Perfect Puppy Problem Solving – Chapter 3 – Digging
Chapter 3 – Digging
Some puppies are like four-legged bulldozers. Why do dogs like to dig?
- Some breeds are more prone than others. Terriers, especially, have been bred to dig up vermin and kill them. So, your terrier puppy is just exercising her genetic right to unearth invading critters.
- They’re warm or cold. Digging a hole provides a warm spot in the winter and a cool spot in the summer.
- They smell something down there. Dogs have keen senses of smell. If there’s something underground that’s caught their interest, they may be inspired to dig it up.
- They’re good at it. Look at those paws. They were meant to dig!
What to Do
To teach your puppy not to dig, you have to be present to catch her in the act. It doesn’t do any good to reprimand her for holes she dug while you were at work. If your puppy is a digger, confine her in the house when you are away instead of giving her opportunities to practice digging behaviors outside.
One way to deal with digging is through management. Purchase some inexpensive low fencing, available in the gardening center of your local department or home improvement store. Use the fencing to set up a designated “dig pit” in your yard. Set up a square of your yard with an opening for your puppy to exit and enter. Fill it with sand or loose dirt, and hide some toys in there for your puppy to find. This allows her to pursue her natural digging behavior in a spot that is acceptable to you. The fencing gives her clear boundaries. Teach your puppy to dig in her dig pit. Take her to it and start digging, and encourage her to join you. When she does, mark “Yes!” and praise her. If you catch her digging outside the area, use a stern voice, say “No!”, and gently take her collar. Run over to the dig pit with your puppy (don’t drag her) and encourage her to dig in her designated area. When she does, mark “Yes!” and praise her. Be specific—you don’t like it when she digs in one place, and you love it when she digs in her dig pit. Make sure that you are consistent, and never let her have a chance to practice digging outside her designated spot when you can’t watch her. Giving your puppy her own dig pit is a nice compromise between acknowledging your puppy’s natural instincts and your need for a nice landscape.
Some people would prefer that their puppies not dig at all. Again, to stop digging completely, you must be there to address the behavior when it happens, or your puppy cannot learn what you want. When you witness her digging, simply use a verbal “No!” and redirect her behavior toward a toy, chew bone, game of fetch, or other activity. The second she engages in the preferred activity, mark “Yes!” and praise her. Every time you catch her digging repeat. By being specific that you do not approve of her digging but love it when she engages in other activities, she can learn what you want. It may take several repetitions for your puppy to understand; this is normal. It will take more repetitions if she already has developed the habit of digging in your yard.
You can purchase dig-deterrent chemicals, but the results can be spotty. With the sprays, especially, you may have to make frequent, repeated treatments of your lawn because of humidity, rain, or other weather conditions. Instead of spending money on those, try filling the hole almost all the way up to the top with dirt. Put some of your puppy’s poop in the hole, then cover with a thin layer of dirt. Many puppies don’t like to dig near their stools.
If your puppy is digging out of your yard completely, you have a serious problem. She could get hit by a car, encounter dangerous dogs or wildlife, or even run across some unpleasant people who could hurt her. There also are leash laws in many places, and you could incur fees if your puppy is caught by animal control. Puppies that dig out of yards are usually bored. Other frequent escapees are male puppies who are not yet neutered and who are following their hormones.
When your puppy runs around the neighborhood, it’s very exciting, so she learns that being outside the yard is much more fun than being inside. This is a sad lesson, because you want your puppy to think that her home is the best place. If she is digging out (or jumping out) of your yard, confine her inside for her safety. Crate training your puppy will help to keep your home intact and your puppy much safer than she would be roaming the neighborhood.
What Not to Do
- Don’t push your puppy’s nose in the hole. She will have no idea what you are upset about. Instead of teaching her not to dig a hole, you are most likely teaching her to be afraid of you.
- Don’t let your puppy watch you plant things. If you have a digger puppy, she may want to help you with your gardening. Put her in the house when you do any planting or digging in your yard so that she can’t observe you and try to join in.
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