One natural thing that dogs do is dig, and most dogs enjoy doing so. There are actually many dog breeds that have been genetically selected over the years specifically because of their inclination and abilities to dig, this includes most Terrier breeds.
I myself have a Boston Terrier named Lazarus, and he LOVES to dig! For him, digging is fun, it is again in his case part of what he was bred to do. For those of you following my posts, I introduced you to Lazarus a while back as my “picky eater”. Lazarus loves to dig holes in the muddy areas of the yard, once he dug a hole so deep you’d think he’d have reached China! Laz also loves to roll around in that mud which has earned him the title of “mud prince” in our home, our black and white dog coming in from outside completely brown.
I actually don’t mind him digging in that area of the yard so I allow him to enjoy himself, but the problem is that sometimes he tries to dig in the house. While Lazarus hasn’t succeeded digging through the wall to wall carpeting in the bedrooms, he has on one occasion dug a hole for himself in a mattress so he could climb into it to sleep. Boy was that a fun surprise when I came home!
What’s a mom to do? Obviously, I had to put a stop to that behavior immediately and since that time Lazarus only digs in the allowed area outside. When your dog’s digging is done in the wrong place, it suddenly becomes a behavioral problem. Dogs that spend lots of time by themselves outdoors or are confined to a yard for long periods of time tend to dig as a means of combating boredom. The classic example of this would be where you let your dog out to amuse himself, rather than taking him/her out for active interaction with you.
In order to prevent your dog from developing a bad digging habit, do not leave your dog unsupervised outside for long periods of time. If your dog enjoys playing in the yard, always have plenty of outdoor toys for them to play with. Change the toys frequently so that your dog does not become bored with the toys.
Give your dog a cool place to stay when he or she is outside as well. This helps prevent digging that is a result of trying to cool down. Make sure that your dog has a cool shaded area to rest, provide a large clean bowl of water, and on especially hot days you can fill up a small kiddie pool or turn on a sprinkler which can be very entertaining.
Some dogs will dig to escape, please be extra vigilant in this circumstance! Spaying and neutering your dog early in life actually helps to decrease the desire to escape. If your dog continues to dig even after they are spayed or neutered, then unsupervised outdoor time in the yard is not a good idea.
Then we have the dogs that like to dig and search for small prey: rats, mice, moles, or even insects, this behavior out of instinct. It is difficult to prevent instinctive behavior; try to help your dog focus on another type of action if you notice them engaging in this behavior.
So, how can you correct a digging problem? There are a number of possible solutions. Digging due to boredom can be resolved by eliminating the boredom, plain and simple. Make sure you spend lots of time with your dog. Make sure that he/she is well-exercised and has burned off any excess energy. Running, playing, fetching, and going for walks really helped Lazarus curb his inappropriate digging. He loves outside time playing with the other dogs, enjoys what I call training sessions, fetch, and will keep playing until he is too tired for anything else.
In addition to exercise, I recommend you make sure to obedience-train your dog so he will responds to you saying “no” when you catch him digging. Redirecting his/her energy to other activities cannot be accomplished if he/she does not obey your basic commands. If your dog’s digging behavior is because he wants to escape from your property, provide him/her with plenty of exercise and walks.
Again, depending on your dog, including the fact that they may just be a digging breed, you may need to provide him/her with their own digging area where they can dig without fear of reprisal. If this becomes an alternative, you will first need to train your dog to use this area only. At the same time, remember to reprimanded when you catch him digging in the wrong place, and then take him/her to the digging area and rewarded when they use this area instead. Basically this will teach them to dig where and when it is appropriate.
The real key here as with any inappropriate dog behavior is to spend more time with your pup! Preventing boredom, and providing lots of exercise, digging can be controlled. As always, I remind you that training and consistency are key in creating a happy, healthy well behaved furry family member.
Stay tuned here on Paws Give Me Purpose for the next article in our ABCs of Dog Behavior series!