Does anyone else remember this children's book by by Al Perkins, told from the point of view of Duke the dog who is rescued from the “cold hard floor” of a pet store by Sammy Brown?
I dug up grass. I dug up weeds. I dug up daisies. I dug up seeds. I dug up the fence. I dug up the gates. I dug up the garden of Mrs Thwaites. I dug up the rooster. I dug up the hens. I dug up the sheep and the pigs in their pens. I dug and dug. I couldn’t stop. I dug up the barber in his shop. I dug up Mister Rodney Thayer, Sitting in the Barber’s chair. I dug my way right through the town. I dug a lot of buildings down. I was having so much fun! I dug up Highway Eighty-One.
It's true that digging is a pleasurable pastime for our dogs. There are a few ways to address digging in your yard.
Build a Dig Box
My favorite solution for digging is to provide an appropriate place for a dog to dig. This allows our dog to “be a dog” in a way that is acceptable to us. A dig box can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like. Turn up the earth so it’s soft and loose. Mix in sand if you have lots of clay in your soil. You can frame your box with boards, like a sand box if you’d like. Bury a toy or bone in the designated digging spot. Bring your dog over and scrape at the soil. Encourage him to find his prize. Over the next few days, bury new and interesting things there for him to “discover”. If he keeps discovering great stuff in the Dig Box, that is where he will confine his digging to.
Train Leave It
Make sure your dog is not left out alone in the yard. You need to be able to stop and redirect your dog if he starts to dig. A well trained “Leave It” will work for this. If he starts to dig in the wrong place you can ask him to Leave It, then when he does, praise him and either lead him over to his dig box, or redirect him onto playing with toys. (see note below on how to teach Leave It)
To stop digging, try burying chicken wire or wire mesh just below the surface of the soil. Build fences around areas that are off limits such as garden and flower beds. You can’t be out all the time with your dog and you’ll need environmental management to help your dog make the right choices even in your absence. That’s the key to fixing (or preventing) lots of behavior problems: managing the environment to set our dog up for success. If he can't access the flower beds but can access his dog box, where do you think he will choose to dig?
If your dog is digging under your fence and escaping, look at this product called a Dig Defender. It comes in both small and large sizes.
A Tired Dog is a Well-Behaved Dog
Remember that digging can be a way of relieving boredom. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise – both physical and mental. In addition to walks and play dates, be sure to feed him from puzzle toys and train some easy tricks for mental stimulation. Play nose games in the house by hiding treats and letting him search for them.
In the Digging-est Dog, Duke ultimately “…dug back everything in town, everything that he’d knocked down.” Duke says: Today when I dig – well, I’m careful now. I’m useful too. Sam lets me plow. Maybe that’s where I got the idea to let my dog help me in the garden each year. Each spring when I get my garden plot ready, I invite my dog in to loosen up the soil with me. She loves to dig in there and she saves me a lot of work! When the plants go in, a fence goes up that keeps her out for the rest of the growing season. She then happily turns her attention to catching the skinks that live in the rock wall next to the garden.
To train a Leave It:
Show your dog that you have a cookie
Say Leave It and place the cookie under your foot
Allow your dog to sniff or try to steal, and just wait out all of these incorrect choices
As soon as your dog gives up trying to steal he will back away from your foot: click and give a treat. Click and treat again while he is still away from your foot
Pick up the cookie and say All Done (never give him the leave it object during the training exercise)
Repeat the exercise several times
Each time you practice you should see that your dog gets better at staying away from your foot, and ultimately can leave a cookie set on the floor in front of him