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 seasonís worth of rosebuds.
My own viewpoint tends to favor the middle ground. Although plenty of dogs do love to dig, and itís healthy for them to be permitted to indulge in this habit from time to time, thereís a difference between permitting your dog to express his inner puppy, and allowing him to run rampant in the yard. I donít 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 dogís developed a taste for digging, itíll 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 youíd like. If youíve got your eye on a specific mixed-breed dog, what seems to be the most prominent?
The reason that I ask is simply because breed often plays a significant role in any given dogís personal valuation of digging as a rewarding pastime Ė terriers and Nordic breeds in particular (Huskies, Malamutes, some members of the Spitz family) seem to particularly enjoy digging.
Of course, when you get right down to the sum and substance, each dog is first and foremost an individual, and thereís no guaranteed way to predict whether or not your chosen familial addition is going to be a burrower or not. But if youíre 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 ďgo to earthĒ, after all!) and the Nordic breeds.
Why do dogs dig?
In no particular order, here are some of the more common reasons that a dog will dig:
* 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 ďjobĒ 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 Ė no matter how much exercise and attention they get, itís nearly impossible to confine them. For a four-legged Houdini, itís not the digging in itself thatís the reward, itís the glorious unknown that exists beyond the fenceline.
* Separation anxiety. To a dog thatís 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 Ė but because itís so complex, we wonít be dealing with it in this newsletter. Instead, you can find excellent resources for both preventing and coping with the condition at http://www.kingdomofpets.com/dogobediencetraining/
Curbing the habit
Many of the reasons contributing to your dogís desire to dig suggest their own solutions: if your dogís not getting enough exercise (generally speaking, at least forty-five minutesí worth of vigorous walking per day), take him for more walks. If heís 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 heís less likely to be able to break free.
For 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 possible:
* Restrict your dogís access. This is the most effective thing you can do: if heís never in the yard without active supervision, thereís no opportunity for digging.
* Use natural deterrent. 99.9% of dogs will shy back, horrified, from the prospect of digging anywhere that thereís dog poop. Even the ones who like to eat poop (a condition known as coprophagia) generally wonít dig anywhere near it Ė it offends their basic, fastidious dislike of soiling their coat and paws.
* Use natureís own wiles. If the digging is bothering you because itís upsetting the more delicate blooms in your garden, plant hardier blossoms: preferably, those with deep roots and thorny defenses. Roses are ideal.
* 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 wonít know itís there until heís had a few tries at digging, but once heís convinced himself that itís pointless (which wonít take long), heíll never dig in that yard again.
Accept your dogís need for an outlet: give him a place to dig
If your dog is set on tunneling your yard into a grassless, crater-studded lunar landscape, but youíre 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: itís not fair on you (since, really, youíre setting yourself up for failure), and itís not really fair on your poor dog either Ė if heís a true-blue digger, itís just part of his personality, and he needs at least some opportunity to express that.
But a lawn and a dog donít have to be mutually exclusive: the most humane and understanding thing for you to do in this case is simply to redirect his digging energy.
You do this by allocating him an area where heís allowed to dig as much as he pleases. Once this zoneís been established, you can make it crystal-clear that thereís to be absolutely no digging in the rest of the yard Ė 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 donít have a ďspare cornerĒ of the yard? What if the whole thing, grass, flowerbeds, and gravel path, is just too dear to your heart? Thatís OK too Ė invest in a sandbox, which you can place anywhere in the garden.
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 Ė and if he starts digging anywhere else, correct him straight away with an ďAh-ah-aaaah!Ē or ďNo!Ē.
Then, redirect him immediately to the sandbox, and dole out vociferous praise when digging recommences.
To really clarify the lesson, give him a treat when digging gets underway in the sandbox Ė 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.
For more information on recognizing and dealing with problematic behaviors like digging, chewing, barking, and aggression, check out SitStayFetch. Itís a detailed how-to manual for the responsible owner, and is packed with all the information youíll need for raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted pooch: from problem behaviors to dog psychology to obedience work, SitStayFetch has it covered.
You can check out SitStayFetch by clicking on the link below:
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