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Gold diggers and canine prospectors

In the early 1980s, I worked for three years as a dispatcher for the Becker County Sheriff's Office. The job afforded me the inside scoop on one of the best uses of innocent labor I have seen.

The young son of one of the deputies asked his dad for a small amount of change. My deputy friend told the boy he didn't have any change. Another deputy pulled the boy aside and explained that Dad saved all his change in small cans, which were buried in the family's back yard.

The suggestion was made that if the lad needed money, he should dig in the back yard anywhere he saw a spot where the grass wasn't very thick. The boy was an enterprising and determined young man and truly dedicated to his quest. The results were admirable!

The cause and cure for the boy's digging was obvious. Dealing with dogs that dig is not always so easy. Dogs dig for a variety of reasons. Determining why your dog digs is can help prevent the activity.

Dogs will dig near or will parallel to a foundation in pursuit of rodents. Eliminating the rodents is generally necessary to eliminate the digging. Place some of your dog's feces in the holes while filling them. Most dogs will not dig through dog feces. However, if the rodents are not eliminated the dog will probably dig in a new area.

Holes dug by dogs under decks, trees or larger shrubs are often an attempt to stay cool. Dogs will dig a shallow hole in a shady area and lay in the hole.

I provide my dogs with a small child's wading pool during the hot summer months. The results have been spectacularly successful and entertaining. Snickers the German Shepherd was very dignified and polite while stepping in and laying down, barely creating a ripple.

For Traeh, the young yellow Lab, it was nothing short of a Bonsai charge. Traeh would leap in, dive and roll. When she surfaced from the 8-inch depth, she would start circling the inside edge of the pool, running, rolling and frolicking, often throwing up water spray higher than six feet. She could splash out over half the water from the pool in one play session. Both dogs cooled off, but Traeh truly relished the opportunity.

Freshly tilled soil is an open invitation to help with the excavation. Recently planted flowers and shrubs or vegetable gardens can be just too much to resist. Consider limiting your pet's access to these areas for a few days until the ground crusts or seals and does not smell as inviting. Fencing around these areas at least during the growing season is also helpful for Rover to succeed.

Digging under a fence is a common escape attempt. Plan your fencing project ahead and bury a foot or more of wire below grade. Fill along this buried wire with rock to further discourage digging. I have used patio block or larger rock over newly filled holes along the fence to discourage or prevent further digging. Coupling an electronic fence with a physical fence is also an option.

Some dogs dig to bury a bone or toy for a later time. Others dig to free partially exposed rocks, roots or other items from the ground. Snickers specialized in excavating and rolling rocks about the yard.

During an early, wet snowfall, she actually created large snowballs, each with a rock in the center. Amos, my yellow Lab, digs during play by covering and uncovering a toy such as a ball. Some dogs dig for no apparent reason other than for the sheer joy of digging.

These activities are harder to predict and become training issues rather than having the ability to physically eliminate the cause.

Training requires patience and vigilance. One may use a long line (20 or 30 feet) to reinforce calling the dog to you at the first sign of digging. Then redirect the dog with some other activity.

Unfortunately, when unsupervised, the dog often returns to the digging activity. The use of an electronic collar has been successful. This method involves first collar conditioning the dog, then giving a brief "correction" each time the dog starts to dig.

Both training methods require that the handler spend a fair amount of time monitoring the dog, first to "catch the dog in the act," then to correct the action and praise the desired behavior.

Like most activities, digging can become an enjoyable habit for your dog. Be proactive on this one, for like us, the longer dogs enjoy their habits, the harder they are to break. Identify and remove the triggers that cause your dog to dig, provide an alternative activity to satisfy the need, use creative landscaping techniques to set your dog up to succeed without digging.

For help with your own training questions, email Linda at