Digging is a normal behavior for most dogs, but may occur for widely varying reasons. Your dog may be:
• seeking entertainment
• seeking prey
• seeking comfort or protection
• seeking attention
• seeking escape
Dogs don’t dig, however, out of spite, revenge or a desire to destroy your yard. Finding ways to make the area where the dog digs unappealing may be effective, however, it’s likely that he’ll just begin digging in other locations or display other unacceptable behavior, such as chewing or barking. A more effective approach is to address the cause of the digging, rather than creating location aversions.
Dogs may dig as a form of self-play when they learn that roots and soil “play back.” Your dog may be digging for entertainment if:
• He’s left alone in the yard for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you
• His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys
• He’s a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and doesn’t have other outlets for his energy
• He’s the type of dog (like a terrier) that is bred to dig as part of his “job”
• He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active job to be happy
• He’s recently seen you “playing” in the dirt (gardening or working in the yard)
We recommend expanding your dog’s world and increasing his “people time” the following ways:
• Walk your dog regularly. It’s good exercise, mentally and physically, for both of you!
• Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible.
• Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks. Practice these commands/tricks every day for five to ten minutes.
• Take an obedience class with your dog and practice daily what you’ve learned.
• Keep interesting toys in the yard to keep your dog busy even when you’re not around (Kong-type toys filled with treats or busy-box toys). Rotating the toys makes them seem new and interesting.
• For dedicated diggers, provide an “acceptable digging area.” Choose an area of the yard where it’s okay for your dog to dig and cover the area with loose soil or sand. If you catch your dog digging in an unacceptable area, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, say, “no dig” and take the dog to his designated digging area. When he digs in the approved spot, reward him with praise. Make the unacceptable digging spots unattractive (at least temporarily) by setting sharp rocks or chicken wire into the dirt.
Dogs may try to pursue burrowing animals or insects that live in your yard. Your dog may be pursuing prey if:
• The digging is in a very specific area, usually not at the boundaries of the yard
• The digging is at the roots of trees or shrubs
• The digging is in a “path” layout
We recommend that you search for possible signs of pests and then rid your yard of them. Avoid methods that could be toxic or dangerous to your pets.
Seeking Comfort or Protection
In hot weather, dogs may dig holes in order to lie in the cool dirt. They may also dig to provide themselves with shelter from cold, wind or rain, or to try to find water. Your dog may be digging for protection or comfort if:
• The holes are near foundations of buildings, large shade trees or a water source
• Your dog doesn’t have a shelter or his shelter is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds
• You find evidence that your dog is lying in the holes he digs
We recommend that you provide your dog with other sources for the comfort or protection he seeks.
• Provide an insulated doghouse. Make sure it affords protection from wind and sun.
• Your dog may still prefer a hole in the ground, in which case you can try the “approved digging area” recommendation described above. Make sure the allowed digging area is in a protected spot.
• Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that can’t be tipped over.
Any behavior can become attention-getting behavior if dogs learn that they receive attention for engaging in it (even punishment is a form of attention). Your dog may be digging to get attention if:
• He digs in your presence
• His other opportunities for interaction with you are limited
We recommend that you ignore the behavior.
• Don’t give your dog attention for digging (remember, even punishment is attention).
• Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you on a daily basis, so he doesn’t have to resort to misbehaving to get your attention.
Dogs may escape to get to something, to get somewhere or to get away from something. For more detailed information, please see our handout: “The Canine Escape Artist.” Your dog may be digging to escape if:
• He digs along the fence line
• He digs under the fence
We recommend the following in order to keep your dog in the yard while you work on the behavior modifications recommended in our handout: “The Canine Escape Artist.”
• Bury chicken wire at the base of the fence (sharp edges rolled under)
• Place large rocks, partially buried, along the bottom of the fence line
• Bury the bottom of the fence one to two feet under the ground Lay chain link fencing on the ground (anchored to the bottom of the fence) to make it uncomfortable for your dog to walk near the fence
Regardless of the reason for digging, we don’t recommend: Punishment after the fact. Not only does this not address the cause of the behavior, any digging that’s motivated by fear or anxiety, will be made worse. Punishment may also cause anxiety in dogs that aren’t currently fearful. Staking a dog out near a hole he’s dug or filling the hole with water. These techniques don’t address the cause of the behavior, or the act of digging.
