At this time of year, when everyone’s thoughts turn to beautifying their piece of property, I get lots of calls from horrified gardeners asking me how to stop their dog from digging humongous holes in their yard.
I get equal amounts of calls from horrified dogs who find that all their hard work creating the perfect backyard paradise of their dreams is not at all appreciated by their ignorant humans!
I have rolled up laughing on many occasion when owners of terriers call me and tell me that they can’t understand why their dog won’t stop digging holes: they ask me, ‘What am I doing wrong?’
Well, first off, you got yourself a terrier…!
Dogs don’t dig holes out of spite just to piss us off, they dig holes because all it takes is one tiny whiff of a scent and they’re off!…Digging for moles, or digging where a rabbit might have been once or a chipmunk, or a beetle..it doesn’t matter to the dog really. They just dig because there’s always the possibility that they’re going to find something interesting if they do. It’s exactly the same reason we visit yard sales or junk shops or flea markets; we want to find something, to unearth a little treasure.
There are two ways of handling dogs that dig.
You either try to train the dog not to dig, which can lead to much consternation on a very regular basis on your part, and a very pissed off Fido, or you can embrace all that both of you want, and manage the situation.
Here at the Ranch, I have a very tacit understanding with the dogs; down on the meadow and in the woods, they can dig any size hole they want, go from here to China if they want to, I don’t care.
But, in the top yards, where we cut the grass, they are not allowed to dig at all.
Giving the dog who loves to dig a little bit of space in your yard is one of the best and most stress free answers to this problem. It can be demarcated by fence or bushes or even a few logs laid on the ground, so it’s very easy to do. Then, YOU start the ball rolling by burrowing a small hole and planting a little treat like a piece of cooked chicken in it and encourage the dog to go look for it. Once he gets it, praise him like he won the lottery for you, and then do it again. And again. And again.
Of course the real reward is the digging out the treasure, and, once he has done this a few times, you can accompany the build up to this activity with the words ‘You wanna do some digging?’ and then walk over to that spot. As he starts to dig away, tell him ‘Good job, good digging’. Smile, show him you’re enjoying seeing him happy, look proud of his humongous architectural achievement instead of looking aghast at the tower of mud and earth rising out of your lawn. Dogs love to see us happy with them, so they intentionally try to please us so that they can revel in the positive energy of shared happiness with their owner.
The whole Pavlov’s dog scenario works really well on just about anything like this with your dog; within a few attempts, your dog, at the sound of the fridge door opening, combined with the sight of you in your gardening shoes, will be excitedly waiting for the chicken to come out and pacing between you and the door, looking out of the window towards his digging spot and coming back to the fridge.
Of course, like any dog, he is at some point going to try and dig a hole in what is now your yard, and you at first look very disappointed with him (yes, it does work, just as the smile does) then just calmly leash him up, walk him over to HIS yard and use the magic words ‘You wanna do some digging?’. As soon as he starts to dig in the designated spot, look pleased with him again.
By encouraging him and praising him to use his own little piece of real estate for this activity, you kill two birds with one stone. First of all, you get to keep your yard nice and just as you like it. Secondly, you are letting him know that you are fair, that his freedom comes on your terms and that the rewards are huge when he does it your way…food treats, praise, and a bloody good digging session. What more could he want?
We have done this successfully many times with our dogs in lots of different properties, and trust me, we have some hard core diggers, as anyone who has been on our Facebook page and seen photos of my dogs’ noses will know.
At Desperate Dogs, for every problem we deal with, we first look at the dogs’ point of view and try to work out a way for both owner and dog to get what they want in the kindest, most straight forward and logical way possible.
Working WITH your dog, embracing his drives, his innate needs, understanding the things that float his boat and trying to achieve them for him while still getting the desired effect that you want is the best kind of outcome.
That’s what you call a win-win situation.