It can be cute to see a prairie dog sitting on its haunches with its paws poised and eyes scanning the horizon. But it’s not so cute when an entire colony makes their home on your land. Luckily, there are a plethora of ways to deter these little critters from your property or, at the very least, manage them.
Prairie dogs have a keen sense of smell, which they use to sniff out predators and identify family. You can repel prairie dogs with scents they dislike, such as cayenne pepper, predator scents, white vinegar, peppermint oil, coffee grounds, cinnamon, garlic, dryer sheets, and certain kinds of soap.
If you live on the plains, then you are probably familiar with these little rodents, along with the damage they can cause. Read on to learn about the 9 scents that prairie dogs hate and how to use them.
Prairie Dogs: The Good and The Bad
As with any pest, it’s not all bad. Prairie dogs do a lot of good for the environment. This doesn’t mean we want them right up and close to our property!
Prairie Dogs Are Keystone Species
Did you know prairie dogs are actually a keystone species? Animals like wolves, elephants, sharks, snowshoe hares, starfish, and sea otters are all examples of keystone species.
What this means is that if prairie dogs were removed from their native ecosystem, it would drastically affect a large number of other animals in the environment. In fact, over 100 species of animals and plants depend on the prairie dog, their burrows, and the nutrients they provide.
Prairie dog burrows provide homes to burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, lizards, and several insects. When they burrow, the natural turning over of the soil provides fresh nutrients for new growth, meaning the grass that grows around prairie dogs is typically more nutritionally dense.
The black-footed ferret, an endangered species, depends almost solely on prairie dogs for food. Coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, and badgers also depend on prairie dogs for food. So, it’s not all bad!
Prairie Dogs Build Extensive Burrow Systems
One of the main problems with prairie dogs is when they get a little too close to humans and their land. Farmers, in particular, have problems with prairie dogs because their burrows pose a risk to cattle, who can step in the holes accidentally and become injured.
The burrows can also erode the soil, causing significant changes in the landscape. Prairie dogs and cattle often feed off the same grasses when living in the same environment. This competition isn’t something a farmer wants for their cattle.
Prairie dogs pose the biggest problems when they create dog towns, which are large burrow systems that can stretch for hundreds of acres and comprise thousands of prairie dogs. These systems are hard to get rid of since there are a high number of critters living in them.
Burrow systems can also be troublesome when they are around homes because they can damage the foundation.
Using Scents To Repel Prairie Dogs
If you have a small colony of prairie dogs or see a few here and there, you can use scents and smells to deter them from your property.
Note: Large colonies of prairie dogs that have established dog towns will probably not be repelled by scents. You may be able to scoot them off specific sections if you are very vigilant and persistent.
Scents and smells are mainly used to deter small numbers of prairie dogs. You can place these scents near burrowing activity or wherever prairie dogs seem to be a problem. This may include your garden, which prairie dogs will loot for the roots of your plants.
Let’s get to it!
Predator Smells Will Scare Prairie Dogs
Have you ever seen a prairie dog sitting on top of a dirt mound? Those are the lookouts for the colony! They are constantly searching for predators so they can warn their families to take cover in the burrow system.
Prairie dogs have an intricate system of vocalizations to warn their families. In fact, they even have different alarm calls for different predators, according to a 2008 study.
But, you don’t need the actual predator to deter prairie dogs. All you need is their scent. You can use something like American Heritage Industries Red Fox Urine. Foxes are one of the main predators of prairie dogs.
If they smell a fox, they’ll give the alarm signal to burrow down. If they smell the scent enough, they’re likely to move to a different burrow system for safety reasons.
Spread the urine scent in a pattern similar to a fence. You don’t need to necessarily pour the scent down a prairie dog burrow. You can spread it around your property line to prevent prairie dogs as well.
If you’re worried about the scent being washed away easily by the wind or rain, consider using a Predator Pee 33 Day Dispenser. This will help distribute the scent over time and will protect it from any harsh weather.
Use Cayenne Pepper To Keep Prairie Dogs Away
Cayenne peppers contain a chemical called capsaicin. This is what gives peppers the burning sensation that we humans seem to love.
Prairie dogs are not so excited about a burning sensation in their mouths or noses. This can prevent them from detecting predators and recognizing family members, which is essential to their survival.
You can use hot pepper flakes like Indus Organics Cayenne Pepper Flakes if you want to repel them from a small area. Simply shake the flakes around areas you want to repel them from. If you’re worried about them being blown away, you can place them in small sachets and weigh them down with rocks.
