Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Springtime, Gardening, and....Digging?

I had an email this week asking me how I manage to control my dogs' digging in the yard, since I have terriers. I had to think about this, because I've never had to "control" my dog's digging, and we don't have any digging problems at home. The Schnauzers love to dig at the beach, you will often find Gaci digging up an animal's nest on a hike, and well, the typical way you'll see one of the Schnauzers in wintertime when they hear the mice digging paths under the snow is......above. So I clearly have dogs that love to dig! Why is it, then, that they don't dig in unwanted ways?

The biggest reason comes down to boredom and lack of exercise. Dogs who dig are generally dogs who don't have anything else to do. Dogs (those prone to digging) will often dig if they are not getting enough exercise. An underexercised dog will try to find ways to use up that extra energy, and digging is a great energy burner. Dogs that do not getting regular training, and toys to keep their minds busy, may find that digging is a great game to play.

Next, a more obvious reason (generally works in sync with the first reason above), is that they are unsupervised! Dogs who are supervised don't get the chance to dig holes, as you are there to witness and interrupt. Dogs who are placed outside in backyards, or on tie-outs, and left unsupervised for great lengths of time, will find something to do with their time, and can become successful landscapers in a short period of time. If you are not supervising your dog, you can't teach it about digging behaviour.

Digging is a totally natural behaviour for dogs. For some dogs (like terriers), it comes naturally and can be quite enjoyable. But like anything, you can teach a time and place for digging, you can teach incompatible behaviours for digging, and keep your gardens and grass intact. If it works for your home situation, you can build an appopriate "sandbox" that your dog is allowed to dig in. Teach your dog to dig in that one spot, and help out by hiding favorite toys and treats in there for Fido to dig up and enjoy. If you find Fido digging in your garden, interrupt his behaviour and rush over to the digging area you have created and encourage digging there. Reward for proper digging (hidden toys will be rewarding on its own as well). You can also take your dog to the beach or somewhere where digging may be allowable, to allow them that natural outlet.

For those who can't work with a solution that allows a dog to dig, the solutions are simple (but not always easy!). First, make sure your dog gets enough exercise for its energy level daily. Digging dogs tend to be higher-energy dogs, so it may include an hour or more of hard running, fetch, chase games, etc daily. Make sure you have puzzle toys that give your dog the chance to work at them (Kongs, Tug-a-Jugs, and Tricky Treat Ball are all great ones, but you can find many other types) and use up some of that energy. Make sure to always supervise your dog while it is outdoors - if you leave it unsupervised and it digs a whole or re-structures your flower bed, it's not the dog's fault. If you are watching your dog, you can control what it is doing. If your dog is digging to find a cool spot in the summer, ensure there is adequate shade and water for the pup to cool down. Consider offering a kiddie pool of water as another way to cool Fido down.

Digging is one of those utterly natural canine behaviours that we humans all too often label as "problems". Next time I will touch on the issue of "problem" behaviours and what it really means - to person and to dog.

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