Copyright 1999 Dumb Friends League. All Rights Reserved. HTST_R99
Dog against Dog
Canine rivalry refers to conflicts between dogs living in the same household. Animals that live in social groups establish a social structure within that group. This social structure is hierarchical. Dogs determine their places in the hierarchy through control of and access to various resources, such as food, toys and attention from people. A stable hierarchy in which each individual knows and accepts his rank provides dogs with a sense of comfort and belonging. Conflicts arise between household dogs when there is instability in the social structure; that is, when the ranking of each dog is not clear or is in contention. Dogs may warn each other initially by snarling, growling or snapping but not causing injury. However, the conflict may sometimes intensify into prolonged bouts of dangerous fighting, which may result in one or both dogs being injured.
Getting Professional Help
Ongoing canine rivalry is potentially dangerous. Dogs or human family members could be severely injured as a result of fighting. Because resolving rivalry problems requires managing the dogs’ somewhat complex social behaviors, it is often necessary for owners to obtain assistance from a professional animal behaviorist. Certified animal behaviorists are trained to observe, interpret and modify animal behavior.
Why Conflict Occurs
Conflicts between household dogs develop for a variety of reasons. Conflicts may occur if:
• A new animal has been introduced to the household
• A resident animal has died or no longer lives in the house
• A resident animal is re-introduced after an absence
• A young dog reaches social maturity, which is usually between 10 months and 2 years of age, and challenges the established higher-ranking dog
• A high-ranking dog ages or becomes ill and cannot maintain his higher status
Understanding Status-Seeking Behavior and Social Structure
The dogs’ positions in the hierarchy are determined by the outcome of their interactions. The results of this complex and dynamic process will depend on the dogs themselves, without regard to your preferences. Any attempt on your part to interfere may result in increased conflict.
How the social structure is established: Dogs usually determine their social ranking through a series of behaviors that include body postures and vocalizations. Examples of these behaviors are mounting, growling, staring, lip licking or rolling over onto the back. Some dogs may take toys away from other dogs, insist on being petted first or exercise control over other resources. However, because of past experiences, inadequate socialization or genetic tendencies, some dogs may escalate these displays into aggression with very little warning.
The social structure: Do not attempt to influence or define the dogs’ rankings by treating them equally or by preventing a higher-ranking dog from asserting his position over another dog. The social hierarchy of the dogs is dynamic and complex, so even attempts to “support the dominant dog” may be counter-productive. The dogs should be allowed to determine control of resources, such as toys and favorite sleeping places, amongst themselves. As much as possible, refrain from interfering in the dogs’ interactions with each other. Most importantly, establish yourself as the benevolent leader. Practicing “Nothing in Life is Free” is an easy and non-confrontational way to establish leadership by taking ultimate control of all resources the dogs find valuable. If your position as leader is clear, it will help the dogs sort out their lower places in the social structure more peacefully.
Breaking up a fight: If you need to break up a fight, do so by squirting the dogs with water or making a loud noise to try and interrupt them. Never attempt to break up a dog fight by grabbing the dogs by their collars or getting any part of you in between them. Touching dogs while they are fighting can result in what is called “redirected aggression,” where a dog may bite you because you are in the way.
What You Can Do To Help
• If the dogs involved are intact males or females, spay or neuter both dogs.
• Make sure that all of the humans in your household are benevolent leaders by practicing “Nothing in Life is Free.”
• Establish fair rules and enforce them consistently. This helps all the dogs feel more secure and also reinforces your role as leader.
• With the help of a professional animal behaviorist, elicit and reinforce non-aggressive behaviors using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques. These procedures must be designed and tailored to specifically meet the needs of each individual case and require professional in-home help.
• Punishment will not resolve the issue and can actually make it worse.
• You should be aware that if you respond inappropriately, you run the risk of intensifying the problem and potentially causing injury to yourself and/or your dogs.
Copyright 2009 Dumb Friends League. All Rights Reserved. CR00_R03
This article was used with the permission of the Dumb Friends League.
The Bark Stops Here!
Some canine behavior problems, such as house soiling, affect only a dog’s owners. However, problems such as escaping and excessive barking can result in neighborhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances. Therefore, barking dogs can become “people problems.” If your dog’s barking has created neighborhood tension, it’s a good idea to discuss the problem with your neighbors. It is perfectly normal and reasonable for dogs to bark from time to time, just as children make noise when they play outside. However, continual barking for long periods of time is a sign that your dog has a problem that needs to be addressed.
