Dealing with Dogs that Dig

Dealing with Canine Digging

Some dogs just love to get down and dirty by digging and digging. Meanwhile their masters can do nothing but watch as the yard starts to resemble a minefield. What you should do about digging depends on why your dog is scooping up soil by the pawfull in the first place.

Why Do Dogs Dig?

There are a number of reasons that dogs dig. One is a well-founded urge for comfort, particularly on hot days. Dogs do not sweat very effectively and so they don’t cool off as efficiently as humans. Digging into moist soil and then lying in it can provide summer relief. Even if the weather is not particularly hot, a well-appointed hole may be comfortable for nesting. Looked at from that point of view, digging is an indicator of how ingenious dogs can be.

Some dogs dig because they are pursuing an odor of buried food or a prey animal. Breeds, such as terriers and dachshunds, have been bred for the propensity to dig to facilitate their burrowing into the underground dens of small animals.

Sometimes, dogs dig just for the fun of it while others dig out of boredom or frustration. Then again, some dig because they have figured out that they can escape to roam the neighborhood if they can just get under the fence.

On a more tragic note, some dogs that dig may be frightened into a frantic attempt to escape from frightening situations. Occasionally, dogs with separation anxiety dig out of their yards possibly in an attempt to be reunited with their owners. Thunderstorm phobic dogs just want to get away from the storm. 

If digging does seem to be the result of a broader behavioral condition, such as separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobia, you should seek help through a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist. 

Digging is hardly ever a sign of a medical condition though it sometimes occurs as an obsessive-compulsive behavior and, as such, indicates anxiety superimposed on an underlying genetic tendency. Again, veterinary assistance should be sought if such a condition is even suspected.

Tips to Discourage a Dog from Digging 

  • If your dog is digging to find a cool spot, try providing him with a small children’s pool or sand pit in a shady area. Alternatively, try providing a shelter, such as a spot under a deck or insulated doghouse, for use on hot days. (Remember, all outdoor dogs should have access to shade and water at all times.)
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  • If your dog is leaving to find a mate, neutering will probably help.
  • If your dog is leaving to raid a neighbor’s garbage, buy your neighbor a dog-proof garbage receptacle. If you have a benevolent neighbor who is feeding your dog, ask the neighbor to stop.
  • Give serious consideration to improving your containment system. The addition of an underground electronic fence or a fence that extends beneath ground level may be the only way to contain a skillful escape artist.
  • If your dog is digging just to have fun, show him other ways to play. Provide him with lots of exercise. If you don’t have the time, consider hiring a dog walker or neighborhood child to walk your dog and play ball with him in the backyard. Always keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated.
  • Supervise your dog when he is out in the yard. Reprimand (NO!) if he starts to dig. Get him interested in doing other things instead (playing ball). If there is one particular area your dog likes to excavate, try temporarily covering the area with plastic or wood. Or change the texture of the soil – for example, with water, large stones or newly planted grass – as this may discourage the unwanted behavior.
  • Consider providing a special area of the yard for your dog to dig and teach him that it is acceptable to dig there but not in the rest of your yard. Well-placed (buried) treats may help direct him to a suitable area.
  • Introducing a New Dog Into Your Household

    Introducing a new dog into a household where there is already another pet, whether a dog, cat, bird or small mammal, can be quite tricky. How to accomplish this without squabbles or bloodshed is a question often posed to animal behaviorists. The character of any new dog you plan to integrate is an important factor. Where possible, you should take into account the sex, age, breed, and past experience of any dog you plan bring home before making a commitment.

    The impact of obtaining a new dog can be strenuous on the other pets in the household. However, once the initial stress of introductions has passed, the new arrangement can turn out to be a happy one!

    Dog to Dog Introductions

    If the incumbent dog has lots of energy for playing, obtaining a puppy or young adult dog is appropriate. However, if your present dog is unlikely to tolerate the antics and energy of an adolescent dog, consider getting an older dog that will not be trying to compel your old faithful to play all the time.

    It’s best to choose a dog of the opposite sex to add to your household. This will decrease the chance of aggression. Begin by reading books that give unbiased opinions of breeds to choose the one that has the best chance of getting along with your resident dog.

    Avoid breeds known for aggression to other dogs as a breed characteristic (e.g. pit bull terriers). Don’t get upset when the resident dog tells the newcomer to “bug off.” This is how the new dog learns the house rules. A hierarchy will develop over the first few weeks, and in general, the older and incumbent dog will and should occupy the “alpha position.”

