We've dropped in to discuss a bit of a dirty topic... Digging!
Digging is a commonly-expressed training problem by dog owners and one of the major reasons why pet parents seek professional training advice. So if you come home from work every evening to a new crater or three in the backyard, you're really not alone.
We've seen a lot of canine excavation work over the years, and for some of our clients' dogs it's been the main reason they've sought our help. Whenever we talk about digging with anyone, I always think of one dog in particular - a Border Collie called Checkers. I'll never forget the cavernous trenches that Checkers used to dig in the garden lawn... they were so big you'd think they'd been holed out with earth-moving machinery! Needless to say, Checkers' family were a little beside themselves with a garden that resembled an off-road driving course! If this is starting to sound familiar to you, keep reading!
HOW CAN I STOP MY DOG'S DIGGING?
The answer to every problem lies in the question - why does your dog dig in the first place? There are a number of reasons why your dog could be 'redecorating' your backyard, and the solution you'll need to implement will depend on the root cause.
In many cases, dogs dig because they feel bored and frustrated without enough mental and physical stimulation (e.g. exercise), and/or they feel lonely and isolated without the company of others. You might notice other destructive behaviours signalling boredom, such as incessant barking or other destruction in your backyard. We've seen everything from washing pulled off the line to completely removed and dismantled sprinkler systems! If you do notice these things - it's a good idea to have a friendly chat with your neighbours. Boredom and loneliness can go hand in hand, and your dog may be barking or howling throughout the day without you even knowing it.
There are situations where digging doesn't simply come down to boredom, loneliness, or frustration. Some dogs dig holes and sit in them to regulate their temperature - they may be feeling too hot or too cold throughout the day (our dog walking crew loves digging holes in the sandpit at Kooyong Park on a warm day). Others may dig purely for the fun of it. And in some cases, digging dogs may actually be suffering from serious mental distress (e.g. Separation Anxiety) and this can only be treated with professional help.
OK, SO NOW I KNOW WHY IT HAPPENS. HOW CAN I FIX IT?
Before you try to fix your dog's digging, it's important to remember that dogs operate within a vastly different "life perspective" to humans. As much as your dog may seem human at times, they simply aren't. Dogs don't operate within the same mental framework as humans - amongst many other things, they don't perceive "right" and "wrong" like we do. And just to clear something up: your dog doesn't know what they did was wrong because they have a "guilty" facial expression. They are just appeasing you because they know you're not happy!
It's so easy to forget how canine your dog is when they are such brilliant, intuitive companions. It's also easy to forget how many of our own thoughts and beliefs are subconscious. Many training issues stem not from dogs failing to understand their humans, but humans misunderstanding their dogs. Don't fall into the trap of falsely believing your dog is "purposely misbehaving" - this misconception only leaves you (and your dog) feeling frustrated and upset, without any solution to the problem. As much as you know your dog, at the end of the day, your dog is from a different species and they speak a different language. The absolute best thing you can do in the process of working with your dog is to empathise with them, and try to understand. Despite how it looks, your dog is doing the best they know how with the skills and coping strategies they currently have. Make sure your expectations are fair, realistic, and helpful. This doesn't just make for a nicer training experience with your dog - it makes for a much more successful one too.
So, a few things you can do to address your dog's digging.
If your dog is digging because they are too hot or too cold - you need to make adjustments to their environment. Perhaps it's about leaving them inside with the air conditioning or heating on, or if they must be outside, perhaps they need a coat in Winter, or a paddle pool and some extra shade in Summer. If heat is the problem, maybe they also need a good groom or brush to help remove some of that dense undercoat.
If your dog is digging because they simply enjoy it - they might need an acceptable outlet to express this. How about a sandpit with some buried toys? At the same time, you should consider cordoning off parts of the garden that you don't want to be dug up, as your dog will not necessarily understand what you mean by "this is your designated digging area, Checkers".
If your dog is digging because they are bored - most likely you will need to step up both their mental and physical stimulation. To keep their brain happy, give them some more "appropriate" activities such as occupier or puzzle toys and slow feeder bowls. You could incorporate extra trick training into your time together and/or visit more interesting locations like an agility park or the dog beach. In terms of physical exercise, this might mean longer, more frequent, or more energetic exercise sessions - and if you simply don't have the extra time, remember that's what we're here for. At Heads & Tails, we help lots of dog owners in the exact same position! You can make your dog happier, healthier & better behaved, simply by getting in touch with us.
If your dog is lonely - you'll need to tee up some more company. Definitely don't rush out and get another dog... this often doesn't solve the problem. If you're lucky enough to work at a dog-friendly workplace or your hours are flexible, great! But for most people it's not really feasible to plan your day around your dog or have them in the office with you all day - and besides, sitting under a computer desk is pretty boring for a dog! This would also be an instance where you'd benefit from dog walking sessions - for the dogs we walk, it's exactly the fulfilment they need to chill out and relax for the rest of the day.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
A couple of final pointers on digging - remember to keep an eye on the holes/tunnels, particularly near your fence line to ensure your dog isn't making a break for it. Watch your dog's nails to ensure they aren't split or cracked, as this can pose health problems. If you're considering fake turf, remember to provide lots of shade as synthetic grass doesn't tend to stay cool like real grass and can heat up to scorching temperatures in Summer (unless there are heat-resistant variants available). And lastly, just bear in mind that this behaviour doesn't change overnight, but with the right approach it will taper off. In the meantime, it could be worth somewhat accepting the fate of the lawn and moving any valuable plants to the front garden!
Well, there you have it - Digging 101! Thanks for reading, and if our advice helps you solve your doggy digging dilemma, let us know on our Facebook or Instagram pages! We'd love to hear from you.