WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins
WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins

DIGGING

Digging is a normal natural behaviour in dogs - it is just that in today's modern world we humans see digging as an unacceptable behaviour because the dog ruins our tidy gardens, parks and landscapes. Read this web page to find out why your dog digs, and how you can redirect their behaviour in a positive and constructive way - then both you and the dog will be happy!

 

INSTINCTIVE DIGGERS
Some dogs have very strong hunting instincts to dig, particularly Terriers. These dogs have been bred for hundreds of years to do a specific task for mankind - hunt by sight and smell for pests and vermin that would otherwise eat the human food and, if necessary, DIG these animals out of their hiding places.

Instinctive diggers such as these will perhaps smell the track of a mouse, squirrel, or other mammal and then nature takes over - they MUST dig! It is in their genes.... They need to have the opportunity to fulfill their working instincts every so often so that they can relax the rest of the time, happy in the knowledge that they have done their "work" in a satisfying and rewarding manner (see Digging Solutions below).


If a tidy garden is very important to you, we strongly recommend that you do not choose an Earth Dog breed as a pet. Yes, they are great pets and look very cute, but they are still "diggers" first and foremost. Therefore, BEFORE you buy a dog do your homework and research about the instincts of the breeds that appeal to you - not just the looks.

 

DIGGING MAY BE A SYMPTOM OF STRESS
Meanwhile some dogs use digging as a release mechanism from a build up of long-term stress. The frantic high energy digging helps to lower the high levels of adrenaline in their bodies, draining away their pent up frustration, boredom, or aggression in a rewarding and (to a dog) natural way. One of these rewards can be to escape to the freedom of the outside world!

The way to find out whether your dog is digging due to stress is to monitor your dog throughout the day and see if there is a pattern to its behaviour. Look at Stress Causes which will give you plenty of ideas on what to look out for.

 

HIDING TREASURE
Another reason dogs dig is to hide and store high value resources, such as a chew item. Some dogs "dig" in their bedding and hide the items there, while others (given the opportunity) prefer to dig holes outside and bury their "treasure" there.

Dogs bury items because -

  • It is storing it for later
    Dogs bury food (such as Raw Meaty Bones) when they are given too much to eat in one session and they bury them in order to eat them another day. Reduce the amount of chew items (and food) you give your dog and the "storing" will almost certainly stop.
    It stops anyone else getting it!
  • Dogs in multi-dog households often resort to burying highly prized or favourite items in the hope that none of the other dogs will find it. This is not always successful as the other dogs sense of smell is alerted by the freshly dug up earth and they will often dig up the item because they are curious about what has been buried!
  • Dogs who live without a canine companion may also bury "special" items so that their human pack cannot find them. This is a more successful activity than in multi-dog households as humans have a much poorer sense of smell and can only use their eyes to detect the digging location.

 

ATTENTION SEEKING
Some "clever" dogs learn to get their human's attention and company by being naughty! For instance, if the dog digs in the garden their human will run out to try and stop them. The dog will be looked at while the human talks (or "barks" as the dog perceives it) and interacts with the dog - all of which are very high value life rewards for a dog that is ignored most of the time (when it is quiet and doing nothing "wrong").

 

HAVING A "MANICURE"

I know its sounds strange, but some dogs like to "dig" on hard floors or carpets so that they can wear their long nails down to a more comfortable length. If your dog seems to be doing this, can I suggest clipping its nails or taking it to the vets for them to do it.

I have personal experience of this particular type of digging as one of my Border Collies hates having his nails clipped and has worn loads of holes in the hall carpet! This devious little chap has learnt that this is a far more pleasant "alternative" than nail clipping, but it does make our house look extremely shabby when you walk through the front door!

 

Please do not be tempted to try a "quick fix" solution to digging by using an aversion technique (eg. Electric fencing, ultra sonic sound devices, spray or shock collars, unpleasant scent deterrents, training discs, etc).

 

Although some of these devices "seem" to work with some dogs, what is actually happening is that the dog becomes wary and stressed by the sudden unpleasant and unexpected deterrent - it does not know why it has happened, just that it did happen in part of its territory that it had always assumed was a SAFE PLACE.

 

Dogs who have been subjected to these aversion devices generalise in a variety of different ways (eg. Scared of going outside, barking at "bad" areas in the garden, avoiding similar triggers anywhere else it goes) and you are left with a dog with far more difficult behavioral problems to solve than you had in the first place! Keep your money in your pocket and use your brain instead by following the solutions explained below.

