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Most dogs will want to dig at some stage – and this digging can become extremely prolific. This is a normal and natural behaviour but can become quite a problem.

The best way of redirecting this behaviour into an appropriate form is to build a legal ‘digging patch’ for your dog to use, then to encourage its use by playing games with her in which she is encouraged to “dig your patch!” and praised when she does. 

Once this has been done a few times, you can interrupt your dog whenever you see her beginning to dig anywhere else and take her to the patch and encourage her to dig there instead. This technique is usually successful in preventing random digging within a couple of months. 

The patch should be about 1 x 1,5 meters, situated in a shady but well drained area of the garden and clearly demarcated by either logs or bricks set into the ground. This is important as she needs to learn that it is only within these boundaries that digging is allowed or drift will begin to happen. It is usually a good idea to mix some river or beach sand in with the heavier soil to encourage digging and help drainage so that it does not become a swamp during the rainy season. 

When teaching her to use it, you need to spend some time over a number of days to teach the dog what it is, how to use it, and what fun it can be:  

 

  1. Take her to the patch and bury some food items and toys just under the sand in front of her.
  2. Whenever she shows any interest in it at all, encourage her by saying “Good Dog! Dig your patch, dig your patch!” 
  3. Whenever the dog begins to dig at all, give maximum encouragement and the odd food treat.  
  4. Do this over a number of days.  
  5. Make it into a big game with the dog that includes both quality time as well as useful lessons learned.
  6. Toys and chewies can be buried under the top layer of soil and the dog encouraged with great excitement to “dig you patch!” and then praised every time she does. This needs to be repeated over and over, and chewies and other treats routinely buried in the patch to provide surprises for her to find.
  7. Anytime you see her about to dig somewhere other than the patch, interrupt by clapping your hands and encourage her over to the patch with enthusiastic calls to “Dig your patch!”

 

VERY IMPORTANT:  REMEMBER TO KEEP THE PATCH WELL-STOCKED – IF THE PATCH RUNS OUT OF GOODIES, SHE MAY VERY WELL START DIGGING IN THE LAWN FOR CRICKETS AGAIN! 

 
Karin Pienaar
Animal behaviour guru, Karin Pienaar, has been working in the field of animal behaviour and behaviour therapy in South Africa since 1997. She completed her Diploma in Animal Behaviour in the UK, through the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and is a qualified Practitioner member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists & Trainers (CAPBT) in the UK and South Africa.
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