Dogs That Dig

Find the cause of your dog's digging and win back your yard.


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Do not punish after the fact by dragging the dog to a hole and spanking it or, worse, dunking the hysterical dog's head in the hole after filling the cavity with water — a technique some trainers advocated years ago, now regarded as cruel. Even though the dog cowers — tail tucked between his legs, ears bent — it doesn't necessarily connect your anger to the hole. What humans interpret as guilt is actually a species-specific way of acting subordinate and turning off a threat.

Many dogs seem to be attracted to the fresh scent of tilled earth. They lose interest in mature plants in old soil. Waiting a few days after gardening to return dogs to the yard helps.

"I had a dog like that," said Leslie Cooper, veterinarian at University of California-Davis and diplomate of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. "Every time we planted a bush, she dug it up. I had to put tomato cases around my bushes until they'd been around for awhile. As soon as the plant matured, the Siberian Husky, Tirza, lost interest."

Setting up wire or plastic-fence barriers around new plants and laying chicken wire or heavier-grade stockade fencing over a newly seeded lawn can discourage dogs interested in the soft, loose dirt of recently tilled areas.

Some dogs dig by example. "Monkey see-monkey do," William Campbell contends in his book, Behavior Problems in Dogs (BehavioRx Systems, 1999). Your dog sees you digging while gardening and copies the behavior. Prevent the wrong message from being sent by keeping your dog away when doing yard work.

Dogs also may dig for territorial reasons. When the owners of a Standard Schnauzer named Baron tired of his fence-line digging, they planted a row of rose bushes, Coren said. Baron responded by digging up a rose bush each day. His owners replanted the bushes. Baron redug them. Finally, his owners gave up. "He didn't want anything along his fence," Coren said. "They always referred to it as 'The War of the Roses.'"

When you think you know why your dog digs, you can begin exploring solutions. Maintaining lush sod instead of patches of bare ground helps, said Fort Lauderdale, Fla., dog trainer Tim Mullally, chairman of the behavioral subcommittee of the Humane Society of Broward County.

You also can slow down your digger by trimming its nails. With long nails, Mullally said, "it's easy to dig."

All manner of creative products combat diggers, including a motion-activated scarecrow that makes a thumping sound and sprays water when a dog approaches an off-limits area. If a fence alone isn't enough to keep a dog out, an electric fencing system sprays citronella at the approaching dog. A variation: a citronella collar operated by remote control. When you see the dog start to dig, you immediately set off the citrus-like spray. Of course, you can try a low-tech version, too — put pennies in an empty coffee can, close the lid, and when you see a dog start to dig, toss the can into its direction to startle it.

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