I wrote this article some time ago for the Centre for Vet Education Sydney Uni as I was getting seriously cranky with the number of second opinion canine cases I saw that had been mislabelled as “Boredom” hole diggers.
The holes dug by these dogs are not the shallow crater holes true for boredom digging– these holes we see here are cored, cylindrical deep holes – often multiple holes in the one garden – just the right size to catch your bare foot in and almost break your ankle when the owner walks outside in the dark …been there, done that!
Initially, the owners were given environmental enrichment advice to deal with the dog’s ‘boredom’ but because this advice did not then stop the dogs digging holes, the pets were then placed on various forms of medications to deal with their bad ‘behaviour’.
Often there was more than one dog in the yard and all of the dogs dug holes and all very similar in shape and size –yet ‘Boredom’ was the reason/diagnosis…
These dogs are not Bored…
Neither are they Deaf.
These dogs are very, very Happy.
Because the dogs can hear under-ground the very loud rumblings of the huge 30-60cm long 6cm wide Earthworms which are very active under the soil. Apparently, the gurgling noise that some of the large worms make in their burrows can be quite impressive which would explain why the dogs first tilt their ears to listen close to the ground.
These worms are very plentiful along the eastern seaboard, are beloved by Kookaburras and are very juicy and fattening.
When you get owners to watch their dog/s dig- they report that the dogs suddenly stop in the yard, turn one ear to the ground and place their face on the ground, slowly rub /run it along the ground and stop. Then, using their noses, they core out a deep central tube-like hole that they carefully excavate with their front paws then pull up these huge, fisherman rope-like worms. Owners have often presented these hole digging dogs for unexplained weight gain or itchy faces, but the hole digging was not mentioned to the vets.
An initially cynical client returned home from 3 weeks’ holiday with his two dogs to a scene of sudden chaos in his back-yard. The worms were sliding up over the grass and the dogs raced in and began flipping them in the air like Kong toy ropes. (He was then suitably convinced that I had been correct weeks earlier in blaming these worms both as the probable cause of his dogs’ hole digging and as the source of an unauthorized feeding food triggering severe itching in his food allergy dog.
There are no magic pills to cure this form of hole digging.
The problem is seasonal and phasic – and is especially bad in May to September but maybe because of our super dry Winter/Spring we can still see new cases Nov/Dec.
Short of a Werka Working Dog Muzzle or keeping dogs inside and restricting their outdoor access and then ensuring that access is always supervised, nothing really stops the hole digging.
These worms are not restricted to but are particularly prevalent from Helensburgh to Gerringong.
Other odd causes of why your dog might dig holes can loud underground water pipes or poorly insulated electric cable which the dogs hear and then dig to investigate.
So next time your dog digs holes: Tell your vet the size and shape and number and how many dogs involved and this may save your pet from being medicated unnecessarily.
If anyone has photos of these Worms in their yard, I would love to receive more images to help spread the education message.
Thanks to Gabby for sharing Goose and Maverick’s wonderful example of happy hole digging for Dinosaur worms: showing both the classic cored hole shape and one of the preferred locations where dogs like to be creative:just off the decking, so when you step off in the dark or not looking, the hole makes a perfect fit for the human foot to slip into and fall over.
Postscript: Thanks to both The Victoria Natural Museum & NSW Museum & CVE Sydney Uni for assistance and providing the photograph and following information:
Australian native worms belong to 3 Families:
- Octochaetidae – tropics and arid areas
- Megascolecidae – Southern States
Some Australian native earthworms grow to an enormous size and whilst the ‘Gippsland Giant’, Megascolides australis, a 3 metres long worm tends to monopolise the imagination and press, NSW has some impressive species of its own – the Digaster spp in Kyogle north-eastern NSW have a length of 1.50 metres and 1-2cm width.
Notoscolex grandis Burrawang, eastern New South Wales, have been measured at 1metre long. Large worms of different species also occur in Queensland through to Tasmania.