digging behavior

Dig This!: Unwanted Digging
by Kimberly LeMaster

A dog’s digging habit may be a challenging behavioral problem to deal with through training for an average pet owner. However, like with any doggy issue, one must first find the cause to this unwanted and excessive dog digging behavior before you can use any canine training to alleviate the issue completely. Once a cause is found, a solution can be decided on and broken down into steps so that both the dog and owner can comfortably reside together once again under one roof.

The cause of excessive digging can be found when you consider the context of the behavior. When, and where does it happen? What is your dog’s age and breed? Some of the most common reasons behind digging is that the dog is bored and harbors large amounts of energy that the owner is not allowing the dog to express in a productive way. Another is that the dog’s instincts are telling him to dig, either due to his breed history or in an attempt to bury items.

A dog who digs for the sake of releasing pint up energy is a bored and unhappy dog. He does not know that digging is wrong, and punishing this behavior will do nothing to curb it. If your canine companion is digging while home alone in the back yard, consider taking him on a brisk morning walk before you leave, or play a game of fetch to tire him out. A tired dog is a dog that won’t dig out of boredom, as he will take your absence as a time to rest! In conjunction with more exercise, bring the dog inside the home while you are gone. Give him his own space, such as a room with a baby gate blocking him from the rest of the home, with a soft bed, water dish, and plenty of safe toys to occupy him in case he gets restless. It will save your furniture and yard from any destruction.

If bringing your pooch indoors while you are away is completely out of the question, such as you don’t have the space to give him his own area, provide activities for him to do while you are gone. Hide some of his favorite toys around the back yard with treats hidden inside. Use a few drops of various essential oils or even salmon oil on different ordinary objects to give him something new and different to explore. If he is already exercised for the day, he will be content with just sniffing and hunting down his toys!

Even if the added exercise has minimized, but not completely subdued the digging behaviors, it is time to look into the dog’s instincts and personality. Some breeds, such as the Jack Russel Terrier are notorious diggers as their instincts push them to search for pests in burrows. When the breed was being developed, they were used to flush out and dispatch animals such as rabbits to prevent the ruining of crops and property. This instinct has carried over into today’s pet dogs and they still feel the need to dig, even if there is no vermin in the ground! Other breeds that may develop unwanted digging behaviors are hunting and retrieving breeds, such as hounds. These dogs need an outlet, aside from regular exercise, to put their instincts to use or to shape a new drive for them, such as Flyball or Agility. If getting involved in a dog sport, even for fun, is not available you can always provide a designated digging spot using a sand box filled with a mixture of play sand and clean soil. This can be fun for both you and the dog as you can hide toys or chews in the sandbox and encourage your dog to dig them out. Not only is he then digging for fun, but he is being rewarded for digging in a spot that does not cause damage to your yard or relationship.

For hound dogs that dig a little too much, they may be more suited to learning nose work. Nose work is when a dog is taught to literally follow their nose in search of the item or person you are wishing for them to seek out. This can be a treat hidden under an upside down box, or a person hiding in a closet for a game of hide and seek. These are games that professional trainers use in teaching a dog to track game animals for hunting, or to educate search and rescue dogs to find wounded survivors after a disaster.

Once you have found the cause that started your dog’s behavioral problem of unwanted or excessive digging, finding a solution is not that difficult. Adding in some basic obedience and boundaries for your dog using positive and progressive training techniques can also benefit with this issue, and prevent many more. No matter what direction you take, whether it is brisk exercise in the morning or taking up an Agility class your bond with your dog will flourish with that extra time the two of you spend together, instead of him just digging the day away!


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