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
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.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs, a Common ProblemJacque Lynn Schultz, Director, ASPCA Special Projects ASPCA
Supposedly, absence makes the heart grow fonder. However, the absence of an owner sends some dogs into wailing and barking, frequent house soiling, and self-destructive behaviors. These are all signs that a dog is suffering from separation anxiety.
The canines most likely to fall victim are second-hand dogs. Whether from a shelter, rescue group, or greyhound-track adoption program, dogs re-homed in adolescence or older are at greater risk of suffering separation anxiety than puppies. This is probably because it is more difficult for these dogs to accept changes in their routine and environment. They cling to their new pack leader and panic when that leader leaves home to go about his or her daily business. For similar reasons, unemployed companion animal owners or those who take lengthy at-home vacations or recuperations may find that their dog becomes disoriented when they return to work. These distressed pets need help.
Separation anxiety is often a problem of over-bonding. It is not healthy for a dog to follow his caretakers’ every step, to be constantly in the same room, sharing the same piece of furniture, being in close contact all the time. Promote independence by teaching the dog to down and stay on his own bed while you go out of sight. Start with a few seconds, then build up to a length of time the dog can tolerate. Put up a gate and eventually close a door between the two of you. Get family members involved in dispensing the “good stuff” to the dog. Walks, play sessions, and feedings should not be provided by only one person, for that person’s absence means the end of all that is good in the world to the dog. Panic can ensue. If you live alone, perhaps a neighbor or relative will share the duties, or hire a pet-care professional to assist you.
The worst of a dog’s hysteria is often during the first hour after departure. Diffuse the emotion of your leave-taking by heartily exercising the dog right after you wake up. Then, after feeding him, scale back your attention to the point of ignoring him during the last 15 minutes before you leave. Turn off the lights and turn on the television, radio, or white-noise machine—whatever you play most when you are home. And with no more than a whispered “Be good,” leave the house.
Some dogs will read the signs of imminent departure and begin to work themselves into a frenzy. If putting on make-up, packing a lunch, or shuffling papers in your briefcase distresses the dog, desensitize him to these or other actions by doing them frequently and at other times (such as before mealtime) so they lose their direct connection to the dreaded departure. Presenting a toy stuffed with goodies can draw the focus of less seriously afflicted canines toward cleaning out the item and away from your leaving. Buster cubes, Kong toys, Goodie balls/ships work well as canine diversions. Unfortunately, the seriously afflicted dog will not give the toy a second look until his pack is together again.
Separation anxiety can be severe and all-consuming to some dogs. I have known dogs to jump through second-story plate-glass windows, eat through sheetrock walls into neighboring apartments, and bloody their paws and noses trying to dig through wooden doors or out of crates. These individuals need professional assessment by an applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist, for they may need pharmacological aid while they undergo desensitization exercises. Some people choose to manage the problem by dropping off their dogs at day care or adopting a second dog so they are never truly alone.
Luckily, if the earlier suggestions are followed, the majority of dogs will be howling “I will survive” in no time.
Used with permission from the ASPCA.