The answer may surprise you! In today's post, trainer Kristin Lucey examines dog digging
He's in a rhythm now, one paw then the other scattering the clay-like mud and dirt into a wide pile behind him. His long back legs are stiff and pitched at an angle to keep his body steady while he works. His ears flop back and forth, in rapid sync with his paws. Once the hole is deep enough, he jams his nose down in it and takes a loud inhale of the smells released by the latest rains. He raises his head, mouth open, tongue lolling out as he pants from his efforts. Mud is piled up onto his nose and caked under his nails. He appears utterly joyful.
My dog loves to dig.
Why do dogs dig?
Sometimes he digs for an obvious purpose - to bury the last few inches of a bully stick or a dental chew. He's a hound breed (a "lion hunter" they say), but not one bred to hunt tunneling critters as Dachshunds and some terriers were; I don't think he's looking for prey.
He gets daily hikes and food puzzles, frequent doggie play dates and a nightly game of tug and wrestle; I don't think he's bored or under-stimulated.
He's rarely left outside unattended and then only for brief periods, I don't think he digs to escape when he's alone. And he's never outside in excessive heat; I don't think he's seeking a way out or a cool spot to lay in. Mostly he seems to dig just for the fun of it; digging for digging's sake.
I love to watch him do it.
Digging is one of those "I'm just out here being a dog!" activities of his that I'm delighted to
witness. The best comparable thing in my own life, the "I'm just out here being a human!" activity, is my love of baseball. What is the "reason" for that? I'm not an athlete myself; I don't have kids that play; I'm not a gambler or a fantasy baseball player. I just love watching the games, listening to them on the radio, even bringing a scorebook and using old-fashioned pen and pencil to note the plays and scores.
What if someone tried to forbid me from ever catching another game?
No digging? or training your dog?
My dog's opportunities to dig, outside of our own yard, are severely limited. Signs at our favorite dog park warn, "No digging!" On our favorite hiking trails, we hear other dogs receiving stern reprimands, caught in the act, "No digging!" In a world full of Don'ts, where are the Dos?
I get it. Holes can be dangerous for dogs and humans in places where both are walking, running and jumping. Planned, costly gardens typically don't account for shrubs or other landscaping to be torn out by resident dogs. Concern for a dog's safety requires preventing them from digging under a fence and escaping a yard.
But to forbid him from ever digging?
Here's what to do instead: dig training. Just as we engage in house-training (teaching our dogs that it's OK for them to potty outside but not inside), and chew-training (teaching our dogs that they can gnaw on bully sticks and nylabones but not baseboards or table legs), we can embark on dig-training (teaching our dogs that they can dig here, but not there).
how to dig train
First, create a "here" -- an approved or "legal" place to dig. Fashioning a "dig pit" can be as easy as marking off an out-of-the-way area of your yard where you're willing to allow some holes.
Or, if you have no yard or no unused patch of earth, try filling a kiddie pool with play sand or dirt.
Or, if you enjoy HGTV-level, light carpentry or landscaping work, you can build a more permanent structure (see the amazing examples of our creative and handy clients and colleagues below!)
Second, prevent access to the "there" until the "here" is constructed. This means increased supervision of your dog. Leaving a dig-loving dog outside alone and near dirt is tempting fate. This also means blocking off areas you want to protect using temporary fences or play pens (you can put your dog or the illegal area in the pen) to preclude any digging. The more a dog practices in one spot, the more they'll associate that spot with the joy of digging.
Meet your dog's environmental enrichment needs in other ways that are enjoyable for them: long walks, food puzzles, frequent sniffing opportunities outdoors, training games like simple nose- or scent-work, finding a hidden treat or following a Hansel-and-Gretel breadcrumb trail until legal digging can begin!
Finally, when the dig pit or digging area is ready, make it the HOTTEST GAME IN TOWN. Be involved in the beginning! Happy talk and give treat rewards for any attempts at sniffing, pawing or digging in the dig pit. Help your dog learn the dig pit is where the action is by scattering on top or shallowly burying super smelly treats, chewies or a favorite ball or rope for them to discover like treasure.
Some of our favorite dig pits
Check out HoldenK9 clients Marzy & Spaghetti's dig pit:
Finding a way to safely allow digging is a win-win, for dogs and for us. It's choosing joy. It is one more way to provide your dog with a life worth living.
About The Author
Our guest blogger, Kristin Lucey, CTC, is an honors graduate of Jean Donaldson's Academy for Dog Trainers.
Kristin volunteered for Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California, beginning in 2013. She completed ARF's "Shelter U" program which provided a basic background in positive reinforcement and force-free handling. She later assisted with ARF's Puppy Manners, Basic Manners and Reactive Rover classes, (taught by Holden, who was always impressed by her skills and encouraged her to become a pro!) Kristin also spent some time as a specialized Behavior Volunteer at Berkeley Humane.
Her primary gig is still as a full-time practicing attorney, but Kristin enjoys using her CTC to teach Bravo!Pup's Puppy 1 classes.
Kristin is endlessly intrigued with the application of known, scientific principles of animal learning to individual dogs. She recently welcomed a Rhodesian Ridgeback, Obed, into her family. Obed has provided Kristin with an education in the real-life challenges of both puppyhood and teenager-dom.
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