are also a number of other reasons why a Border Collie may dig holes. These include:
- Wanting to hide something that they think is valuable
- Wanting to dig down to uncover cooler earth on a hot day
- Wanting to investigate a smell, or uncover something that’s already buried
- They are simply curious to see what happens (I mean, these are Collie we’re talking about!)
To summarise, then, the reasons for Border Collie digging can be split into three categories: boredom, resource guarding, the ground itself.
Figuring out the reasons for your own Collie’s digging
If you find that your Border Collie is digging holes and want to stop this behaviour, then finding out the reasons why they dig is super important. A good way to narrow down the reasons if a reason doesn’t jump out at you is to go through a process of elimination.
For us, the easiest thing to eliminate as a reason is boredom.
What we did first is invest in lots of stimulating toys for our Border Collie to play with while we were out of the house (Izzy loves this puzzle toy btw). Then, we made sure to up our game and made sure to introduce lots of different things to keep our Collie entertained and feeling like she had a job to do.
Finally, I (Suzie) was fortunate enough to up the frequency with which I worked from home, which meant that Izzy wasn’t left alone at all during the day (previously, she was only left alone for a maximum of four hours once or twice a week with her Collie sister for company, but still).
After doing all of these things, we still caught Izzy digging holes at every opportunity! While annoying, we at least had narrowed down the reasons for the digging, and eventually figured out that she was digging to hide things! (More on that below)
If you’re at a loss about what the reasons for your Border Collie’s digging are, then below are some tips to help you prevent digging behaviour.
Stopping Border Collies from Digging
As already mentioned, there are a few reasons why Border Collies like to dig holes outdoors. That said, they can be roughly split into three categories. What follows are some tips about things you could try to prevent hole digging for each reason. That said, it’s probably worth reading across all three as the right solution for you might be a mix-and-match approach.
Digging from boredom
If you suspect that your Collie is digging holes from boredom, then please don’t worry. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad owner! Border Collies are just very curious dogs, so it just means that the things you’ve been doing to stimulate them to date have just got a little boring.
The easiest thing to do to prevent boredom is to switch up your routines and the activities that you do with your Border Collie. This could be as easy as varying your walking routes, or adding in a game of fetch mid-way through an on-leash walk.
It could also mean investing in extra puzzle-toys and foraging snuffle mats to encourage an “work to eat” mentality that is both mentally stimulating and rewarding. We’ve got plenty more ideas in this article about creative ways to entertain your Border Collie.
Once your upped your game in terms of entertainment and variety, it’s then time to consider the amount of exercise your Border Collie is getting.
As a rule, around 2 hours of exercise a day is a good amount for a Border Collie (although, this varies depending on how easy or hard the exercise actually is). And, it’s important to remember that exercise doesn’t have to mean either a walk or a game of fetch. It can mean agility, or – a personal favourite – playing hide and seek with a toy at the park.
If you’re finding it hard to find the time to provide this exercise, then you may want to consider jogging with your Collie and combine your fitness activities with theres! Alternatively, read more about how much exercise they need here.
Finally, the last thing you’ll want to look at is the amount of time your Border Collie is left alone for. This is because they could be digging because of separation anxiety – particularly if you have a dog flap that gives them easy access to your garden. If you suspect that it is separation anxiety – then go read our article about it – as that’s a whole other topic.
If though, you know that your Border Collie is left alone for a period of time and you can’t switch up your work-life to spend more time with them, then it’s worth thinking about using a dog walking service during the day. This is less about the exercise – much more about having some company and stimulation.
Once you’re sure that your routines with your Border Collie haven’t gone stale, and you’re exercising them enough, you should see a reduction in the amount of digging that they do.
If not, it’s time to move on to the next method to stop Border Collie digging.
Digging for resource guarding
As mentioned above, we figured out that our Border Collie was primarily digging to hide things!
Weirdly, the only way we actually figured this out was to scratch around in the holes ourselves. Then we found one of Matt’s socks, a chew stick, and a very muddy snuggle toy!
What’s odd is that Izzy seemed to sense when we were watching her, so we never actually caught her in the act of hiding!
Of course, her being a rescue dog meant that there were a hundred and one reasons for her resource guarding (and no, it wasn’t just about digging holes). We put in a huge amount of work to correct this behaviour across the board, which probably warrant’s a hole separate article.
