Last Teusday I was in Buckhead with a new Home Dog Training client and his Labrador Retriever named Shane. She was just over a year old and full of energy. We worked on exercises such as walking, obedience at the front door, Shane’s focus on her masters, jumping, and the like. We did most of our training in the house, out front, or on the sidewalk, so when I took a peek out the window to the backyard, I was very surprised at what I saw. There were holes in their well manicured lawn and missing flowers from their flower beds. So, I turned to them and asked them if they had considered switching gardeners. The current one was not doing their job.
They laughed and then said, “Oh yes, there is one more thing that we need to discuss. Shane likes to dig. Is there anything we can do about that?’
I explained that most dogs don’t wake up in the morning and think to themselves “Hey, I want to dig a hole!”. There are normally external issues that cause them to dig holes and make a mess in the back yard. Over the years we have identified three issues that normally cause digging.
NEED TO ESCAPE: The dog may want to get to something on the other side of the fence. This may be another dog, a specific smell, or something they need to investigate. They also could be scared of something going on within their home and just want to get as far away as possible. Both the “I wonder” and “I’m afraid” emotions will cause them do dig holes at the base of fences and gates. They are trying to burrow under these perimeter barriers to reach their desired location.
HEARING NOISE FROM THE GROUND: I know this may sound weird, but our dog can hear a lot more things than we ever could. That is they are always the first to hear the mailman driving down the street or even the squirrel jumping between branches in the back yard. Believe it or not, but water often sloshes around in our backyard sprinkler pipes, our septic tank, or the pool filter.
We never here these sounds, but our dog often hears them. He becomes curious and tries to locate the source of the noise. His only way to do that is to dig where he hears the noise. That is why you will often find holes near hose outlets or sprinkler heads.
BOREDOM: This is the main reason why dogs dig in the back yard. They are bored and have nothing else to do. They may have walked around the perimeter, played with a stick that had fallen off a tree, barked at the neighbor cat, and had taken a nap in the sun. The grass now seems nice and soft, why not dig? As they dig, they may find interesting things like rocks and worms, so they better keep digging. Once the hole is big enough, it can become their “dog cave” and provide a cool oasis from the summer heat.
Now we have some reasons why our dog may want to dig up the back yard, but what can we do about it? From a dog trainer’s perspective, the “escape issue” is the most troubling. If the issue is “escape because of fear”, there is something very bad going on inside the home. That is a “bad human” issue and not a dog training issue. If it is escape because of something outside your dog’s property that he wants to investigate, you are going to have to mitigate that issue yourself. If it is a dog on the other side of the fence, you may need to work with your neighbor to set up a mutually exclusive “outside schedule”. You may need to “rethink” your fence to keep your dog away from the base of the fence and their “digging location”.
There are far better solutions to keep your dog from digging when your dog’s issue is “what’s that underground sound?” or “boredom”. The two solutions we often offer our clients are not based on a simple correction and “stop it” mentality. This may break the inappropriate action for a moment, but the the dog will often return to digging after a short period of time. Our options are built around the “redirection principle”. Instead of saying “You can’t do that”, we redirect their focus and boredom to an acceptable target. To be quite clear, that direction is anywhere except destroying our back yard. We would like to offer the following options:
- Scatter Feed: Get some of your dog’s food, raw veggies, or other small pieces of food, and throw that in the back yard. You have now created an Easter Egg Hunt for your dog. All dogs love to forage and you have just created the perfect forage area. This will keep your dog busy for a very long time and will provide an alternate, fun activity for him.
- Digging Pit: “If you can’t beat him, join him!” What your dog is telling you is he likes to dig. Why not encourage that in a way that is OK with you? Find an area in the yard that is a little out of the way and clear it of all plants, grass, etc. Next, line the area with a border of wood (redwood or cedar planks). Line the area with plastic and then fill it with white sand. Hide some of your dog’s toys in the sand, exposing their tops. Also, bury some of his favorite (smelly) treats in the digging pit. This offers your dog a target rich environment to dig. Why dig anywhere else when he can dig in the soft sand and find all his favorite stuff?
Try these two dog training tips and I guarantee you will have a great back yard in no time.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.