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Behaviour & Training

Destructive Behaviour & Digging

Dogs being destructive – especially outside – can be frustrating to say the least. You put all that time, effort and expense into creating the kind of 'outdoor room' you've always dreamed of, and then your dog wants to put their own special touch to it! And you can be sure he's not getting his landscaping tips from the latest issue of Canada's Home & Garden.

If you deduce that it's not the need for an artistic release that's behind your dog's actions, then you can probably assume it's being caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Boredom
  • Separation anxiety or distress
  • Hunting prey (e.g. rabbits)
  • Burying objects (e.g. bones)
  • Normal play or exploration

I Dig Digging!

To manage a dog who habitually digs holes, you first need to know why they're doing it. Some dogs become easily bored, despite all the measures you put into place to keep them occupied. Some dogs with an active temperament just continue to want more – more attention, more stimulation, more eating, more everything!

Try changing to feeding your dog with food release devices such as KongTM toys stuffed with food, treat release balls, etc.
Ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise. Most dogs should be walked twice daily. If possible, some of this should be off-leash to provide not only physical exercise but also lots of sniffing and socializing (as long as you and your dog are comfortable with being off-lead).

Rotate the dog toys daily to provide novelty. Create an area where your dog is allowed to dig. This may be a sandpit or similar structure filled with dirt/sand. Hide food treats and food release devices (as mentioned above) in it to encourage its use. If your dog just wants to bury a bone, give them several at a time so they get it out of their system for a while, and dig just one hole.

Some owners have had some success by burying water-balloons in already-dug holes, ready to give their dog an unrewarding fright when they start digging there again. This also provided some laughs, which is even more reason to try it.

Separation anxiety is another potential cause. If this is the case for your dog, the digging would occur only when you are absent or separated from your dog, and usually around barriers like fences, doors and gates. Separation anxiety is a complex problem, but there is much that can be done to help, including medications. Ask a veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist about the treatment options.

Whatever the cause, you can be 99% sure that treatment will require you to do numerous different things rather than just adopt one specific solution.

I Chew, Therefore, I Am

Destruction of trees, furniture and objects in the backyard can be caused by similar things to digging, and as for digging, treatment depends on the cause.

Puppies are often destructive simply because exploring their environment with their mouth is a normal stage in their development. However, they do usually grow out of it, especially if they're given enough objects that they are allowed and encouraged to chew. Got any old slippers? Not for long.

A more serious and complex concern is if your dog has separation anxiety when you are absent or separated from your dog. The destroyed objects are usually doors and gates. Often, objects that are especially valued by the owner are destroyed too (e.g. TV remote or favourite sofa). Happily and for both your sakes, there is much that can be done to treat a dog with this problem. Contact your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist to discuss all the medicinal and behavioural options.

Additional Information

The Merck Veterinary Manual

Veterinary Partner: The Canine Behaviour Series
By: Kathy Diamond Davis, Trainer

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