Control Your Dogs Digging
There are two extremes of opinion when it comes to dogs and their
digging habits: one, that a dog is a dog, and we should permit him to express
his true canine nature by allowing him free reign over the yard and flowerbeds;
and two, that a flowerbed is a flowerbed, and no dog should even think about
expression his dogginess if such an expression comes at the price of a
seasons worth of rosebuds.
My own viewpoint tends to favor the
middle ground. Although plenty of dogs do love to dig, and its healthy
for them to be permitted to indulge in this habit from time to time,
theres a difference between permitting your dog to express his inner
puppy, and allowing him to run rampant in the yard. I dont see why a dog
should have to come at the price of a garden, and vice versa: flowers and dogs
can coexist peacefully. If your dogs developed a taste for digging,
itll just take a bit of time (and some crafty ingenuity) on your part to
resolve the issue satisfactorily.
First of all, if you have yet to
adopt a dog and your concern for the fate of your flower-beds is purely
hypothetical, consider the breed of dog that youd like. If youve
got your eye on a specific mixed-breed dog, what seems to be the most
The reason that I ask is simply because breed often plays a
significant role in any given dogs personal valuation of digging as a
rewarding pastime terriers and Nordic breeds in particular (Huskies,
Malamutes, some members of the Spitz family) seem to particularly enjoy
Of course, when you get right down to the sum and substance,
each dog is first and foremost an individual, and theres no guaranteed
way to predict whether or not your chosen familial addition is going to be a
burrower or not. But if youre trying to reduce the likelihood of an
involuntarily-landscaped garden as much as possible, I suggest you stay away
from all breeds of terrier (the name means go to earth, after all!)
and the Nordic breeds.
Why do dogs dig?
particular order, here are some of the more common reasons that a dog will
- Lack of exercise. Digging is a good way for a hyped-up,
under-exercised dog to burn off some of that nervous energy.
- Boredom. Bored dogs need a job to do, something
rewarding and interesting, to help the time pass by.
- Digging is often the ideal solution for a bored dog: it gives
him a sense of purpose, and distracts him from an otherwise-empty day.
- The need for broader horizons. Some dogs are just escape
artists by nature no matter how much exercise and attention they get,
its nearly impossible to confine them. For a four-legged Houdini,
its not the digging in itself thats the reward, its the
glorious unknown that exists beyond the fenceline.
- Separation anxiety. To a dog thats seriously pining for
your company, digging under those confining walls represents the most direct
path to you. Separation anxiety is an unpleasant psychological issue relatively
common among dogs but because its so complex, we wont be
dealing with it in this newsletter. Instead, you can find excellent resources
for both preventing and coping with the condition at
Curbing the habit
Many of the reasons
contributing to your dogs desire to dig suggest their own solutions: if
your dogs not getting enough exercise (generally speaking, at least
forty-five minutes worth of vigorous walking per day), take him for more
walks. If hes bored, give him some toys and chews to play with during
your absence, and wear him out before you leave so he spends most of the day
snoozing. An escape-artist dog might need to be crated, or at least kept inside
the house where hes less likely to be able to break free.
those dogs who just like to dig as a pastime in itself, though, here are a few
basic tips for controlling inappropriate digging as much as is reasonably
- Restrict your dogs access. This is the most effective
thing you can do: if hes never in the yard without active supervision,
theres no opportunity for digging.
- Use natural deterrent. 99.9% of dogs will shy back, horrified,
from the prospect of digging anywhere that theres dog poop. Even the ones
who like to eat poop (a condition known as coprophagia) generally wont
dig anywhere near it it offends their basic, fastidious dislike of
soiling their coat and paws.
- Use natures own wiles. If the digging is bothering you
because its upsetting the more delicate blooms in your garden, plant
hardier blossoms: preferably, those with deep roots and thorny defenses. Roses
- A more time-consuming, but super-effective way of handling the
issue: roll up the first inch or two of turf in your yard, and lay down
chicken-wire underneath it. Your dog wont know its there until
hes had a few tries at digging, but once hes convinced himself that
its pointless (which wont take long), hell never dig in that
Accept your dogs need for an outlet: give him a place
If your dog is set on tunneling your yard into a grassless,
crater-studded lunar landscape, but youre equally determined to prevent
this from happening at all costs, please take a moment to consider before
embarking on a grueling and time-consuming preventative strategy.
Setting yourself the goal of eradicating all digging behavior, period, is
pretty unrealistic: its not fair on you (since, really, youre
setting yourself up for failure), and its not really fair on your poor
dog either if hes a true-blue digger, its just part of his
personality, and he needs at least some opportunity to express that.
But a lawn and a dog dont have to be mutually exclusive: the most humane
and understanding thing for you to do in this case is simply to redirect his
You do this by allocating him an area where hes
allowed to dig as much as he pleases. Once this zones been established,
you can make it crystal-clear that theres to be absolutely no digging in
the rest of the yard and you can enforce your rules with a clear
conscience, since you know your dog now has his own little corner of the world
to turn upside down and inside out as he chooses.
But what if you
dont have a spare corner of the yard? What if the whole
thing, grass, flowerbeds, and gravel path, is just too dear to your heart?
Thats OK too invest in a sandbox, which you can place anywhere in
You can even make one yourself (the deeper, the better,
obviously). Fill it with a mixture of sand and earth, and put some leaves or
grass on top if you like - get your dog interested in it by having a scratch
around yourself, until he gets the idea.
Make sure the
boundaries are clear
To make it clear to him that the sandbox is
OK but that everywhere else is a no-dig zone, spend a little time supervising
him. When he starts to dig in the box (you can encourage this by shallowly
burying a few choice marrowbones in there), praise him energetically and
if he starts digging anywhere else, correct him straight away with an
Ah-ah-aaaah! or No!.
Then, redirect him
immediately to the sandbox, and dole out vociferous praise when digging
To really clarify the lesson, give him a treat when
digging gets underway in the sandbox the close proximity between the
correction (for digging out of the sandbox) and praise/reward (for digging in
the sandbox) will ensure that your point strikes home.
information on recognizing and dealing with problematic behaviors like digging,
chewing, barking, and aggression, check out
SitStayFetch. Its a detailed how-to manual for the
responsible owner, and is packed with all the information youll need for
raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted pooch: from problem behaviors to dog
psychology to obedience work, SitStayFetch has it covered.
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