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Virtually all dogs enjoy digging – it’s a natural behaviour. But in this season of freshly planted gardens, many dogs ignore the memo strictly forbidding the digging up of expensive rose bushes or tomato plants.
What can you do? And no, shouting at your dog does not translate the “no digging memo”. In fact, that often leads to “sneaky digging”.
I’d like to offer you a couple of choices. Give your dog a dedicated digging spot, or teach your dog to “dig” on cue.
If you’ve got the room in your yard, one option is to put sand in plastic kiddie pool/sand box. Encourage Max to dig for treasures in this box by hiding chews or toys in it, then bring him over and let him see you hide something extra. Happily encourage him to dig for these treasures (pointing to the object or partially digging it up yourself is usually all they need to figure this out). Then regularly hide stuff Max enjoys right in the box. Do this more frequently in the beginning, so Max gets frequent rewards for his appropriate digging.
What do you do when Max goes over to the flower bed to dig? Get his attention and gently guide or call him back to his sand box – then let him see you hide a treat or toy in there and encourage him to start digging.
My limited yard space makes me prefer to go with a “dig” cue. I taught my dog Luna this by bringing her to the sand-filled play parks in our neighbourhood. During quiet times, I would dig into the sand with my foot or hand and say “dig!” with excitement. As soon as she would dig, I’d continue to say “dig!” with a lot of animation (the kids helped with this as they loved shouting “dig!”). This was all the reinforcement she needed from me to continue digging with gusto (she found the digging activity extremely self-reinforcing)! I’d then move to a different spot and say “dig!” and she’d begin digging in a new spot.
I used to fill in these holes, until the local kids started playing in them. And it feels so good when the kids come up to me and ask if Luna could dig them a hole. Honestly, she has never declined a request to dig.
And when we are at the cottage, she has a great time digging in the sandy beach. Fortunately, my family doesn’t seem to mind filling in the holes after we leave ☺.
Is it messy? Well, at bit (more so if the sandbox is in your yard). Sure, she gets some sand stuck on her fur – but I just hose her down while I water my plants after our walk.
But she’s a dog. She lives with a lot of people rules. I like it when I can let her do those natural “doggy” behaviours. And you can tell by the smile on her face in this photo, that she LOVES digging.
And by the way, this is not just a summer activity. Luna has become a local “snow tunnel hero” to the neighbourhood kids who delight in getting her to dig them tunnels in giant piles of snow all winter long!
At Smart Paws, we use positive reinforcement training techniques to teach you and your dog the skills needed for a happy, co-operative life together.