 

DIGGING SOLUTIONS
Whatever the reason your dog has to dig, you must understand that it is impossible (and I would say cruel) to suddenly expect your pet dog to ignore these instinctive or behavioural urges of its ancestors. You have to -

 

MANAGE THE DOG AND ITS ENVIRONMENT
so that it does not get the opportunity to dig in the "wrong" places.

 

AND

 

HARNESS THIS INSTINCTIVE DRIVE

into acceptable digging behaviour that mentally stimulates it,
using and fulfilling the dog's working instincts while leaving
your home and garden tidy and relatively "hole free".

 

Here are some suggestions for both of the above.

GARDEN MANAGEMENT

Prevention

  • Put temporary or permanent fencing around areas that the dog should not use, while providing a "free run" area where it is allowed to go without human supervision.
  • Planting prickly shrubs or edging plants around "no go" areas
  • If you have a dog that escapes by digging, bury the bottom of your fence well below the ground and you can even use cement to deter these very determined diggers.
  • Keep your dog on a House Line when it in the garden and quietly and calmly move the dog from the unacceptable digging area and offer it an alternative digging area with "treasure" (see box below) in it instead. If your dog is digging to get your attention do not look or speak to it as you use the house line to ove it away - and above all be consistent. If your dog gets no rewards from digging in the "wrong" places and high rewards for digging in the "right" places, it will soon store this alternative behaviour in its long-term memory.
 

Plus "Better" Alternatives

  • Provide at least one area of your garden where your dog is allowed to dig for -
"TREASURE" or  HIGH VALUE REWARDS
such as chew items,
squeaky or favourite toys
,
tasty food treats,
or a combination of any of these

To begin with do not bury them
too deep otherwise your dog may
simply give up and go digging elsewhere!

 
  • Try and use an alternative surface (eg. Sand, gravel, fallen leaves, etc) to help your dog identify that this surface is an acceptable place to dig and that it is different from the rest of the garden.
  • Another way of highlighting where the dog is allowed to dig is to make a special sand pit, or digging compound and hide these "treasures" there.
  • Further ideas for garden lovers with digging dogs can be found in the book "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs" by Cheryl Smith which says "People love their dogs. They also love their gardens. But sometimes these two passions seem to be in conflict....."

 

GO ON DIGGING WALKS

  • Dogs do not have to dig in gardens to get their "fix". Why not take your dog on digging walks where you have buried their "treasure" before you walk your dog. This does not necessarily mean taking a spade or trowel with you! Why not use the natural hiding places that you come across, for example -
  • snow
  • a pile of gravel or sand
  • a patch of recently dug up earth
  • a nice big pile of leaves
  • almost hidden under a rock, a big log, or a pile of sticks and branches
  • in bracken or deep undergrowth
  • inside an old tree stump
  • at the base of a stone wall
  • even down a shallow (and hopefully vacant) rabbit hole
 

As well as fulfilling your dog's digging instincts your dog will pick up your scent trail and be guided towards the treasure trove. Soon it will be ignoring any other potential hiding places but only sniffing out those with special areas that have a fresh and distinctive human scent.

 

INDOOR AND OUTDOOR DIGGING CHALLENGES

Here are other alternatives to digging in the garden that your dog will love -

  • THE BURROW - Find a big cardboard box. Make a hole a little way up one side of the box, just big enough for your dog to climb through. Fill the box with either - shredded paper, sawdust, polystyrene packaging chips, scrunched up newspaper, old material or towels, or any combination of these. Hide one or more treasures inside then shut the lid of the box so that it is dark and inviting, like an animal's den. You may have to have the lid open the first few times you play the game with your dog, but soon it will enjoy the extra challenge of searching for the treasure by using its sensitive and usually under stimulated nose instead.

 

  • RUSSIAN DOLLS - Hide the treasure inside a thin empty cardboard food packet, then give it to your dog to rip, chew and dig the treasure out. When this is no longer a challenge for your dog place the packet inside another larger box (eg. Empty cereal boxes) and this will take longer for your dog to get at its prize. Gradually you can add further layers, putting more and more of the boxes inside each other, and even begin to tape the boxes closed to make it even more of a challenge.

 

  • THE MATERIAL MOUNTAIN - Over a period of time start to collect together as many old curtains, sheets, blankets, duvets, pillows and cushions as you can. Begin introducing the game to the dog (or puppy) by wrapping the "treasure" up inside one of these old items and then put it on the floor for your dog to "dig" the treasure out. Once your dog has mastered this game increase the number of layers, adding cushions and pillows for variety, until your dog spends many happy hours trying to get to the high value reward. Why not hide more than one item in the pile? That will make it even more exciting for your "digger".

 

 

This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).

 

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