That said, we did make one or two changes that meant she stopped digging quite quickly (although we still had to address the wider issue).
First, we made sure to monitor Izzy’s time in the garden, and, just as with toilet training a Border Collie, we set up a pen to zone off an area of the garden. This made it a lot easier to monitor what she was doing. Flexible fencing is also a decent option if the shape of a pen doesn’t work for you.
Then, with the monitoring in place, we simply started rewarding her for coming straight inside. What this looked like in practice was some high pitched praise, her favourite treats and lots of stroking.
After about three weeks of doing this, Izzy absolutely *loved* the feeling of coming back inside, so didn’t try to wander down the garden on a mission.
Of course, getting her to spend less time sniffing in the garden was a quick solution, but it didn’t solve the underlying reasons for her feeling like she wanted to guard resources.
As I said, that’s probably a whole other article to go into, but in essence, what we did was fix the resource guarding issue by making sure that things like toys were always rotated, ensuring that our other Collie Mila remembered to share, and switching Izzy to quality dry food that could be left out all day so there was a feeling of “abundance” at all times. We coated this all with lots of positive praise and after about three months (yes, it’s hard work) the resource guarding became so minimal that it ceased to be an issue.
Digging because of the ground itself
The other category for why Border Collies may dig in the garden is because of the ground itself. This could be because there’s some super interesting smells, there’s something already buried in a certain spot, or because it’s hot and the earth is slightly cooler.
Of course, if you find that your Border Collie is digging to cool down then there’s a simple solution to this – buy them a doggie cooling mat and keep them in the shade or inside during the hottest spells of the day!
If you find that your Border Collie is digging in a certain spot it could be because there’s something buried underneath. This could be treasure… or, more likely, a dead pet of some sort buried by a previous owner. Or, even, a particularly smelly plant root.
Whatever it is, the best thing to do is get your shovel out and do a bit of digging yourself. Of course, this isn’t great if you’re a little squeamish so make sure someone is on hand who’s not afraid of the unknown!
If you find the thing that’s buried and remove it, don’t fill up the hole right away – let it air out and give time for the smell to go away. Also, bring your Collie over to the spot once the thing is removed and let them sniff around. This should help to satisfy their curiosity without them bringing in the remains of a long-dead hamster!
Finally, if you see that your Collie is sniffing and scratching at the ground in lots of different places, it could be because there’s a strong scent of another animal in the garden.
In the UK, this is most likely to be a fox, who, while cute, seems to set our Collie’s spider senses tingling even if they are way out in the fields behind our garden.
In the US and Canada, well, the possibilities are much larger. The best cure for this reason for garden digging is prevention. By this, I mean making sure that your garden is secure enough to prevent unwanted guests at night.
This could mean investing in better fencing, or plugging up some holes in existing hedges. It could also mean getting bespoke products that put off foxes, or other animals, from coming into your garden. Be careful with this last one though, particularly if the products are scent based, as they could also impact on your Collie!
Once you’ve put prevention measures in place, then it’s time to dilute the smells. Regularly watering the areas that seem to present the most interesting smells should help to get rid of their attractiveness quite quickly!
Bonus tips to prevent Border Collie digging
While I’ve delved into some specific things you can do to prevent specific reasons for Border Collie digging, sometimes you’ll need some extra ammunition! Here are some quick bonus tips that may be of help in your battle to prevent unwanted doggie digging.
- Invest in some flexible doggy fencing to zone off your garden to make it easier to monitor your Border Collie’s movements (this is especially useful for puppies!)
- Reward your Collie consistently for coming back into the house when called (this will make coming inside much more appealing than digging holes)
- Ensure that there are some toys and playthings available in the garden. This could be anything from agility hurdles, to chew sticks. This will help you to correct digging behaviours positively by showing your Collie what is and isn’t an acceptable activity!
- If you’ve got large garden borders filled with plants, consider planting some evergreens in the bare patches to make digging a little less attractive.
Hopefully this article has provided you with lots of tips and things to think about to help you stop your Border Collie from digging holes in your garden. These are things that have either worked for us as Border Collie owners, or we know would work. That said, they may not work for you or your Collie as everyone (and every dog) is different! If you’re unable to solve the issue of stopping your Collie from digging, then it may be worth speaking to a dog behaviourist. These are people who will come to your house, evaluate your dog, and suggest specific recommendations that are right for you!
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