How to Stop a Dog From Digging in Houseplants

By Betty Lewis

You may have spent weeks tending to your favorite houseplant only to have it wrecked when your pup had his way with it. Digging behavior in dogs is frustrating and potentially destructive. If your dog's making a habit of digging in your houseplants, making them inaccessible or unappealing can keep them growing.

Move It

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. If your pooch has a hankering to dig into your houseplants, try putting them out of his reach. If the target of his curiosity is something like a Boston fern, try hanging it up, from the ceiling or out from the wall, where it's out of his reach. If it's something that doesn't work in a hanger, such as a ponytail palm, try elevating it enough so he can't get into the pot. Another option is to keep a room for your plants that is off limits to your dog.

Digging Deterrents

It may not be practical to relocate your houseplants or keep a physical separation between your dog and your plants. Sometimes all you need to do to discourage him is to give him a whiff of something he doesn't like. A cotton ball saturated with clove oil can be placed just beneath the soil, warning your dog away. Sprinkling alum powder or a granular animal repellent on top of the dirt also may keep him away. Other deterrents to consider include putting pine cones in the soil and placing aluminum foil on top of the dirt -- dogs don't care for the feel of foil on their paws.

Teaching Lasts a Lifetime

Teaching your dog not to dig in your houseplants can offer a permanent solution, though it will take time and patience. You may want to consult a professional dog trainer for advice, but generally, whenever your dog starts to dig in your plants, say a firm no and lead him from the plant. You also can try a light squirt of water to discourage him when you catch him in the act. However, never hit him or rub his nose in the dirt, nor should you punish him after the fact. You need to catch him in the act so he can associate the "no" with the plant.

Channeling Behavior in a Positive Direction

Understanding why your dog is digging in your houseplants will go a long way to preventing the behavior. It may be as simple as he can't resist that one particular plant. However, a dog may dig for a variety of reasons. He may be bored, afraid, suffering from separation anxiety, or exercising his instinct, such as looking for vermin, which is common in ratting breeds. Often providing him good exercise, such as a long walk or a good game of fetch or tug, will channel his energy in a positive way and make digging less interesting. If he's left alone during the day, toys, including some puzzle toys stuffed with treats, may relieve some of his boredom and anxiety. If he's naturally inclined to dig, creating a special spot in the yard where he can dig and training him that it's a safe place to dig can make both of you -- and your houseplants -- happier.