Dog’s Eye View: Can you dig It?
The outdoors are beckoning. The yard needs sprucing up and summer flowers need planting. The winter snow has left us with burgeoning green, and I’ve heard a few lawn mowers starting up in the neighborhood.
Our dogs are busy sniffing and digging up long lost toys buried for months in the snow. And now, some dogs are beginning to create their own versions of ultimate crater-filled moonscapes in our backyards. Our plants are missing, and the family dog is tracking in mud and unknown organisms, leaving a trail of earthy debris on the carpet.
It’s nice outside. He should run through the yard and enjoy the sunshine. All the scents and smells he couldn’t get to in the deep snow are springing to life. There is much to investigate and extricate from the long frozen ground.
Why do dogs dig? Since there are several really good reasons, we should consider the why question first.
The dog is bored. Many people think that, since they have a big backyard, the dog should just entertain and exercise himself with no supervision or the company of his family. Well, OK then; digging is fun, and it might just unearth a long-buried treasure.
Digging releases frustration. He doesn’t have anything better to do, and he’s creating his own special space. Furthermore, it sometimes gets your attention; he’s excavating the next tyrannosaurus rex site, you come outside yelling, “Stop the dig,” and he’s got your attention.
For many dogs and some children, it doesn’t matter whether you are yelling or telling a story; attention is attention, and if digging up rose bushes brings you outside, then the digging behavior works. He says to himself, “I dig, you come outside and there you are. My person is near me, and I’m not alone anymore.”
Get the picture? Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing, but it does explain the behavior pretty well.
Where does the digging take place? If it’s near a fence with access to the big, wide world, then it seems pretty easy to understand the motivation. He is trying to escape, he is bored or he really needs attention. Maybe there is a lovely dog in heat down the street. If he’d rather roam the neighborhood than stay home with his family, you might want to counsel with a dog behavior specialist. This dog needs help. He needs to bond more with his family, and he needs a job and training time with family.
If there is not adequate protection from the environment, the dog might dig below a deck or porch to get out of the weather. This can be addressed by creating a safe place for the dog to rest outside. Or better yet, keep him inside with the family.
My dogs watch me on my hands and knees weeding and planting things in the garden. This is a dogs dream. They often will offer to help, and with guidance, can dig a perfect hole for perennials. But, really, I’d rather do it myself. So it’s time to create a win-win solution.
Build a digging pit for your dog. If you have space, buy a small wading pool and fill it with dirt. Bury some bones, and take your dog on a treasure hunt. Dig up the first one, and let him watch.
Eureka. You are the master.
Then, toss another one in there. Then another. You create the pit and “seed” it with goodies. You might bury a tennis ball or a Frisbee or whatever your dog prefers to dig up. By giving this place special attention, you redirect your dog’s digging to an appropriate place. But, you can’t just think, “Build it and they will come”; if you do, he won’t make the connection. You have to encourage and redirect play to this specific spot. It takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it to see your canine buddy digging in his pit while you gaze out at the garden.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is a Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
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Pulmonologist Dr. Brent Peters, medical director of the Sleep Lab at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, considers his work in sleep medicine fun because of the positive changes he can see in patients.