Most dogs love to dig given the chance, but for some reason collies seem to have a deep passion for excavation. Sand, gravel, dirt, grass… if it isn’t nailed down, they will dig it.
Collies love to dig for a number of reasons. Most of the time, collie digging is perfectly normal dog behavior, but excessive digging can be caused by stress or boredom, usually due to a lack of mental stimulation or an unsuitable home environment.
In this article, we will be digging in to the real reasons behind collie digging behavior and figuring out how to tell if it’s something you need to worry about, or harmless dog behavior, and how to deal with problem digging.
Why does my collie dig?
Digging is natural behavior for all dogs, and a little digging is to be expected.
If your collie is digging excessively, it can be a sign that they are bored, lacking in physical or mental stimulation, or unhappy with their environment.
Thankfully, there are lots of simple ways to deal with all these problems.
Here are some of the reasons your collie might be digging:
1: Boredom or Lack of Stimulation
Collies are working dogs, and they need to be constantly working on a task or they can become bored easily.
Without enough mental stimulation, collies can become distressed and bored and may develop compulsive behaviors including digging.
If this is the case for your collie, it’s a serious problem and needs to be addressed for the sake of your collie’s quality of life.
The best way to enrich your collie’s mental wellbeing is to spend time with them, playing games and teaching them new tricks, or by buying them some mental enrichment toys.
2: Hunting Instincts
All dogs have some residual hunting instincts from their common ancestors—wolves.
While this instinct is more prevalent in some other breeds—especially terriers—it’s still present in collies to some extent and their digging may be them trying to catch burrowing animals like moles.
If you find your collie digging mole hills, it’s unlikely they are in full hunting mode, but they probably smell the little moley moley and want to play with it.
3: Stress or Loneliness
Collies are pretty chill when they are around their family, but being alone can stress them out quickly.
If you leave your collie alone for long periods, they may dig out of stress. You’ll be able to tell if this is the case because the digging will be excessive, and always take place during or just before they are on their own.
Collies need a lot of social interaction with their family, and lots of mental stimulation to keep them happy.
If being with your collie in person isn’t an option, you may consider getting them a friend, or putting them in to doggy daycare so that they aren’t spending the day alone.
If something other than being alone is stressing your collie out, it’s important to work out what’s upsetting them. Work out what’s happening around them just before they start digging.
4: They are too hot
Working collies who spend the days in the fields dig small pits for themselves to lie in, to protect themselves from the elements.
If your collie is digging away the top layer of grass to lie in the dirt, they may be too warm and trying to find a cooler area.
Alternatively, if your collie is out in poor weather, they may be trying to shield themselves from some of the rain or wind.
If it’s raining outside, let your collie in. Collies are great outdoor dogs, but even working collies would have a warm barn to sleep in when the weather was bad.
5: They are copying you
Collies love to be part of whatever you’re doing.
If your collie sees you digging around in the garden planting plants or flowers, they are likely to try to help you by helpfully digging up the flowers you just planted.
One way to let your collie feel included is to give them a digging zone somewhere in your garden. A patch of dirt where you don’t plant anything where your collie can dig freely.
6: Unsuitable Environment
Collies are hard working herding dogs and need plenty of physical as well as mental stimulation to keep them occupied and prevent distress or boredom.
If your collie is in a yard without anything interesting to keep them entertained, they will try to find their own entertainment in any way they can.
The best way to overcome this is to make sure your collie isn’t left alone for too long without anything to do, and to make sure you have plenty of enrichment toys for your collie to play with when they are out by themselves.
7: They are trying to escape
This is unlikely for a collie, but it’s important not to discount this as a possible cause.
If all your collie’s digging efforts are near a fence, hedge, or other boundary, it’s possible your collie is trying to escape your yard.
If this is the case, something about their current situation is seriously upsetting your collie. You might be able to figure it out by spending time with them and noticing when they are digging.
How to stop my collie digging?
The best way to prevent your collie from digging is to make sure they have plenty of fun, enriching activities to keep them busy, to remove any sources of stress from their outdoor space, and to give them a special place like a sand pit, where they can dig as much as they want.
Here are some ways you can try to reduce your collie’s digging behaviors:
- Remove any sources of stress from their outdoor environment
- Make sure your collie is getting plenty of exercise every day
- Provide your collie with plenty of mental stimulation
- Remove any rodents or pests from the garden that your collie may be trying to reach
- Add citrus peels to the ground. Collies don’t like the smell or taste of them and won’t dig near them.
- Plant Shrubs where you don’t want your collies to dig
- Provide shelter and shade so they have somewhere comfortable to lie
- Create a digging zone and encourage your collie to dig there instead
- Remember that some level of digging is normal dog behavior
How to stop your collie from digging under a fence
Occasionally, your collie may be trying to dig under a fence, wall, or other border.
While you can work on the root cause of the digging behavior with some of the tips above, there are some practical steps you can take immediately to prevent your collie from being able to dig under a fence.
- Line the fence with rocks so your collie can’t get to the soft ground underneath.
- Create a sunken barrier of concrete or wire fencing, which your collie can’t get through.
- Plant shrubs along the fence. Their roots will stabilize the soil and prevent your collie from digging.
- Make your yard more desirable with cognitive enrichment toys, so your collie won’t be tempted to dig.
How to stop your collie from digging holes?
Does your lawn look like Dresden 1945? If your collie is ruining your perfectly manicured lawn, it’s often tempting to react negatively and try to get them to stop.
Collies respond best to positive reinforcement, so if you want to restore your garden to the pre-digging condition it deserves, it’s important to figure out why collies dig holes in the first place and treat the root cause.