    Here are some tips on how to introduce two dogs:

  • It may be possible to introduce the dogs in a relaxed manner by just letting them sniff and play – as long as both are known to be friendly with other dogs.
  • If you are not sure how the dogs will react, start off cautiously by taking them for a walk together on neutral territory (e.g. a park, not your yard). When they show friendly behavior toward each other or begin to ignore each other, move the exercise to your back yard. Finally, allow the dogs to be together in your home.
  • Be aware that wagging tails do not necessarily mean that dogs are happy to see each other. A straight up tail that wags stiffly is a dominant signal. Such a display might herald aggression. If one of the dog’s tails is tucked down between its legs, that dog is afraid and nervous. This calls for a gradual, well-supervised approach to avoid making the dog even more fearful. If a dog’s tail is horizontal and wagging in a relaxed fashion, it’s all systems go!
  • When the dogs eventually meet off-leash, one of them is going to need to establish dominance. This is a normal and necessary step in a dog-dog relationship, but sometimes the process can look and sound pretty scary. The dogs will maneuver around each other and may even scuffle to the point at which one dog ends up on his back, with the other dog standing over him. There may be some nipping and grabbing of the neck or throat. Try not to worry too much when this happens. It is normal for dogs to engage in such roughness. Once the dominant dog establishes himself, he probably won’t feel the need to repeat these maneuvers as long as the subordinate does not keep “trying it on.”
  • Once the dogs are together, make sure that you support one dog as dominant (this will probably be the resident dog). Show him he is number one. He should be fed first, petted first, given attention first, and should be given the favorite sleeping area. Don’t expect the dogs to share. Sharing isn’t normal for most dogs. Feed the dogs separately (across the room) and don’t give really delicious chew toys (rawhides, pigs’ ears) at first. Once the hierarchy is secure, you’ll probably be able to give the dogs all the chew toys they want.
  • Dog to Cat Introductions

    Age and sex of a dog are not major concerns when adding a dog to a household where there is a cat. However, a puppy will naturally be more inclined to want to play with the cat, so if your feline will not tolerate a pushy puppy, consider an older dog.

    There’s an advantage, however, to adding a puppy to a cat-dominated household: the puppy will learn to tolerate or even like cats as he grows up. 

    If you are obtaining an adult dog, find out whether the dog has a past history of living amicably with cats, or has been tested with cats. If you are looking to obtain a dog from a breed rescue or professional breeder, take special care when considering a breed that has a reputation for being aggressive to cats.

    Introducing Your New Cat to Your Household

    Settling a new cat in your household takes time and patience. Remember, the cat is being introduced to territory already “claimed” by your resident pet, so you need to take both cats’ feelings into account.

    In addition, it is your responsibility to protect the health of your resident pets and the newcomer. For instance, many cats that are adopted from shelters have upper respiratory infections (URI’s) either brewing or obvious. It is important for a cat with such an infection to be treated as soon as possible. Make sure to keep your new cat completely isolated from your other cats for at least a week, or until the infection has completely cleared up before attempting introductions.

    Tests for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) should be performed on your new cat. These diseases can be lethal to cats so it is important to make sure that your new cat is not a carrier. A fecal test should be performed before the cats begin sharing litter boxes – to check for internal parasites.

    Check your resident cat’s vaccination status to make sure he is sufficiently well protected against diseases the newcomer may be harboring.

    Cat-to-Cat Introductions

    Upon bringing your new cat home, put him into a private room for his first week. This is where your new cat will begin to settle into his new home. Your resident cat should not be allowed to enter this room or to stay at the door growling and hissing.

  • After a week has passed, allow your resident cat to explore outside the door of the room where the new cat is residing.
  • Only when all signs of aggression (hissing, growling) are absent, open the door a crack. Use a doorstop or hook to secure the door. Again, wait for the hissing and growling, if any, to disappear.
  • If you have a large carrier or crate, place the new cat in it. Then bring it into your main living area. Try simultaneously feeding both cats treats or delicious food so that they associate each other’s presence with a pleasurable experience.
  • Once the cats are comfortable in this situation, allow them interact under your supervision. If there are any signs of aggression, you might have to limit their exposure to, say, 5 to 10 minutes, or perhaps go back to the separation phase.
  • Gradually increase the time the cats spend together as long as they are not aggressive to each other. Remember cat play can be pretty rough.
  • Home Care

    You will need additional “infrastructure” to support your cats. Obtain new food and water bowls, an extra litter box (or two), scratching posts/pads, various toys, and bedding for the new cat. Obtain the same type of food that the “new” cat was eating in the previous home. If you choose to switch the cat’s ration, do so gradually over a two-week period to decrease the chances of causing diarrhea.

    Cat to Dog Introductions

    Follow the above guidelines when introducing a cat to a resident dog. At the time of the first introduction, apply a leash to the dog and occupy it with some obedience exercises (sit-stay) with food treats as a reward for calm responding.

  • Don’t ever let the dog rush toward the cat, even if only in play.
  • Provide your cat with a variety of escape routes and high hiding places that are easily accessable at all times. Your cat must be able to get away from the dog whenever necessary.
  • Slowly allow the dog and cat spend more time together but always supervise them until you are absolutely sure there is no threat of danger to either of them.

    Cat to Bird or Small Mammal Introductions

    Cats are natural predators, so keep your small furry friends safe by housing them in an enclosure that cannot be opened by an agile paw. Keep them in a room that is off limits to your feline family member when not supervised.

    Follow the same protocol with your feathered friends but be careful where you choose to keep them. Birds have some restrictions on where they can be kept for health reasons (not in direct sun or draft). Check with a veterinarian specializing in exotic pets if you have concerns on where to have your bird’s enclosure.

    Whether a bird or small mammal, you should make sure that their enclosures have adequate houses and boxes so they can escape from the cat’s line of vision if they want to. It can be very stressful for any animal not to be able to escape the “evil eye.”