Can You Dig It?

We have two young Boston Terriers who we can’t stop digging up our outside plant pots. When we see them doing it we give them the “ah ah” and they stop but they do not seem to learn not to do it. Have you got any tips?

Digging would, on the surface seem to be an easy fix. You tell the dogs "no" and they stop digging. Easy, right? Well, not exactly.

Let's start with why dogs dig. Dogs belong to the family Canidae, which includes domestic dogs, fox, coyotes, wolves and a few others. What do they all have in common? Well, plenty, including digging as an innate behavior.

Innate means that no one had to teach them how to do it. Some innate behaviors appear at birth and some are triggered by the environment (male dogs squat to urinate until adolescence, for example, then hormones and environmental triggers shape the behavior into leg lifting and marking). These behaviors are very difficult (some are impossible) to stop because they are so deeply a part of the animal's natural repertoire. Digging is one of these behaviors, I'm afraid. Some dogs are even bred for their digging ability (ahem, terriers for example).

Dogs dig to stay cool, make a bed, in response to the smells or sounds of prey, and to bury (or cache) food for later consumption. Interesting side note: from time to time we see videos of dogs "saving" fish by seemingly using their nose to splash water on the fish (see video at the end of the page). This is part of the caching sequence likely triggered by the smell of the fish. The dog is performing the "bury" portion of the sequence; dog digs a hole, places the item in the hole, then uses his nose to "bury" the item." Nature is amazing.)

As cool as we think all of that is (we are dog nerds, after all), what can you do to help your poor plants?

Dogs love to dig!

Management is the first line of defense. Is there a way to make the plants impossible to access? Problem solved! Perhaps bury chicken wire to prevent deep digging and protect the plant roots, depending on what type of plants your critters are digging up. Large decorative rocks to impede access to the plants may be an option.

Provide an alternative. Some people have good luck in providing a "legal" are for pets to dig in. Your dog will not understand that concept as you do, but they likely can be redirected to the legal plot of dirt especially if you seed it with buried toys or stuff that has been scented (check out hunting stores for scents or ask friends with pet rodents for a tiny bit of used litter, perhaps).

Give up landscaping and enjoy nature's design. One of our team here (which may or may not be this author) has a backyard that looks much like pictures the astronauts sent back from the moon. Her dogs, however, are happy and likely digging as this is being written.

At 42.30 mark listen to Victoria speak about dogs and digging: https://positively.com/podcast/positively-podcast-episode-307/

Dog "saves" fish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBiAlqygvms

Compare this with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbTmhFFmTfo


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Positively Expert: Christina Waggoner

Graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy and a 500-hour certified yoga teacher. Christina has been quoted in Dog Fancy Magazine’s Popular Dog Series “Training Secrets For Siberian Huskies”, Orange Coast Magazine, Whole Dog Journal and the elephant journal. Christina has presented at Clicker Expo.


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