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Can you dig it?

Posted on: June 20th, 2011 by

Dog insurance enthusiast and author Arden Moore's book.

Oh Behave!
Q&A with Pet Expert Arden Moore
For Pets Best Insurance

Q. My 5-year-old German shepherd-Lab mix has completely destroyed my garden with her digging. I ensure she’s healthy, happy and she even has pet insurance, but my yard looks like a minefield. I don’t know what to do to stop her. As soon as my husband fills up the holes, Greta digs them up again. Why is she is obsessed with digging, and how can we make her stop?

A. Many dogs love to dig in soft dirt or sand. I’m sure you’ve noticed how much Greta seems to be enjoying herself when she digs. In the wild, wolves and other canids dig to create dens for their pups or to hide food. The instinct to dig remains strong in many domestic dogs who bury their bones or toys and scratch out cool places to rest during the summertime heat. Some dogs dig to burn off energy and relieve boredom. Unfortunately, digging, while not harmful to the dog, is destructive behavior that leaves owners frustrated and dogs in big trouble.

Before you can fix Greta’s digging problem, you need to understand her motivation for digging. Does she spend a lot of time alone in your backyard? Do you take the time to play with her? Is she exercised regularly? Both German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are high-energy breeds who need fun and mentally stimulating activities to help wear them out. If you don’t provide something for a dog like Greta to do, she will make her own fun, most likely in a way you don’t appreciate. This is probably why she has taken up digging.

Digging can be a difficult habit to break, because dogs find it so enjoyable. The key to fixing this problem is to give Greta less destructive ways to burn off her energy while also discouraging her from tearing up the yard.

Start by protecting your garden. One method is to put large rocks on top of the areas where Greta likes to dig. Fill in the holes that Greta has dug, and place rocks on top of these spots. Dogs usually prefer soft dirt to carry out their excavations, so for the larger areas, try spreading chicken wire out and staking it down while she learns to redirect her energy. Sprinkling or spraying the area with red pepper flakes, citronella or pennyroyal oil, or a commercial dog repellent will make the area less attractive to Greta. Trimming her nails may not curb the digging tendency, but could lessen the damage, so give her regular pedicures.

If Greta isn’t already trained, enroll her in an obedience class. Most dogs need a job to do to occupy their minds, and both German Shepherds and Labs have a strong work ethic as well as abundant energy. Teaching Greta obedience will give you control over her and give her something to think about besides digging, as well as building a closer relationship with you. If you have time, consider getting involved in a fun competitive canine activity like agility or fly ball. Greta would no doubt love to get involved in one of these high-energy sports.

It is very important that you properly channel Greta’s excess energy. If you need to leave her outside in the yard while you are away for a few hours during the day, take her for a long walk or play a vigorous game of fetch with her in the morning to tire her out. Provide her with alternatives to digging, such as a hollow, hard rubber toy stuffed with treats, to occupy her time. Because she is a high-energy dog, she may need a diversion in the middle of the day to distract her from digging.

Hire a professional pet sitter or dog walker, or ask a dog-savvy neighbor to come and play ball with Greta or take her on a long walk during the day. Relieving her boredom and wearing her out physically will go a long way toward discouraging her digging instincts.

In addition to the above, you might compromise a bit and give Greta her own turf to tear up. Try taking a plastic kiddy pool (available at major discount chain stores for around $10), filling it with dirt, and hiding a few dog biscuits and toys for Greta to sniff out and discover through digging. If you catch her digging on your turf, clap our hands or do something to startle her so that she will stop digging and look at you. Then direct her to where she is allowed to dig. If you praise her for digging appropriately in her own patch of real estate filled with canine goodies, she will be more likely to ignore the rest of your yard.

Confounded by your canine? Frustrated by your feline? Relax. Pet expert Arden Moore is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”

Pet insurance lover and pet author Arden Moore.

On a regular basis, Arden will unleash excerpts from her two award-winning books, The Dog Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Dog Writers Association of America) and The Cat Behavior Answer Book (named the top training and behavior book by the Cat Writers Association). Learn more about Moore, who hosts the “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio www.petliferadio.com – the No. 1 pet podcast in the world — by visiting her Four Legged Life website (www.fourleggedlife.com).

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One Comment

  1. L-EV says:

    Agree that exercise is key. We have a very active mixed bully and she took up with digging. We exercise her daily, every morning. She runs a minimum of 3 miles either running with my husband or running beside me on my bicycle (biketowleash.com).

    We also have a 10’x10′ sandbox built into the end of the side yard. We bury her toys in there so that she will find them in the course of digging and make it more interesting.

    Lastly, it just requires a lot of patience. Knowing that they are going to make these mistakes, maybe many times, but if you consistently exercise them, provide fun alternatives, and consistently reinforce positive behaviors, they’ll get it eventually. Our girl has gotten much better about digging, in fact she only digs in her sandbox now. But she has chewed other items. Again, it’s about patiently teaching her what she can and can’t do.

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