The first thing you need to do is determine when and for how long your dog barks, and what is causing him to bark. You may need to do some detective work to obtain this information, especially if the barking occurs when you’re not home. Ask your neighbors, drive or walk around the block and watch and listen for a while, or start a tape recorder or video camera when you leave for work. Hopefully, you will be able to discover which of the common problems discussed below is the cause of your dog’s barking.
Social Isolation/Frustration/Attention Seeking
Your dog may be barking because he’s bored and lonely if:
• He’s left alone for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.
• His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
• He’s a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and does not have other outlets for his energy.
• He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs a “job” to be happy.
Expand your dog’s world and increase his “people time” in the following ways:
• Walk your dog daily – it’s good exercise for both of you.
• Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible.
• Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them every day for five to 10 minutes.
• Take an obedience class with your dog.
• Provide interesting toys to keep your dog busy when you’re not home (Kong-type toys filled with treats or busy-box toys). Rotating the toys makes them seem new and interesting (see our handout, “Dog Toys and How to Use Them”).
• If your dog is barking to get your attention, make sure he has sufficient time with you on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising), so he doesn’t have to resort to misbehaving to get your attention.
• Keep your dog inside when you’re unable to supervise him.
• Take your dog to work with you every now and then, if possible.
• If you work very long hours, take him to a doggie day care or have a friend or neighbor walk and/or play with him.
• Never give your dog attention while he is barking. Ignore him until he stops for at least three seconds, then reward with attention or treats.
Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:
• The barking occurs in the presence of “intruders,” which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school and other dogs or neighbors in adjacent yards.
• Your dog’s posture while he’s barking appears threatening – tail held high and ears up and forward.
• You’ve encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.
• Teach your dog a “quiet” command. When he begins to bark at a passer-by, allow two or three barks, then say “quiet” and interrupt his barking by shaking a can filled with pennies or squirting water at his mouth with a spray bottle or squirt gun. This will cause him to stop barking momentarily. While he’s quiet, say “good quiet” and pop a tasty treat into his mouth. Remember, the loud noise or squirt isn’t meant to punish him; rather it is to startle him into being quiet so you can quickly reward him. If your dog is frightened by the noise or squirt bottle, find an alternative method of interrupting his barking (throw a toy or ball toward him).
• Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him that the people he views as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog is not barking, then reward him for quiet behavior as he obeys a “sit” or “down” command. Use a very special food reward such as little pieces of cheese or meat. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward his quiet behavior. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have them feed him a treat or throw a toy for him. In order for this technique to work, you’ll have to make sure your dog doesn’t see people outside between sessions.
• If your dog barks while inside the house when you’re home, call him to you, have him obey a command, such as “sit” or “down,” and reward him with praise and a treat.
• Don’t inadvertently encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside.
• Have your dog neutered (or spayed if your dog is a female) to decrease territorial behavior.
• Limit the dog’s access to views that might be causing him to bark when you are not home.
Fears And Phobias
Your dog’s barking may be a response to something he is afraid of if:
• The barking occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers or construction equipment.
• Your dog’s posture indicates fear – ears back, tail held low.
• Identify what is frightening your dog and desensitize him to it (see our handouts, “Helping Your Dog Overcome the Fear of Thunder and Other Startling Noises” and “Stress Relief for Your Pet”).
• Mute noise from outside by leaving your dog in a basement or windowless bathroom and leave on a television, radio or loud fan. Block off your dog’s access to outdoor views that might be causing a fear response, by closing curtains or doors to certain rooms.
Your dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if:
• The barking occurs only when you’re gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
• Your dog displays other behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, frantic greetings or reacting anxiously to your preparations to leave.
• Your dog has recently experienced a change in the family’s schedule that results in his being left alone more often; a move to a new house; the death or loss of a family member or another family pet; or a period at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.
• Separation anxiety may be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques (see our handouts, “Separation Anxiety” and “Stress Relief for Your Pet”).
Bark collars are specially designed to deliver an aversive whenever your dog barks. The main drawback of any bark collar is that it does not address the underlying cause of the barking. You may be able to eliminate the barking, but symptom substitution may occur and your dog may begin digging, escaping or become destructive or even aggressive. The use of a citronella or aversive sound bark collar must be in conjunction with behavior modification based on the reason for the barking. You should never use a bark collar on your dog if his barking is due to separation anxiety, fears or phobias, because punishment always makes fear and anxiety behaviors worse.
Copyright 2003-2006 Dumb Friends League.
All Rights Reserved. BBB0_R0106
This article is used with the permission of the Dumb Friends League.