Not Digging it! How To Stop A Digging Dog
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The lawn is freshly mowed and you have just sat down in your back yard with a favorite beverage. Magazine in hand, you can’t wait to relax and enjoy the afternoon. As you get consumed in an interesting article, something rapidly flies past your peripheral vision. You look up, but see nothing. As you get back to your magazine, it happens again, this time more intensely.
You scan the yard and finally see it - Your beloved pooch is enthusiastically digging a small crater in the ground, as pieces of grass and dirt fly through the air. A digging dog can do great damage to not only yards, but also furniture and other prized possessions. Let’s take a look at digging dogs in general, why dogs dig holes, carpet and their beds and what can be done to stop your four legged buddy’s destructive habit.
Why Dogs Dig Holes, Carpet & Their Beds
The good news is that not all dogs dig. But like many instinctual behaviors, some dogs dig as a result of the genetic inheritance they received from their wild ancestors. Dogs can dig for entertainment purposes, or to seek a cooler or warmer environment. In addition, like their wild cousins the wolf and fox, dogs tend to dig dens to protect their new born pups.
Most people are familiar with the cartoon image of a digging dog burying a bone. This act is actually grounded in truth, as dogs are programmed to bury prized possessions in order to protect or save them for a later meal. Dogs will even try to "bury" things in the house like under carpets or piles of laundry.
If you have ever noticed your dog digging around her bed before laying down, that is an attempt to be as comfortable as possible when resting. So needless to say, your dog’s habit of digging comes to them very honestly, passed down from one generation to another.
What To Do If You Have A Digging Dog
If you find yourself in the company of a champion, canine digger, you could have a challenge on your hands. Digging can be a hard habit to break. One of the main strategies with regard to solving a digging problem is a method of training called classical conditioning. This training technique is related to behaviorism (associative learning) and the foundation of classical conditioning is positive/negative reinforcement. With this in mind, here are some strategies that you can use to help your digging dog break the habit.
• Exercise – Walk your digging dog as much as you can. Experts say that a lack of physical activity can play a significant role in a dog’s tendency to dig.
• Toys – Could it be that your pooch is bored? Give her plenty of toys to keep both mind and body stimulated. Toys such as a Kong, where you can put a biscuit inside for her to try and get at is a great way to keep the idea of digging far out of her mind’s reach.
• Correction – Back to the classical conditioning training model, try and catch the digging dog in the act whenever she starts and yell out a stern "NO" with a hand slap. Eventually the animal will think twice about digging if she knows you are watching.
• Reduce The Motivation – Sometimes dogs dig outside because they are trying to catch insects or smaller animals that burrow in the ground. Try and stop this kind of digging by minimizing the presence of other critters in the yard with humane methods to either fence them out or making your backyard unattractive to them with non-toxic scents or other deterrents.
Thankfully, not all dogs are prone to digging, but some are. People often wonder why dogs dig holes, carpet and their beds, as trying to stop them from doing it can be a challenge. Many vets and experts in the field suggest getting a professional trainer involved if you don’t make any progress on your own. We can’t really blame our canine companions for digging, as the activity is part of their genetic makeup. But through traditional positive/negative reinforcement techniques (classical conditioning), you can change or at least divert this behavior toward better options. This process will require time and patience. But like many things related to having a beloved dog in our lives, the investment will be worth it.
Good luck as you try and "dig up" a solution!
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