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Digging... construction or destruction? 

It's all in the eye of the beholder

People plant gardens, excavate foundations for homes and build freeways, all activities we might define as human "digging". However, if these activities were done in inappropriate places, we might define them as destructive behaviors. As natural as our digging needs are to us, dogs have digging habits with very similar goals. Unfortunately, their digging activity is not often acceptable when living with their human families. 

Dogs dig for a variety of reasons including to occupy their time, react to underground noises and scents, bury objects, conserve heat in the winter and disperse heat in the summer, create a bed, or provide a passage or escape. Digging in soil and playing with roots that fight back are entertaining and the digging becomes self-reinforcing. The truth is, digging is a natural behavior, one that is at best controlled rather than eliminated. 

We can manage digging behavior if we understand why our dog is doing it and that it is a normal need. We know how enjoyable it is for a child to play with sand and we would not hesitate to provide a sandbox for them. A fenced sand digging pit can be set up for the dog stocked with treat filled Kong toys, bones and other play objects and the dog can be encouraged to play in this spot and praised for digging there. If this is not possible, the dog needs to be supervised when outside and redirected to appropriate play with a tennis ball or Frisbee for example. If your dog is digging to cool off, provide a child's wading pool or a shady spot for your dog to use. If a dog must be left outside, an appropriate kennel should be provided that conforms to the legal requirements for this type of shelter. A dog that digs to escape must be monitored when brought outside. Digging behavior can also be controlled with increased human interaction in play and increased physical activity so that energy is burned in an appropriate way instead of digging.

Trying to eliminate digging behavior with punishment is ineffective. Dogs only relate to events that happen seconds after a behavior, so delayed punishment will be misinterpreted. Physical punishment will only cause the dog to avoid digging when you are around. The old remedy of filling the hole with water and dunking the dog's head in it is not only inhumane, and in most cases ineffective but puts the dog at risk for injuries. 

To control digging we need to be reminded that dogs dig to provide entertainment, shelter and a way of passage or escape for themselves, behaviors that often parallel human needs. We can redirect this activity by understanding the reasons for digging and provide solutions rather than punishment for this behavior.

For additional information about behavior and training, contact the Animal Humane Society’s training school at 763-489-2217.

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