Dear Cathy: My grandson adopted two rescue dogs. The second dog he adopted had been hit by a car and left on the road to die. She was found by a rescue provider, taken to a vet, nursed back to health and fostered by my grandson. She was such a sweetie that she became part of the family. She gets along well with the older dog. The problem is, a few months ago, she started to dig holes in the backyard. This has become an ongoing habit. Can you give any insight into why this is happening? She is 1.
— Esther, Floral Park, Florida
Dear Esther: Dogs dig when they’re bored, stressed or going after prey or simply because it’s instinctive and it feels good. Some breeds dig more than others, but no matter what, there are a few ways to manage the behavior.
First, supervise the dog in the yard (until she stops the digging behavior), and train her not to dig. If she starts digging, you or your grandson should say her name and then say, “No dig.” Immediately call her to you. Do not give her a treat until you give her a second command. Ask her to “sit,” then say her reward word, like “bingo,” so she knows she did what was asked, and a treat will follow. Introduce other training while in the backyard to keep her mind distracted and busy.
Playtime and exercise
Second, make sure she has plenty of playtime and exercise before going into the yard. This might involve two 30-minute walks daily and a game of fetch when she first goes outside. Give her a toy she can only have while in the backyard. When she comes into the house, pick up the toy and put it away. Rotate through different toys for the next five days so she doesn’t get bored.
You also can create a digging zone for her. This involves creating a doggy sandbox (a square of land with a wooden frame) where she is allowed to dig. Use wet sand, and place a few treats just poking out to encourage her to dig. Bury toys deeper for her to find later. Reward her for digging there and not by the fence. (Keep a tarp over the sandbox when not in use.)
Secure the fence line
Finally, some people place rocks, bricks and railroad ties around the fence line to deter digging.
You can use a strip of chicken wire about 18 inches wide, folded in half and then opened into an L shape. Mount one side to the fence with a staple gun and the other side to the ground with landscape pins.
Your dog won’t want to dig along the fence line anymore, and your grass can still grow through the wire and be mowed.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field.
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