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He’s full of energy and spends his days bounding around the house causing trouble. He gets a long walk every day, but while you might be out of breath by the end of it, your dog is still full of energy. You need to find a way to let him blow off steam. You also regularly have guests over and wouldn’t mind showing him off with an entertaining party trick. One such behavior, which would kill both birds with one stone is if he could dig. You could play a treasure hunt game with him. Not only would the digging be great fun and great exercise, but it would also get guests giggling.
If you can direct his attention to messing around outside, hopefully, he’ll spend his time in the house napping. This will bring you much-needed peace and quiet, and protect your home from his mischievous ways.
Teaching your dog to dig isn’t as complicated as you might think. Once he understands what it is you want him to do you just need to find an effective incentive. Food and toys usually do a pretty good job. You’ll then use a verbal cue to give the instruction and he’ll swiftly get to work. If he’s a puppy he should be keen to please and full of energy. You could see results in just a few days. If he’s older and not quite the avid follower he once was, then you may need up to 10 days before you see consistent results.
Succeed with this training and you’ll have your very own yard tool. No longer will you have to get out the shovel and do the heavy lifting yourself. Your trusty canine companion will be able to do it all for you!
Before you can start training you’ll need to gather a few bits. The most important thing you’ll need is somewhere to practice. A nice big yard will do the job nicely. Just make sure it’s your own! A towel will also be required.
Then you’ll need something to motivate him. Tasty treats or his favorite food broken into small pieces should suffice. Alternatively, you can use a couple of his favorite toys. You’ll need to set 15 minutes aside every other day for training.
Once you’ve got all of the above, just bring an optimistic attitude and you’re ready to get to work!
The Treasure Hunt Method
Get some tasty smelly treats or his favorite food ready. Then head into the yard and bury them in a few places just under the ground. Don’t bury them too deep, you want him to be able to smell them.
Now secure him to a leash and head outside. Encourage him to sniff the ground by pointing and talking in an animated voice. He will soon catch onto the scent trail. As he gets closer to where there are some treats buried, get even more excited and animated.
As soon as he finds the spot and starts showing signs of digging, give a ‘dig’ command. He will learn to associate this word with the behavior. After a few digging sessions of using this command you’ll be able to instruct him to get to work with ease.
When he does start digging, make sure he gets the treats you’ve buried. It’s important he gets a reward for his hard work. If he doesn’t he’ll quickly lose interest. Once he’s feasted you can then move onto the next stop on the treasure hunt.
After a few treasure hunt sessions, the verbal command should now be drilled into him. So, just point at the ground and instruct him to dig. For the first few times, continue to give him a treat after he’s got to work. Then you can gradually cut out the treats.
The Towel Method
Head out into the yard with your dog in tow. Then place a towel down in the yard, but underneath the towel hide several treats. Alternatively, you can put a toy or two underneath instead.
Now point at the towel and try and draw his attention to it. Speak in an animated voice and get down next to the towel. He’ll probably naturally start sniffing around and taking an interest.
As soon as he shows any sign of pawing at the towel, give him a treat and plenty of verbal praise. At this point you want to encourage any sign that he is trying to dig. Make sure you hold the towel down while he’s sniffing around.
Now practice this every other day for a few minutes. Each time he will get the hang of it more and more. Just make sure he gets praise and a reward each time. As soon as he doesn’t get any benefit he’ll begin to lose interest.
Lose the towel
Once he understands what you’re after you can ditch the towel. Now follow exactly the same steps but point at the ground and encourage him to dig there instead. To begin with, give him a treat when he moves just a little bit of the ground. Then gradually make him dig more up before you give him a treat.
The Lead By Example Method
Take him with you and have some tasty treats in your pocket. Also make sure you’re not in your nicest clothing. You’re about to get very dirty. Dogs look to their owners for guidance and replicate their behavior. That means you need to show him how it’s done.
Give a ‘dig’ command. Give it in an upbeat and animated voice. Dogs respond best when they think they’re playing a big game. You can use any word or phrase you like for the command.
As you give the command, start digging with your hands. While you’re doing this, talk in an animated voice and encourage him to join in. Look at him, then look at the ground. Point at the ground and do everything you can to get him excited.
As soon as he starts to help you dig, hand over a tasty reward. Let him rest for a few seconds and then repeat the same process. This time make him dig a little longer before you give him a treat.
After a couple of sessions you won’t need to lead by example any longer. By this point he understands what the command means. You can just point and give the instruction, just make sure you give him a reward after. Digging is hard work so make sure he gets a nice big meal for dinner!
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 12/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021