Collies dig holes for a number of reasons, most commonly because they are bored or lacking in mental stimulation and want to play.
You can stop your collie digging holes by making sure they have something more interesting to do in the back yard, and by not responding to their digging, so that they learn digging doesn’t get any reaction from you.
Many unwanted collie behaviors stem from them wanting to play with you. If they know that every time they start digging a hole in your lawn you come out and chase them, that’s a game to them and they will continue to do it.
Instead, ignore unwanted behaviors and reward good behaviors.
Provide your collie with plenty of mental stimulation toys, play with them when you’re at home (collies don’t do well on their own for long periods) or get them a friend so they don’t get lonely.
Why does my collie dig the carpet?
Digging or scratching at the carpet is common in all dogs, not just collies.
Collies dig or scratch the carpet when they are excited or anxious, to let out excess energy, or as a displacement behavior.
Let’s take a look at each of these and see what it means.
Excited or anxious:
If your collie is feeling overly excited, it’s natural for them to perform some kind of excited behavior.
Collies might run and grab the nearest toy, shaking it about, run around the room crazily, run and quickly drink all the water in their bowl, find something else to play with, or dig and scratch at the carpet.
This is similar to a person pumping their fists in excitement or pacing around the room.
The best way to overcome this behavior is to provide your collie with something more fun to do when they are excited, like leaving them a ball or toy in the room with them so they don’t look for something else to do.
If your collie hasn’t been out for a while, they might have too much excess energy built up and need to find some way to expend that energy.
Collies become restless quickly without a considerable amount of exercise each day, and this can lead to unwanted behaviors like carpet digging.
Make sure your collie gets at least two hours of off-leash exercise every day, to help them stay calm and happy.
Displacement behaviors are what we call it when your collie wants to do something they can’t, so they find something else to do instead.
As an example, if your collie sees a cat jump up to the window they are probably very keen to go out there and chase the cat away, but they can’t reach it through the glass.
In situations like this, your collie will find something else to do to satisfy that urge to chase the cat. They might grab a cushion off the sofa and start throwing it around, zooming around the house, barking, or digging the carpet.
In situations like these the best way to prevent carpet digging is either to prevent the trigger situation in the first place, or to distract your collie with something else when they are unable to do something they want to.
Why does my collie dig leaves?
Digging leaves is different from digging grass or dirt, and the reasons behind them are usually different too.
Since leaves usually aren’t on the ground all year round, collies digging leaves usually isn’t a sign of compulsive behavior, but instead just an opportunistic fun activity for your collie.
Collies may dig leaves for fun, because they want to know what is underneath them, or because they remember you playing with them in the leaves when they were younger and now think it’s a game.
Most of the time digging in fallen leaves is harmless, just make sure there isn’t anything sharp underneath.
Border Collie Puppy Digging
It’s perfectly natural and normal for a collie puppy to start digging. Although digging in later life can be a sign of compulsive behavior, in collie puppies it’s usually just an instinctual behavior and nothing to be concerned about.
If you want to deter your puppy from digging too much, now is the best time to do it.
Your collie’s mind is most malleable when they are puppies, and any behavior they learn now will be difficult to train out of them later.
Collie digging sand
If you’ve ever taken your collie to the beach, you’ve probably noticed they love the sand.
While digging sand is mostly harmless, it’s important to make sure your collie doesn’t eat any sand because it can cause problems with their digestion that will require a trip to the vet
Collies digging water
A common frustration of collie owners is unwanted digging behaviors when it comes to water.
It can be frustrating when your collie decides that digging their water out of their bowl all over the kitchen floor is a much more entertaining activity than actually drinking it, but there may be a harmless explanation behind this unusual behavior.
Collies may dig their water bowls because they are too hot, they see a reflection in the bowl which frightens them, they are seeking attention, or they are lacking in mental stimulation.
Let’s take a look at each of these reasons and how to help your collie overcome them:
Why do collies dig water?
They are too hot
If your collie is splashing their water around in hot weather, they might be too hot and trying to cool down.
Leave plenty of water out for your collie and have a cool, shaded area where they can go to cool off.
Consider getting your dog an outdoor child pool that they can play in and cool off.
Your collie may realize that every time they dig their water out of their bowl a chasing game ensues. If your collie is lonely or bored, they commonly exhibit attention-seeking behaviors to try to get you to play with them.
They don’t mean any harm by it, they just want to play.
Help avoid this behavior by ignoring them when they spill their water, and by spending time with your collie so they don’t feel lonely.
Your collie is lacking in mental stimulation:
Without adequate mental stimulation, collies’ hyper-intelligent minds can become addled, leading to compulsive behavior like excessive digging, spinning in circles, excessive barking, flank-sucking, and other similar behaviors.
If this sounds like your collie, it’s important to improve their mental well-being quickly with mental enrichment toys and puzzles, plenty of physical exercise, and lots of play time with you.
There are loads of simple activities you can do with your collie to enrich their lives without much effort. Once example is scatter feeding, where you scatter dry food in grass or on a feeding mat instead of just putting it in a bowl.
Your collie prefers moving water
All dogs have evolutionary instincts that we don’t fully understand.
In the wild, animals have an innate understanding that slow moving or still water is often not safe to drink. They would prefer to drink from a babbling brook than a stagnant swamp.
It may be that your collie also holds this opinion and would prefer if their water was moving.
Over time, as your collie gets used to drinking out of their bowl they should overcome this irrational belief, but in the meantime you could try letting your collie see you filling their bowl.
They see something in their water bowl they don’t like
If your collie has a stainless steel water bowl, they may be reacting to a distorted reflection in the bowl.
Collies are easily spooked and take notice small things we might think are inconsequential.