We Like: Garden Tip—A Digging Pit For Your Dog

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It’s warmed up enough here in the Pacific NW that I can work in the garden and I was reminded how much Saffron loves her digging pit.  Rather than fight her urge to dig, I redirected her to a dedicated space for digging.  She’s happy and I’m happy!

Several years ago, in a moment of insanity, I agreed to be part of a garden tour.  So all Summer and Fall we worked on the yard.  I planted hundreds of bulbs, divided perennials, moved plants around like you move furniture, and prepped raised beds for vegetables.  Then Winter came and we waited for Spring to see how it looked.

Next, we adopted our dog Saffron who didn’t know that a flower bed was different from a lawn or that the great smelling compost & manure on the veggie beds wasn’t for her to snack on or that all that yard wasn’t for her to dig a bunch of nice holes in. We had months to go before the garden tour and I needed to keep things looking nice, so I had a lot of incentive to quickly teach Saffron what she could and couldn’t do.  To top it off, Saffron had a lot off fear issues and was overly submissive, so repeatedly scolding her was out of the question and who wants to spend all their time saying “No!” to their dog anyway.

I think dogs need to be dogs and it’s asking a lot to expect them to act like they’re not.  Dogs like to dig and Saffron was making it pretty clear that she liked to dig too and make burrows or nests in our lawn for herself.  Given that she spent her puppyhood alone as a stray on a Reservation, I’m sure she dug burrows to keep herself warm and to feel protected.  I didn’t want to take that away from her, but I could get her to dig in a suitable place that didn’t wreck the yard.

I’d read about giving your dog a specific area where it’s okay for her to dig, which sounded like a great idea.  It’s kind of like a sand box for dogs.  Here’s what I did for digging pit success:

  1. I picked an unobtrusive corner of our yard that got sun in the morning and shade in the late afternoon.
  2. As I prepared the area, I called Saffron over and told her in a happy voice how cool this was going to be so she’d get interested and excited.  I kept repeating the words “digging” & “dig” so she would learn them and associate them with her pit.
  3. I put in a simple border made from garden edging from Home Depot to define the space.  Dogs are very visual and if you teach them, they can understand borders and barriers.
  4. Saffron is about the size of a large Border Collie and her pit is about 3 x 4ft. and 2.5ft deep.  I would make it 4 x 4ft. if I had more room.
  5. Then I started digging in the “pit” with a shovel to loosen the dirt.
  6. I decided to add some sand to the existing dirt so she wouldn’t get terribly dirty from soil sticking to her paws and fur.
  7. Next, while Saffron was watching, I buried some new cheap toys, a rawhide chew, and a large treat like a Greenie that sand wouldn’t stick to.
  8. Lastly, I pointed to the pit and said “Get it! Dig!” and praised her for getting in.  She was so timid she needed some encouragement from me, so I dug with a hand trowel and cheered her on.  She got it and had a blast.

Anytime I caught Saffron digging in an inappropriate place, I redirected her to her digging pit.  And more importantly, anytime I saw her in the pit—even if she was just lying down—I praised her.  I reinforced digging in the pit every few days by digging in it with a shovel and burying things while she watched.  She started learning that good things happened when she was in her pit.

Saffron totally gets her digging pit now.  She digs in it when she’s playing with us because she’s excited, she digs in it when she needs to release stress like after a walk in strong, scary wind, she digs in it and roots around when she smells something interesting, and she digs lovely, cool nests to lie in and take it easy while we’re doing yard work.  Every now and then, I bury something interesting in her pit for her to find just to keep her interested.  She still occasionally digs in places I don’t want her to, but very rarely.  And if she does, I just remind her of her digging pit.  Yea!

7 thoughts on “We Like: Garden Tip—A Digging Pit For Your Dog

  1. I am wondering how big Saffron is and what size space you feel you needed to satisfy her need to dig. Also, how deep did you go? I love the idea and I have a 49 lb. border collie that would “get” the digging pit idea and love it. Thanks, Bev Kalinin

  2. Beverly, Saffron is 55lbs. and about the size of a large Border Collie. The digging pit is roughly 3 x 4ft. (If I had more room, I’d make it 4 x 4ft.) And it’s about 2.5ft. deep.

    Let me know how it goes! I’d love to see pics.

  3. Hi Sarah,
    Oliver really needs a digging pit! When you say yours is 2.5 ft deep, what does that mean? Did you build it up or dig it down that deep to loosen the soil?
    Thanks, Sarah Gail

  4. Hey Sarah, I was wondering if your dog ever gets terribly dirty from the pit. Also when it rains does it turn into a mess ?

  5. Hi Seanna, I added sand to her pit for just this reason. It makes a big difference. It’s sandy enough that if you squeezed a wet handful it wouldn’t really clump. That said, she still gets dirty feet if it’s wet, but it’s not really muddy. It’s pretty easy to brush off her feet and from between her toes with a towel.

  6. Has anyone tried filling a raised garden bed with pea stone gravel, and using it as a digging box? My husky guest is determined to dig to China. I’m considering digging a pit, laying down Turfstone pavers below ground level to block the pathway to China, and filling the raised garden bed above it with pea gravel. That way digging won’t involve dirt-covered dogs needing three bath tubs of water to get clean. I’m considering a wooden slatted roof overhead to keep the rocks cool and shady.

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