Addressing Common Behavior Problems: Digging
By Steven Appelbaum
Although many behavior problems can’t adequately be addressed in a boarding environment, that doesn’t mean boarding and daycare staff can’t offer tips to clients having challenges with their pets. Assisting your customers on issues they’re having real problems with can build customer loyalty which is priceless.
With this in mind, let’s talk about a common challenge dog many owners have.
Digging. Some dogs dig. Other dogs dig a lot! I think the worst case I’ve ever seen was a Rottweiler who dug such deep holes in the back yard that their owner’s fence collapsed. Digging can be a real problem for some clients as it can cause a great deal of expensive damage.
Like all behavior problems, the way to deal with it is to try to figure out the root cause(s). Some of the most common reasons are boredom, lack of exercise, negative associations with the location the dog is left in and gophers.
Solutions to Digging Behavior
Bored dogs usually dig when left alone for moderately long periods of time. To address this, owners should invest in interactive toys that will keep the dog occupied when left to their own devices. Kongs stuffed with delectable treats and Boomer balls, which some dogs will spend hours pushing around the yard, can make a real difference. The point here is that the more time the dog spends playing with products like these, the less time they are likely to spend digging up the yard.
Owners should also avoid digging in front of their dogs. Some dogs like to mimic behavior they observe and digging is a natural behavior for them, so caution owners about this.
Exercise is also a key in dealing with digging behavior. Moderate walks of 20-40 minutes, 3-4x per week can do wonders for the dog’s health and activity levels. Both owner and dog should make sure they have a clean bill of health before commencing any exercise program. I have seen countless cases of digging dogs who stopped their excavations once they started getting regular exercise.
Obedience training can also help here. Did you ever notice that if you have to focus intensely on something for 15-30 minutes it can make you physically and mentally tired? The same holds true for the dog. Owners that work with their dogs on obedience for 15-30 minutes prior to departure might find a real decrease in inappropriate behavior on the part of their pets after they leave.
Other Things to Consider When Addressing Digging
Don’t make the yard a place of banishment. This is a common mistake. Some owners don’t trust their dogs in the house when they are gone, so they leave their dogs in the yard. Since dogs are social beings, this can create anxiety and negative associations with the place in which they are being left. Sometimes anxiety can cause a dog to act out and digging is one of the ways they do this.
It’s important to understand that “acting out” is not a spiteful behavior on the part of the dog. It’s simply a reaction to stress. To address it, you must teach the dog to associate more positive things with the place in which they are being left. That means playing with the dog in the yard, working obedience with the dog in the yard, and working with a dog trainer—so that if at all possible, the dog can earn freedom in the house and yard when the owners are away.
If an owner has gophers or any type of digging/burrowing critters living in their yard, and their dogs are digging holes to try to get at them, the only way they are likely to solve that behavior is to contact a professional to help them humanely remove the rodents.
Digging can be a challenging behavior and many owners will need to work with a professional trainer to eliminate this behavior. If you don’t already have a relationship with a dog trainer, consider establishing one. A good dog trainer can really help your clients properly deal with behaviors like this. Not only can you be a part of the solution, but your assistance can help both pets and the people who love them have stronger, healthier relationships.
Steven Appelbaum is a professional dog trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in animal career training programs. ABC offers pet grooming, dog training, cat training and veterinary assistance programs and will be launching an aquatics management and zookeeper assistant program in 2019. The school also offers a variety of continuing education programs on subjects including; pet nutrition, pet massage, dog walking, pet sitting and training shelter dogs. Aside from managing ABC, Appelbaum works as a freelance author, lecturer and pet business consultant. For more information about Animal Behavior College, please visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com