Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trainer's Corner: Can You Dig That Dogs Need To Dig?

Today's Trainer's Corner is brought to us by Leslie Fisher of Look What I Can Do! Dog Training. Check it out, she really is great!

Back in the day, dogs could focus on being dogs.

Particularly strong are childhood memories of old Tramps` daily jobs: stealth maneuvers around the block to surprise neighboring cats, and the daily ritualistic stare down with Charlie Brown`s (real name I swear) shepherd mix. Reject (real name also) hung out front and laid in wait for the paper boy; that pint sized DNA alphabet soup delighted in going for the pant legs. If they wanted to go and dig somewhere, it was not such a big deal.

With the advances of people literally living quite upon people, the lives of our dogs have changed drastically. 

Their lives are spent learning how to adhere to our silly human rules; those that do not, end up in shelters and re-homed.

Digging, an excellent natural outlet for dogs, is frowned upon, indeed often not tolerated at all. 

Who wants a moonscape of craters in their carefully and expensively landscaped backyard? What is a dog to do?

Milo Digs

Some breeds, in particular Terriers, are bred to dig in the pursuit of prey, with Scottish and West Highland Terriers excelling. The name comes from a Latin term: earth terra. Daschunds were bred to "go to earth" after a prey animal in a den.

Owners of re-landscaped yards must understand that these instincts just do not go away. Dogs also dig because it feels good to lay in the cool moistness of a fresh dirt scrape. As well, plain old boredom is a huge reason for digging. I imagine for some dogs, as in my English lab Talley, digging is just plain entertaining!

So, why not just let them dig and be happy? 

Certainly it makes sense to Talley! As it turns out, we are currently making a doggy sandbox, a "legal" digging area, to satisfy all the digging needs of three labbies. Currently under construction, the shady area is between the deck and fence; it will be a handy no mow zone.

After you have removed grass roots from the specified area (best located away from prized plants) simply loosen the dirt and dig in enough sand for a consistency that will drain well, and not turn into a mud pit. Framing the area in can work very well. Much like a child's sandbox, if you will.

Hey, kids get those great sandboxes, why not our dogs?

So what keeps them out of those heirloom flowers and in their own area? Good question. To begin with, do not leave unattended in the yard. Not a great idea anyways, in general.

Train a great response to Leave It, with excellent information by Pat Miller.in this 2001 article for Your Dog.
With your digger on leash, approach the area of canine redesign, and reinforce super generously for turning away. THEN lead the digging machine to the super sandpit and let them discover the amazing prize bullystick that just happens to be sticking up out of the dirt.

Continue on in this fashion, and soon the canine landscaper should be heading to the sandbox, in anticipation of further treasures. Stuffed frozen kongs placed in the dirt are great. Legal shredables, such as a bone wrapped up in paper in a box and buried are wonderful. Anything really. Use your imagination, have fun, and give your frazzled nerves a break!

With gradual and proper training this can really work and let you enjoy a yard minus moonscapes. You may even want to investigate earth dog competition events.
Just remember, dogs need to dig, can you dig it? 

Leslie Fisher is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer (PMCT), CPDT-KA CGC Evaluator ABC Student Mentor and member of APDT, MAAPPPT, TrulyDogFriendly.

She brought her first dog home at the age of 5 and she shared her life with dogs since and is presently owned by three labs, Doobie, Talley and Bridget.

Leslie has founded Look What I Can Do! Dog Training in December of 2006 shich quickly became a big success. I addition she volunteers for Lab Rescue of the LRCP, Inc doing post adoption home checks an dproviding assistance with behavioral issues. Her goal is educating clients that positive, force-free training produces happy, willing dogs and a wonderful dog-human relationship.

Leslie also writes for Dog Star Daily.

You can read her full bio here. You can also connect with Leslie on twitter or Facebook.


  1. Jasmine loves digging. She loves the coolness of the freshly dug out hole. She really loves going to work with hubby (he is a heavy equipment trainer) where the machines do most of the work for her.

  2. Your blog is great! I just love the header.

  3. Thank you, yours is very sweet also. Is Charlee getting better? So adorable!

  4. This sounds great, but I have a springer that digs when on the trail of a critter, so the interest in digging is part of the tracking instinct. She digs when she gets to the end of the trail so to speak. She has made some pretty impressive holes in the yard!

  5. Dear Nancy.

    I can just see her :-) It might still help to give her something 'approved' to hunt. E.g. do some track work and bury the prize in a place where her digging won't hurt the landscape that badly.