Digging dogs PDF Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 19 November 2019 14:44
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Dr Liesel van der Merwe

I’ve just had to redesign my garden to suit my dogs. All my flower beds have a wooden fence around them otherwise my plants are decimated on the daily “chase me in circles around the yard” game.

My lawn and soil adjacent to the driveway kept on ending up on the driveway, because that is the best vantage point through the gate onto the street, and which dog doesn’t like digging holes?

So, now I have terraced walled boxes filled with bark chips along the drive where the lawn used to be. I can just sweep up and replace the scattered, sprayed about bark chips and I have no unsightly holes all over the lawn . . . because I have no lawn there.

In my experience you need to adjust to the dog in this situation. They will dig where they want to dig, so you need to make a plan around that. The reason dogs dig holes is complex, and although it may be unacceptable to the owner, the behaviour is normal for the dog and not necessarily part of a destructive behavioural pattern.

Normal canine motivations to dig holes include the following behaviours: Care giving or seeking, ingestion/pica, elimination (defecation), comfort seeking, investigatory and relaxing.

Care giving behaviour – self or offspring – includes burying excess food for later or to keep the den clean. Some dogs hunt by digging, specifically the Daschund will hunt by digging for small prey.

The genetic basis in hunting breeds makes it difficult to stop digging. In these cases, you can create a specific digging area in the yard. This digging area can be demarcated and be a dug-up area of soil or sand. ‘Prey’ in the form of chews or toys can be hidden in the soil to reinforce the behaviour to that area.

Dogs will often dig a den to create a shelter. They will also dig a hole to cool down. The deeper soil layers may be cooler and moister and thus more comfortable in summer. 

Dogs which are very inactive and bored or frustrated may dig as a form of relaxation. Proper exercise on a routine basis is important for these animals. The importance of routine cannot be over emphasised. Dogs’ stress will increase if they are bored and not sure if they are going to get their afternoon run or not.

Besides exercise there are food puzzles available which can keep the dog occupied, but ultimately dogs are pack animals and need to socialise. So, if you have a solitary dog at home, get him or her a friend and also spend time with your dogs. It’s not good enough to leave a few toys lying around for them to entertain themselves with. They want interaction with their human.

Dogs are curious and investigate their surroundings as part of a habituation process to make the environment known and safe. A mild form of digging may accompany this behaviour, such as turning over stones. Young dogs are often especially inquisitive and may dig as part of investigative behaviour. This will generally reduce as they mature.

Deciding whether digging is normal or compulsive is not that straight forward. The way in which owners react to the holes and the digging may encourage further digging as “any attention is better than no attention” or the anxiety created by shouting at the dog may exacerbate the behaviour.

The best approach when seeing a giant hole in your lawn, with our without upended garden shrubs, is to ignore the event/dog. Attention should only be given to the dog when it is behaving properly.

Shouting at the dog four hours after the hole has been dug doesn’t help and the dog doesn’t connect the shouting to the digging, even if you are rubbing his nose in the fresh soil.

Do your utmost not to do this. Cover the dug area with netting, garden chairs or branches to prevent further digging and then, if the behaviour persists, see if you can decide if it is normal or has a trigger.

I have lots of dogs and in my experience they dig. You can’t change them to dig where you want them to, as there is generally a reason why they dig where they do: Be it shade, cool soil, a nice view or a protected spot.

Make sure you are doing your best with exercise and social interaction and stimulation. Protect your most precious plants or landscape with fencing, create “allowed digging” areas and then just relax and accept a little digging. You wanted a dog and dogs dig every now and again as normal behaviour. Deal with it.

Remember that the garden you keep your dog in is not its normal environment. We fence our dogs in, feed them when we want to, make them sleep when we need to and really make them adjust 100% to suit our lifestyles. Its seems only fair to give in with a little grace to allow them to exhibit some of their normal behaviour

 

© 2019 Die/The Bronberger