You can also make a hot pepper spray:
- Bring 8 cups of water to boil
- Add 2-3 hot peppers, chopped (this releases the most scent)
- Reduce heat and let cook for 15 minutes
- Turn heat off and let the mixture cool completely
- (optional) Let the mixture sit for a day to get the strongest scent
- Strain mixture and place liquid in a spray bottle
You can spray the mixture around prairie dog burrows or around areas you want to protect, such as small fenced-in areas, gardens, or property lines.
White Vinegar Repels Prairie Dogs
Despite their name, prairie dogs are actually a type of ground squirrel. They’re closely related to those cute little squirrels you see climbing your backyard trees.
While there’s no scientific evidence to support that white vinegar repels prairie dogs, it works well to repel other squirrels. The idea is that the harsh smell of vinegar will discombobulate a prairie dog’s senses, making them wary of that area.
To use vinegar, be sure to use white vinegar and not apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar leaves a sweet scent when it dries, which can attract unwanted guests like flies and mice.
You can make a spray by cutting the vinegar in half with water. Use this similarly to hot pepper spray, but just be aware that vinegar is very acidic and may affect some plants and soil.
You can also soak rags in vinegar and place them in bags. Weigh the bags down with rocks and keep the top open, so the scent is released into the environment.
Use Peppermint To Repel Prairie Dogs
Ah, peppermint. The very scent of Christmas and all things holiday-themed. We love it, and prairie dogs hate it.
Peppermint has a strong, unique scent that prairie dogs will find too severe to tolerate. You can use peppermint in a few different ways. The first would be to make a spray from the natural oil.
Add 10-15 drops of peppermint essential oil like Handcraft Peppermint Essential Oil to 1 cup of water. Place it in a spray bottle and spray around areas you want to protect or where you see burrowing activity.
Again, you don’t necessarily need to spray directly in the burrow, just around it.
Another option is to grow the peppermint plant itself. You can grow it directly from the ground or plant them in pots that you place around burrowing activity or areas you want to protect.
Other mint relatives will work, such as catnip or spearmint oil, but peppermint seems to be the most effective.
Prairie Dogs Hate Used Coffee Grounds
Similar to vinegar, there’s no scientific evidence to back this claim up. However, coffee grounds are thought to repel a wide variety of pests like deer and squirrels.
What is it about coffee grounds that repels prairie dogs? Mostly, it’s the bitter, strong smell that makes them wary. Prairie dogs are prey animals and thus are frightened by new scents or anything strange.
And finding used coffee grounds right outside your home can be strange for anyone!
Additionally, used coffee grounds are inexpensive and easy to use, so why not give them a try? Simply spread the used coffee grounds around areas you want to protect. This might be a pasture, field, or grazing land.
Of course, if you need to cover a large area, coffee grounds may not be the best choice. But if you drink coffee every day, you have a nearly unlimited supply and can continue to spread them around the field daily to deter those pesky yipping prairie dogs.
Notably – coffee grounds repel deer quite well. You can read more about repelling deer with coffee grounds here.
Use Cinnamon To Repel Prairie Dogs
Cinnamon is another favorite holiday flavor from fall to winter. Cinnamon has a very strong flavor due to the compound cinnamaldehyde. It gives this spice its signature flavor and smell.
And prairie dogs are NOT fans of this scent.
The easiest way to use cinnamon is to make a spray using the essential oil. Preferably, you’ll want to use cinnamon bark oil as opposed to leaf. Add 10-15 drops for every 1 cup of water and place it in a spray bottle. Spray around areas you want to protect.
If you don’t want to spray your crops or plants directly, try creating a cinnamon fence around your plants, spraying the perimeter instead.
Use Garlic To Deter Prairie Dogs
Garlic is another scent that’s a little too strong for a prairie dog’s sensitive nose. We use it in just about every recipe, so you’re likely to have this in your pantry right now!
Allicin is the chemical that gives garlic its distinctive (and strong!) odor. This chemical was originally a defense mechanism for the plant so that it would not get eaten.
To use garlic, you can make a spray with cloves or powder:
- Bring 8 cups of water to a boil
- Add 3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
- Alternatively, use 1 tbsp garlic powder
- (optional) add ½ cup hot sauce or hot peppers
- (optional) add 1 onion (chopped)
- Reduce heat and allow the mixture to cook for 15 minutes
- Turn heat off and allow the mixture to cool completely
- Strain, and place in a spray bottle
The addition of hot peppers and onions adds more smelliness to the mixture, but you don’t necessarily need it.
If you’re not really into cooking, you can use an essential oil like Plant Guru’s Garlic Essential Oil and add 10-15 drops to a cup of water to make a quick and easy spray.
