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  • Stephanie A

Dog digging making you crazy? Put a stop to it.

There are two extremes of opinion when it comes to dogs and their digging habits:

1. That a dog is a dog, and we should permit him to express his true canine nature by allowing him free reign over the yard and flowerbeds

2. A flowerbed is a flowerbed, and no dog should even think about expressing his dogginess if such an expression comes at the price of a season’s worth of rosebuds.

My viewpoint tends to favor the middle ground. Although plenty of dogs do love to dig, and it’s healthy for them to be permitted to indulge in this habit from time to time, there’s a difference between letting your dog express his inner puppy and allowing him to run rampant in the yard.

I don’t see why a dog should have to come at the price of a garden and vice versa; flowers and dogs can coexist peacefully. If your dog’s developed a taste for digging, it’ll just take a bit of time (and some crafty ingenuity) on your part to resolve the issue satisfactorily.

First of all, if you have yet to adopt a dog and your concern for the fate of your flowerbeds is purely hypothetical, consider the breed of dog you’d like. What seems to be the most prominent if you’ve got your eye on a specific mixed-breed dog? I ask because breeds often play a significant role in any dog’s valuation of digging as a rewarding pastime – terriers and Nordic breeds in particular (Huskies, Malamutes, some members of the Spitz family) seem to enjoy digging particularly.

Of course, when you get right down to the sum and substance, each dog is an individual, and there’s no guaranteed way to predict whether or not your chosen familial addition will be a burrower. But suppose you’re trying to reduce the likelihood of an involuntarily-landscaped garden as much as possible. In that case, I suggest you stay away from all terrier breeds (the name means “go to earth,” after all!) and the Nordic breeds.

Why do dogs dig?

In no particular order, here are some of the more common reasons that a dog will dig:

* Lack of exercise. Digging is a good way for a hyped-up, under-exercised dog to burn off some of that nervous energy.

* Boredom. Bored dogs need a “job” to do, something rewarding and exciting, to help the time pass.

* Digging is often the ideal solution for a bored dog: it gives him a sense of purpose and distracts him from an otherwise-empty day.

* The need for broader horizons. Some dogs are just escaping artists by nature – no matter how much exercise and attention they get; it’s nearly impossible to confine them. To a dog that’s seriously pining for your company, digging under those confining walls represents the most direct path to you. For a four-legged Houdini, it’s not the digging in itself that’s the reward; it’s the glorious unknown beyond the fenceline.

* Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is an unpleasant psychological issue relatively common among dogs – but because it’s so complex, we won’t be dealing with it in this newsletter.

Curbing the habit

Many of the reasons contributing to your dog’s desire to dig suggest their solutions: if your dog’s not getting enough exercise (generally speaking, at least forty-five minutes’ worth of vigorous walking per day), take him for more walks. If he’s bored, give him some toys and chews to play with during your absence, and wear him out before you leave so he spends most of the day sleeping.

An escape-artist dog might need to be crated, or at least kept inside the house where he’s less likely to be able to break free. For those dogs who like to dig as a pastime in itself, though, here are a few essential tips for controlling inappropriate digging as much as is reasonably possible:

* Restrict your dog’s access. This is the most effective thing you can do: if he’s never in the yard without active supervision, there’s no opportunity for digging.

* Use natural deterrent. 99.9% of dogs will shy back, horrified, from the prospect of digging anywhere that there’s dog poop. Even those who like to eat poop (a condition known as coprophagia) generally won’t dig anywhere near it – it offends their fundamental, fastidious dislike of soiling their coat and paws.

*Roses are ideal. Use nature’s wiles if the digging is bothering you because it’s upsetting the more delicate blooms in your garden. Plant hardier blossoms: preferably those with deep roots and thorny defenses.

* A more time-consuming but super-effective way of handling the issue: roll up the first inch or two of turf in your yard, and lay down chicken wire underneath it. Your dog won’t know it’s there until he’s had a few tries at digging, but once he’s convinced himself that it’s pointless (which won’t take long), he’ll never dig in that yard again.

Accept your dog’s need for an outlet: give him a place to dig.

If your dog is set on tunneling your yard into a grassless, crater-studded lunar landscape, but you’re equally determined to prevent this from happening at all costs, please take a moment to consider before embarking on a grueling and time-consuming preventative strategy.

Setting yourself the goal of eradicating all digging behavior, period, is pretty unrealistic: it’s not fair on you (since, really, you’re setting yourself up for failure), and it’s not really fair on your poor dog either – if he’s a true-blue digger, it’s just part of his personality, and he needs at least some opportunity to express that.

But a lawn and a dog don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The most humane and understanding thing for you to do in this case is to redirect his digging energy. You do this by allocating him an area where he’s allowed to dig as much as he pleases. Once these zone(s) have been established, you can make it crystal-clear that there’s to be absolutely no digging in the rest of the yard, and you can enforce your rules with a clear conscience since you know your dog now has his little corner of the world to turn upside down and inside out as he chooses.

But what if you don’t have a “spare corner” of the yard? What if the whole thing, grass, flowerbeds, and gravel path, is just too dear to your heart? That’s OK too. Invest in a sandbox, which you can place anywhere in the garden. The deeper, the better. Fill it with a mixture of sand and earth, and put some leaves or grass on top. Get your dog interested in it by having a scratch around yourself until he gets the idea.

Make sure the boundaries are clear.

To clarify the lesson, give him a treat when digging gets underway in the sandbox. To make it clear to him that the sandbox is OK but that everywhere else is a no-dig zone:

  1. Spend a little time supervising him.

  2. Praise him energetically when he starts to dig in the box (you can encourage this by shallowly burying a few choice marrowbones in there). If he starts digging anywhere else, correct him with an “Ah-ah-aaaah!” or “No!”.

  3. Redirect him immediately to the sandbox, and dole out vociferous praise when digging recommences. The close proximity between the correction (for digging out of the sandbox) and praise/reward (for digging in the sandbox) will ensure that your point strikes home.

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