Posted: Jan. 27, 2012, 6:20 p.m. EST
By Steven Appelbaum
Problem digging encompasses everything from pulling up a few plants to uprooting trees and destroying sprinkler systems. And in one case I will never forget, digging a hole so deep it literally undermined the owner’s fence, causing it to collapse. This dog then crawled under the ruined fence into a neighbor’s yard, proceeded to uproot half the newly planted sod before digging out of that yard and walking around to the front of her owner’s house where, covered in dirt and apparently tired from a long day’s work, she happily went to sleep by the front door.
Pet retailers who assist owners with digging issues will create strong customer loyalty and trust that goes well beyond what is generated by offering good prices and a great selection of products.
Dogs dig for a number of reasons, including boredom and loneliness.
When dogs get bored, they often engage in some sort of action to relieve that boredom. For many dogs, digging is fun and it beats sitting around with nothing to do. If a dog is left in the yard most days for more than four hours with no toys or things to keep it occupied, it may be digging out of boredom.
What to Suggest
Give the dog interactive toys to keep it occupied. These can include such products as Boomer Balls and Buster Cubes. Kong Classics and Wobblers are also great, as are Nylabone non-edible chews. Kongs should be stuffed with special treats to make them more interesting. Nylabones can be soaked in beef or chicken broth for 20 minutes prior to the owner’s departure. If your customers can get their dogs to play with these toys in the yard, they will be a lot less inclined to dig.
Another part of the solution is exercise. This doesn’t mean throwing a ball for five minutes. Owners should first make sure their dog is healthy enough to exercise, and then consistently take it on some good long walks at least three to five times per week. How long depends on the breed of the dog. Dogs that get exercise on a regular basis are less likely to dig than those that do not. This is also a good time to suggest to owners a good quality nylon or leather leash and a proper flat collar or head harness.
Some dogs don’t like being left alone in the yard. This creates stress and digging is one way for dogs to alleviate it.
What to Suggest
Instead of making the yard a place of banishment, make it a play-together area. The yard can also be used to train the dog for obedience. As noted above, owners should give their dogs super special toys in the yard. Doing all of this consistently might change the dog’s association with the yard from negative to positive.
Some dogs, such as dachshunds, were bred to dig. These dogs might need to be taught to dig in a special area (see below). Still others might be digging because there are gophers or other small animals in the yard. Needless to say, if customers have gophers, they are going to have to get rid of them before they can realistically stop their pet from digging.
Make sure to suggest a humane way to rid the yard of pests, one that doesn’t involve poisons as dogs might eat some of these animals and become sick, or worse.
Dogs will also dig because they see their owners digging. Owners shouldn’t garden in front of their dog or let the dog see them filling in holes it has dug.
For really hardcore diggers, customers can take their dog to a groomer and have its nails cut short. Many dogs find the act of digging less pleasurable with short nails. Some people have found that filling the holes with the dog’s feces will deter future digging, as dogs often don’t like to dig in their own waste. Since dogs will frequently dig in the same place more than once, filling in half a dozen holes with feces might just do the trick. If your store sells aquarium or pond lava rocks, you can also recommend them has hole fillers—their abrasiveness makes digging even less pleasurable. Be careful though; some rocks can be sharp and cause injury, so make sure you offer those that are safe.
I have often found the best solution is giving dogs an area where it is acceptable to dig, such as behind a bush or off the beaten path. This allows them to dig when they want, lie in cool holes during a hot day and basically have fun. I have also had success with owners placing a sandbox in their yard and training the dog to dig in it.
Either of these two solutions, coupled with exercise, teaching a dog to associate more positive things with the yard, giving it a lot of interactive toys and making digging in inappropriate places less pleasurable will allow customers to get this exasperating behavior under control.
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
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