Do German Shepherds dig? Is grass green? Is the sky blue?
For many experienced GSD owners, asking this question isn’t even necessary. They just know it comes with the territory when you choose a German Shepherd for your companion canine.
This isn’t to say that every single German Shepherd that has ever lived was a “digger,” as the experts call it. But the truth is, most German Shepherds do seem fond of digging.
What is confusing to many new German Shepherd owners in particular is why many other dog breeds don’t seem as inclined to dog as the GSD does.
There are actually reasons why the German Shepherd is more prone to digging behavior and it helps to learn about them.
In this article, we are going to get up close and personal with the German Shepherd dog’s known tendency to dig and find out why it happens, what need it fulfills for your dog, and what you can do about it.
Welcome to the German Shepherd Dog Breed
The German Shepherd dog breed was first developing in the 18th century in Germany.
The breed founder, Captain Max von Stephanitz, was determined to create a breed that was “perfect” at herding and guarding livestock.
He succeeded brilliantly, and for many years German Shepherds faithfully traveled with herds and protected them from much bigger and very fierce wild predators.
When people stopped using herding dogs as much, the German Shepherd dog was repurposed for work in the military, police force, and personal protection duty. Again, the GSD excelled.
What does all this have to do with German Shepherds and digging? It means these dogs were developed and bred to be amazing athletes with high energy and unstoppable determination and focus.
As the American Kennel Club (AKC) points out in the official breed guideline, the German Shepherd is a very active and athletic, energetic dog breed.
If the GSD does not get enough daily exercise and activity, they may become destructive.
For most owners, digging is a classic example of destructive and undesirable canine behavior.
This tends to hold true regardless of breed. But because GSDs are so big and strong and determined, digging can be more destructive when a German Shepherd is doing it!
Why Do German Shepherds Dig?
So we just talked about two of the main reasons why your German Shepherd might dig and also a common reason why German Shepherd dogs as a breed tend to dig.
1. Your German Shepherd needs a job to do
To recap, German Shepherds were bred to work. These dogs really need a job to do or some other way to burn off their intense energy levels.
If you don’t give your GSD a job to do or some other form of exercise, they will find a way for themselves.
2. German Shepherds were bred to do specific kinds of jobs
Also, German Shepherds have been bred to work in certain very specific types of jobs. Often, digging is a part of those jobs.
For instance, informal canine service work such as in the military, the police force, hunting, search, and rescue, or bomb detection, German Shepherds are sometimes even trained to dig strategically!
But are there some other reasons why your German Shepherd might be driven to dig? Let’s take a look at this question now.
Understanding Differences in the German Shepherd Breed Lines
Did you know that there are actually two main different German Shepherd breed lines today?
These are the “show” lines, which translates to mean companion canine (pet) and competition (dog shows) and the “working” lines.
As this experienced German Shepherd kennel and breeder explains, the two lines can have very different temperaments and traits.
Let’s take a closer look at how the two breed lines differ as it relates to German Shepherd digging behaviors.
Working German Shepherd dog breed line
A true working German Shepherd dog is going to have a markedly different temperament than the German Shepherd most people keep as a family pet.
These dogs are intensely high-strung and difficult to work with. The working GSD is definitely a dog for experienced dog handlers and trainers only!
Some of the traits that are closely associated with a working GSD include these:
- High level of aggression.
- High prey drive.
- High tolerance for pain.
- Smaller body size and less even conformation because they are bred for temperament rather than appearance.
Owners and breeders that work with true working dog German Shepherd breed lines also say these dogs are less trustworthy around kids, other pets, and strangers.
Show German Shepherd dog breed line
The show or companion canine German Shepherd is much more likely to look and act like the German Shepherd most people are familiar with.
In most cases, you will find these traits in a German Shepherd that comes from a show breed line, even if that dog is not competing in dog shows:
- Gentle and calm once trained.
- Easy to share space with if their daily activity needs are met.
- Quite trainable and very devoted to their people.
- Larger body size with more even conformation (appearance).
These German Shepherds are a popular choice to guard and protect a family because once trained, they are trustworthy even around babies!
This is very relevant to why your GSD may be more prone to digging. It can also be very relevant to how successfully you can retrain your dog not to dig.
If your German Shepherd dog comes from a working line, however, your dog’s determination to dig can easily be more than a match for your determination to train them not to dig!
Here, it can be smart to consider working with an experienced canine (think K9) trainer to learn effective techniques to work with your dog.
Involving your GSD in competitive athletics like Schutzhund can also give you the experience you need.
Other Reasons Why Your German Shepherd Digs
Even if your GSD has more of a pet dog/show dog temperament, you may still find yourself engaged in a power struggle when you try to discourage your dog from digging.
As this German Shepherd owner forum clearly shows, many German Shepherds start to show digging behaviors early and never really outgrow this urge.
But you can also read several heart-warming stories on this forum, including the story of how an owner was burying their beloved pet dog and their new GSD puppy, jumped in to help dig the grave!
On that note, let’s take a closer look at other common reasons why your German Shepherd may decide to dig.
Strong prey drive
German Shepherds primarily work through their nose. Dogs in general have incredibly acute sniffers.
Some dogs that also have a high prey drive may feel irresistibly drawn to track or dig if they smell something intriguing.
While you probably won’t smell anything unusual at the dig site, your GSD may be following a scent trail that is so obvious as to be unmistakable.
If this happens to you, you may want to install a webcam to see if neighborhood cats or wildlife are perhaps sneaking into your yard and marking their territory.
Your GSD may be responding to their scent trail by digging up your yard.
Loneliness and boredom
The German Shepherd dog is such a strong and dedicated worker many people miss seeing that these dogs need to live with people.
If your dog is routinely confined to the backyard and left alone – even in the company of other dogs – you can expect to see some destructive behaviors showing up.
How to Stop Your German Shepherd from Digging Up Your Yard
As this short dog training video explains, there are several different easy techniques you can use to stop your German Shepherd from digging up your yard.
1. Designate one area as the “dig zone.”
German Shepherds, like most modern domestic dogs, have still retained their wild wolf ancestry in some ways.
Digging a small shallow area to rest and hide in is one wolf behavior many dog breeds still exhibit.
You can use this to your advantage by designating one area of the yard as a “dig zone.”
2. Make the yard less appealing.
Citrus peel or essence and deer repellant-type sprays and crystals may be a way to make the yard a less appealing place to dig.
3. Change the yard itself so it isn’t very “diggable.”
Add a different top layer such as concrete, gravel, or brick that discourages easy digging.
4. Give your dog another job to do!
This is the easiest way to discourage active digging. A tired German Shepherd is much less likely to dig!
Have you found a creative way to stop your GSD from digging? Let us know in the comments section here below.
Related Reading: German Shepherd Head Tilt: Why Does My GSD Do This?