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Is Your Dog A Problem Digger?
A Few Suggestions For Problem Diggers
"Hot diggity dog ziggity, boom what you do to me!" When Perry Como sang those words a little more than a few years ago (before your time, genXers), he was saying something akin to "Wild thing, you make my heart sing," (still before your time genXers).
For the purposes of this column, we'll change a letter and call it "dog diggity, boom what you do to me."
Because, if you have a diggity dog he probably drives you crazy. You invest considerable time, effort and money in keeping an attractive yard and he goes out there and digs it up!
There are all kinds of theories about why dogs dig, but there are a few common ideas that most behavioral specialists agree upon.
In previous gatherings on this site we've discussed "environmental enrichment," the things we do with or for our pets to help them deal with domestication.
They don’t have to hunt for prey, compete for mates, or defend territory…so what’s a dog to do? When bored, they often engage in self or environmentally destructive behavior. If we don't provide environmental enrichment for them, they’ll find their own, and we may not like it.
Digging is an example of self-play, and one way in which your dog provides his own environmental enrichment. If he's alone for periods of time without any interaction with other animals or humans, digging is a fun way to pass the time.
After all, you pass the time away by digging, too. When they see you engaged in gardening or yard maintenance activity, some behaviorists feel that dogs connect those dots, which leads to digging.
There are some things you can try. First of all, try to spend more time with him. Take him for walks or play with him in the yard. In your absence, leave interesting toys for him to play with. I don't like to mention brand names, but will make an exception here. Kong toys.
If you're not familiar with them, they now come in a variety of shapes, but the classic style is a hollow, hard rubber toy shaped roughly like a caricature of a beehive. I recommend them all the time, and know veterinarians who recommend them, too.
They bounce erratically, which is usually very interesting to dogs, they're almost indestructible, and you can stuff some treats inside for them to work at. And there are other toys your dog may consider favorites. Be sure to rotate his toys so he frequently has something "new" to pique his interest.
Behaviorists also look at instinctive behaviors that digging may represent. Wild canids, for example, dig for insects and small animals, so your dog’s primal imperative could have him seeking prey. They also dig to provide protection for themselves from the heat, cold, wind or precipitation.
- Toys & Treats Support Pet Mental Health
The professional term is "environmental enrichment" and it's practiced religiously at accredited zoos and aquariums. Learn the importance of providing environmental enrichment for your pets.
- Doghouse Sweet Doghouse
Dog owners in cold-winter regions should avoid this one major design flaw in many dog houses, and use the proper bedding to keep their dogs warm, dry and comfortable when "in residence."
If that's a motivating factor for your diggity dog, providing a dog house, with the door off-centered, could help satisfy that need. A dog house with the door centered doesn't give him the opportunity to get out of the wind and precipitation like one with an off-center door does. Click on the above link to my hub, Doghouse Sweet Doghouse, for recommendations.
Another oft expressed theory is that he's seeking your attention, especially if he digs in your presence. Even if you yell at him, he's getting your attention, and you're unwittingly rewarding, thus reinforcing, that behavior.
He may also dig as a means of escape. Even though he's habituated to domestication, and seems happy being part of your pack, instinctively he's a nomad. Something in his pea-brain is telling him to split, even though he has the "life of Riley" at your house.
Wouldn't it be terrific if we could just ask him why he does it? Then, we could tell him to knock it off, whatever the reason is.
If you have a little extra space in the yard, try establishing a "designated digging area" for your dog. You could even bury a few treasures there for him to find. Praise him for digging in that area, and deliver a guttural "NO DIG" or some other command if he digs elsewhere.
You'll have to work with him on that one, though. He's not going to understand the concept of a designated digging area just because you were nice enough to create one for him. And maybe you shouldn't let him see you gardening or planting shrubs.
If we knew for certain why they dig we could address those issues in a manner satisfactory to the dog, and we wouldn't have a digging problem. But, we don't know. And we do have a digging problem. So if you've got a diggity dog and it's a problem, there's no sure fire answer. You'll just have to keep trying things until something works.