When Stanley Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs was first published it drew worldwide attention to a fact that most dog parents were already aware of: dogs are intelligent. On one occasion I carried a copy of the book with me into my doctor’s office. He commented on what I was reading with this question, “Are you kidding me?” Then he shared a story about his daughter and a young bulldog. When his daughter was little she’d received a new teddy bear. Enraptured with this new acquisition she sat hugging the teddy, admiring it with a gleeful expression. This drew the attention of a new member of the family, a bulldog youngster. Seems that he was quite enamored with the teddy too. He sat staring at the teddy longingly. She chose to ignore the puppy’s pleading gaze. Hugging the teddy close to her chest she shook her head repeating, “My teddy bear” over and over again. The pup resorted to whining. Unimpressed by the pup’s efforts to sway her the little girl continued fawning over the teddy bear.
The bulldog sauntered out of the room only to reappear a short while later holding a brand new collar and leash in his mouth. He dropped this lovely gem into the little girl’s lap, looked up at her imploringly and waited. The little girl was unimpressed. Then the pup picked up the leash and collar and once again dropped it into her lap. This time he wanted to be certain she got the message so he looked from the leash and collar up to the teddy bear (which she’d held up out of his reach). He looked back and forth between the two objects several times. Then the unthinkable happened. The little girl emphatically stated, “That’s not YOUR leash! It’s Jasper’s leash!” The pup lowered his face, defeated he walked slowly away looking over his shoulder at the lovely object of his affection — not the little girl — but the teddy bear she clasped tightly to her chest.
It’s obvious what the pup was hoping to achieve. There was planning and strategy involved here. If you substituted a child for the dog in this story you’d immediately recognize the amount of thinking involved. After all, it would be evident that a child could figure out a strategy that would involve an exchange of goods, one prize for another. Let’s swap! Certainly. But dogs possess this capability too. They plan, they connive, they figure things out, they can even pull a con job on another dog (or a person). Oh yes! Not so dumb. Yet it’s really not that difficult to explain why dogs possess the ability to think in these ways. After all their survival hinges on this type of thought process. So the next time you interact with your dog don’t be fooled by that innocent look, or the cuteness, or his loving gaze. He’s probably just taking notes on how he can convince you to do what he wants you to do. Then give him a hug!
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.