When your dog rips up carefully placed sod or digs a crater in a well-tended yard, it is tempting to think that its actions are motivated by malice, that it is being "bad." There are many reasons why dogs dig, however, and none of them have to do with spite or destructiveness. Your dog might be seeking to entertain itself, be seeking your attention, be engaging in instinctive behavior or simply be trying to get comfortable on a hot day. Whatever the reason your dog is digging, there are some simple techniques you can use to modify its behavior and stop the excavation of your yard.
Provide your dog with ample mental and physical stimulation. Take it on long walks or runs, throw a Frisbee for it to catch and schedule impromptu play sessions. When you can't be with your dog, banish boredom by providing it with interactive toys, such as irregularly shaped cubes and balls that can be filled with treats; the dog has to manipulate the toy in unpredictable ways to get the goodies.
Schedule frequent training sessions in which you run through basic obedience commands such as "sit," "stay," "lie down" and "come." Make these sessions upbeat and fun, with plenty of treats and praise. After reviewing the basic commands, you can teach new ones, such as "roll over," "give paw," "sit up and beg," and "speak." The more you challenge and engage your dog, the less it will need to burn off excess energy--and seek your attention--by digging. The more you reinforce your gentle authority by compelling the dog to obey commands, the more likely it will be to obey your command to stop digging.
Use negative association when your dog digs inappropriately. Give a "corrective squirt" from a garden hose, coupled with a firm "No dig!" For this method to work, you have to supervise your dog in the yard and react consistently every time the dog digs.
Create a digging area in an inconspicuous corner of the yard where your dog is allowed to dig, especially if your dog is a breed--such as a terrier or dachshund--that is genetically programmed to dig. Encourage your dog to dig in this zone by filling the area with clean sand, burying tempting toys for your dog to uncover and providing positive enforcement when it uses the area, saying "Good dig!" Continue to correct your dog when it digs in inappropriate parts of the yard. Most dogs will be able to grasp the difference between the "good dig" and the "no dig" zone.
Confine your dog to the house at times when the temptation to dig would be too great, including when you have just applied fertilizer--the smell is irresistible to most dogs--and when you have freshly planted a bed of flowers; the freshly turned soil and the mulch are an invitation to dig.
Confine your dog when you are working in your garden. According to the Dog Obedience Training Review website, many dogs are inspired to copy the behavior of their digging owners.
Fill all holes your dog may have dug under a fence, and put barriers--such as lengths of chicken wire--a few inches under the soil as a deterrent; most dogs don't like the way it feels on their paws. Because of the risk of your dog escaping and possibly being injured or lost, digging holes under a fence is a more serious situation than simple digging.
Spay or neuter your dog, if you haven't done so already, to prevent wanderlust that arises from the desire to find a mate.
If you give your dog edible bones, such as beef bones, and it is digging to bury them for later consumption, try offering rawhide chews instead.
Make sure there is plenty of water and shade available for your dog in the summer months; many dogs dig just to feel the pleasure of sprawling in the cool soil.
Items You Will Need
- Bite-sized dog treats
- Interactive dog toys
- Clean sand
- Garden hose
- Chicken wire (optional)
- If you give your dog edible bones, such as beef bones, and it is digging to bury them for later consumption, try offering rawhide chews instead.
- Make sure there is plenty of water and shade available for your dog in the summer months; many dogs dig just to feel the pleasure of sprawling in the cool soil.
Carol Sarao is an entertainment and lifestyle writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic City Weekly, The Women's Newspaper of Princeton, and New Millennium Writings. She has interviewed and reviewed many national recording acts, among them Everclear, Live, and Alice Cooper, and received her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Warren Wilson College.