But What Do You Want Your Dog To Do?

Last week I posted on social media asking people to share some problems they were having with their dogs. One problem mentioned was digging. If your dog is doing something you don’t like, including digging up your backyard, before you start working on the problem, think about why your dog might be engaging in the problem behavior, and what you would like him to be doing instead.

Your dog probably isn’t digging in the yard just to make you crazy (I promise!). He might be digging a hole under the fence to try to get out of the yard and get to something on the other side, or he might be digging because he is bored, to bury something, to get something out of the ground, or any number of other reasons. Try to make your best guess about why your dog is doing the thing you don’t like (in this case digging) because you can use that information to work on solving your problem.

After you have a good idea of why your dog might be engaging in a problem behavior, think about what you would like to see him do instead. We tend to spend a lot of time focusing on the thing that is driving us crazy, so if your dog is digging up your yard, when I ask you what you’d like to see instead, you might say “Anything else! I just don’t want him to dig!”. But surely that’s not accurate. Do you want him to chew up your patio furniture? Climb the fence? Start barking non-stop in the backyard? Of course not! If you don’t want to see a new problem behavior pop up to replace the old one, then it’s important to think beyond “how do I stop this?!?” to what you’d like to see instead and spend some time training that.

Say you have a dog who enjoys digging to find things. I’m going to guess that your dog’s digging behavior really isn’t the problem for you so much as where your dog is doing the digging. If that’s the case, you might consider creating a digging area for your dog. You could block off an area of the yard, or even put a baby pool in the yard, and fill it with sand or dirt, and then spend some time teaching your dog to dig in that spot. If you think the payoff for the digging is finding things, you can bury fun toys, treats, sticks, and/or other interesting things in the dig pit and teach your dog that digging still pays, but it pays the big bucks in the dig pit. Until you teach your dog that digging in the new dig pit is where it is at, you will need to manage his access to his other preferred dig spots.

If the pay off for your dog is to get out of the fence though, I think you can see that a digging pit probably won’t be a lot of help for you though and you’ll need a different plan. No matter the problem behavior though, these questions can be a good starting point. 1) What’s in it for the dog? 2) What would I like to see instead?

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