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Puppy Training
Canine Problem Solving

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Problem Solving For Digging

An important part of pet ownership is teaching your puppy or dog proper pet manners and how to be a good neighbor. It is your responsibility to have control over your dog and to correct bad behavior, like digging. Your pet should never be left outside unattended and you should always obey leash laws. Obedience training is an important factor in this process. Some corrections should begin when your dog is a puppy, even before he is leash trained, while other corrections require a leash and collar. Remember, your puppy or dog is like a small child. He might misbehave due to curiosity or boredom, not because he knows what he’s doing is unacceptable. Remember, with any unacceptable canine behavior, prevention is easier than treatment.

To correct common behavior problems, follow these basic steps:

Dogs dig. It is a very natural thing for them to do. They dig to escape, find a cool spot to rest in, because they are bored, or because they were bred to. To stop your puppy or dog from digging, there are many different procedures to try. First, you must supervise your dog in the yard either with you out there or while watching through a window. When the dog begins to dig, you interrupt the behavior with something the dog will want to avoid (a loud noise, your voice, a thrown choke chain). You can put pepper, citrus or diluted ammonia in the inappropriate area. There are also commercial products (such as Get Off My Garden) that create a scent in the area, which is repugnant to animals and interferes with the animal’s sense of smell. You can fill the holes with the dog’s feces and cover with about a half an inch of dirt. Most dogs do not like to step or dig in their own mess. You can fill the holes with debris (gravel, sticks, etc.) or chicken wire, hoping the dog will get discouraged and give up. If the dog is digging against the fence line, try running a piece of fencing about an inch under the ground along the fence line. It will not feel good on the paws and nails. You can also try putting an electric wire along the fence line.

Understanding Digging

Digging is a very natural thing for dogs to do. They dig to escape, to find a cool spot to lie in, to bury a bone, because they are bored or because that's what they were bred to do. Digging is one of the most frustrating behavior problems a dog owner can experience. Many dog owners have spent the day planting a garden, only to have it dug up in a matter of minutes. If your dog digs, you have two choices: extinguish the behavior or redirect it.

Extinguish the Behavior

To do this, you must supervise your dog in the yard either with you out there or while watching through a window. When your dog begins to dig, you interrupt the behavior with something the dog will want to avoid: a loud noise, your voice, or a thrown choke chain. If you are not opposed to using a remote training collar, one that administers a small electrical correction via a remote control device, this is one of the few behaviors that a remote collar works well with because the dog will think the correction is coming from the behavior rather than you. Consult a qualified trainer or behaviorist for proper usage.

Redirect the Behavior

If your dog loves to dig, create a "digging place" in a remote area of the yard. Take your dog there and let him see you bury a treat or bone slightly under the surface. Encourage the dog to dig it up and praise him. Do this each day. Bury fun things (treats, chew toys or bones) for your dog to find. Remember to correct the dog if he digs anywhere but the special place. You want the dog to dig in only the designated area, since it is in this special place that he/she gets reinforcement (finding neat things) and receives no corrections.

Why Dogs Dig

Temperature - To escape the heat, dogs will seek refuge in a hole where the earth is cooler.

Breed - While all dogs will dig if given the opportunity, some breeds dig more than others. These include the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Fox Terrier, Airedale, Cairn Terrier, Afghan hound, Dachshund, Weimaraner, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, German Shepherd, Poodles, Australian Cattle Dog and Doberman Pinscher.

Nervous energy - Nervous dogs will dig because they are stressed or frustrated.

Boredom - Bone burying may be one reason behind destructive digging, but often the reason is boredom and the more intelligent the dog, the bigger the problem.

Scent chasing - Dogs will dig to find the source of scent-buried bones, fertilizer, plants, flowers, and vegetables.

Burying something - Dogs may dig holes to bury their bones, toys or feces.

Cures for Boredom

Constant digging, like many other destructive behaviors, can be a sign that your dog isn't getting enough exercise. If possible, take your dog on more frequent or longer walks. Set up play dates with other dogs in your neighborhood. The amount of exercise a dog needs depends on the breed. Sporting dogs, such as retrievers, may need as much as a couple of hours of vigorous exercise a day, while dogs bred as sedentary guard dogs or lapdogs (Rottweilers or Shih Tzus) can get by on much less. Talk to your vet or dog trainer to get an idea of how much exercise is right for your dog, being careful not to overdo it with younger dogs. Remember, a tired dog is a good dog.

Go to an obedience class and set aside time to practice every day. Mental exercise is just as strenuous for a dog as physical exercise, sometimes more. Do 2-3 short (10 minute) sessions through the day. Be sure to give your dog lots of praise and reward for being compliant during the training session. Many dogs were bred for a specific purpose. If your dog is not given a job to do, he/she will get bored and redirect that energy, usually into a negative behavior.

Don't leave your dog alone in the backyard. Dogs are highly social animals and need to be with their pack. Dogs get stressed when they are left alone outside all day. They feel isolated from their pack and exhibit stress by barking, digging, chewing and general destructiveness. At the very least, bring your dog inside while you are home. By making your dog more a part of the family, the dog will be happier and less prone to these stress behaviors.

Common Cures for Digging

Why do dogs bury bones?

Wild relatives of the dog often bury their food. They may have killed an animal that is too big to eat all at once, or may have killed several animals when they were plentiful. Wolves and fox will bury this food to preserve and protect it from being found by other animals who would want to eat it. This is called caching or hoarding their food.

Domestic dogs still carry this hoarding trait. They will bury a bone or toy in the yard, or even under a blanket, as a way of saving and protecting it. But our dogs seldom experience the extreme hunger that encourages them to find it again, so many times, these buried treasures are forgotten.