Dryer Sheets Keep Prairie Dogs Away
Dryer sheets keep our clothes from becoming statically charged, and they keep our clothes nice and soft when they come out of the dryer.
Dryer sheets ALSO keep prairie dogs away. So, what exactly is a dryer sheet, and why does it repel those burrowing critters?
When it comes down to it, dryer sheets are just nonwoven polyester material (basically plastic) coated with fatty acids. It’s this long chain of fatty acids that melts and keeps your clothes from sticking together.
That fatty acid chain is also what repels prairie dogs, along with any scents coated on the dryer sheet.
To use dryer sheets to repel prairie dogs, the best method is to cut the dryer sheets up and place them in cheesecloth bags like Autopia Cheesecloth Bags. This product is great because it comes in multiple size packs, depending on how wild your prairie dog problem is.
You can use one cheesecloth bag per burrow you see. You can either weigh them down with rocks or pound wooden stakes in the ground and staple the bags to the stakes. Either way works; just be sure to replace the cheesecloth bags often to keep the scent strong – about once a week.
Bar Soap Can Deter Prairie Dogs
In a similar vein as dryer sheets, soap with a high tallow content can be used to repel prairie dogs from certain areas.
The high tallow content is key, as this is typically made from animal fatty acids. This scent seems to send a warning signal to prairie dogs to stay away.
One soap that has a high tallow content is Irish Spring Soap. But you can use any soap made from animal fats.
Cut the soap bars into small cubes or use a cheese grater to shave them into small pieces. Place those pieces in a cheesecloth bag and hang them or weigh them down around burrow sites or areas you want to protect, such as your garden.
Oh, and did you know that you can repel raccoons with soap too?
How Do Farmers Get Rid Of Prairie Dogs?
Farmers have a particularly hard time with prairie dogs as they often burrow in the same fields as their cattle are grazing. If you’re looking for a more natural route than poison control or trapping, there are a few steps you can take instead:
Prevent Overgrazing: Prairie dogs like the grass around their burrows to be short so they can see predators more easily. Allowing cows to overgraze and keep the grass short encourages prairie dogs to move into the area. Continually switch grazing fields and allow the grass to grow tall near prairie dog burrows.
Encourage Predators: It’s not fun having coyotes or foxes around your cattle or farm animals. But if they aren’t particularly bothering your cattle, it may be because they’re feeding on easier prey: prairie dogs. Instead of eliminating all the animals in the area, let the predators do what they do best – hunt!
Other Ways To Deter Prairie Dogs
Prairie dogs don’t only affect farmers and agricultural croplands. They also go after gardens, especially the roots of plants. Prairie dogs get all their necessary water from plants and do not need fresh water.
For this reason, your garden may be in danger of uninvited guests. To keep them out, using scents and smells is a good start. But combining both scent, sight, and sound deterrents will be the most effective repellent.
Unfortunately, a prairie dog’s ability to burrow means fences will be pretty useless unless you plan to bury them up to 15 feet deep!
Instead, try using something like the Orbit Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler for your garden. This product will activate when it senses movement and spray harmless water at the intruding rodent.
You can also try using bioacoustics – recorded predator sounds. This will discourage prairie dogs from coming around.
That’s All For Now
Prairie dogs are keystone species, providing homes and food for over a hundred different species of plants and animals. We don’t want to eliminate them entirely, but that doesn’t mean we want them up close and personal with us on our property.
Deterring prairie dogs can be as easy as using scents and smells to control a small population. For larger populations and dog towns, you’ll need to combine other means of deterring them.
The 9 scents that prairie dogs hate include:
- Predator urine (fox or coyote)
- Cayenne pepper
- White vinegar
- Peppermint oil
- Coffee grounds
- Dryer sheets
- Soap with high tallow content
Remember, when using scents and smells, you’ll need to reapply them often to keep the scent strong. If you’re ever unsure about your prairie dog problem, you can always use our nationwide pest control finder to get in touch with a professional!
Butts, K. O., & Lewis, J. C. (n.d.). The Importance of Prairie Dog Towns To Burrowing Owls in Oklahoma [Oklahoma Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit]. Oklahoma State University.
Elmore, D. R., Messmer, T. A., & Brunson, M. W. (2007, Spring). Perceptions of wildlife damage and species conservation. Human-Wildlife Conflicts, 1(1), 78-88.
Slobodchikoff, C. N., Paseka, A., & Verdolin, J. L. (2009). Prairie dog alarm calls encode labels about predator colors. Animal Cognition, 12, 435-439.
Uresk, D. W., MacCracken, J. G., & Bjugstad, A. J. (1981, October). Prairie Dog Density And Cattle Grazing Relationships. Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control Workshop Proceedings.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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