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You spend weeks and months every year ensuring your yard is well looked after and looks great in those summer months. So when you walk downstairs in the morning and you see what looks like a bomb has gone off in your yard, well then you’re not too happy. Of course, it’s your canine friend who has a rather annoying habit of digging holes. Whatever you seem to do, he seems to find a way around it and all your hard work in the yard is undone. Instead of seeing grass when you look out the window, there is just a sea of craters.
You need to train him to stop digging holes for your sanity. You don’t want your hard work in the yard to all be for nothing, plus you don’t enjoy the mud he brings back into the house afterward.
Training your dog not to dig holes will require a number of different steps. First, you will need to find an effective deterrent to make him think twice before he starts digging. You’ll also need to motivate him to not dig holes using some mouth-watering food. You’ll then need to channel his energy into something more productive. If he’s a puppy and this habit is in its early days then you may get a handle on it in just a week. If this something he’s been up to for many years then you may need a month to finally kick the habit.
You need to succeed with this training, otherwise, your once clean carpets will be brown forever. Your partner may also have a heart attack if he goes into the yard again and sees any more holes. Today is the day you declare war on your dog’s favorite pastime.
Before you can get to work you’ll need to go out and collect a few bits. Your dog's favorite food broken into small pieces or treats will be needed. You’ll also need some chewy puzzle toys to redirect his energy.
Citronella or water spraying deterrence collars will play a part in one of the methods. Apart from that you just need time to be vigilant and catch him in the act each day.
Once you’ve got all of that, it’s time to head out into the yard and put an end to the digging!
The Deterrence Method
If you let him out in the yard make sure you keep a close eye on him. As soon as you see him start to sniff around or display signs he’s about to dig, you need to be able to run out there as soon as possible.
When he does start to dig, get out there and quickly pull him away. Don’t shout at him, you don’t want to scare him, you just need to confidently take him back inside. If you do this every time he starts to dig he’ll quickly realize he won’t be allowed outside if he digs.
Up the stakes
If after a few days that isn’t deterring him, you need to increase the deterrence measures. This time, when you go out to pull him back, squirt some water near his face using a water bottle. This will help reinforce the point.
Consider deterrence collars
You can pick up remote controlled collars online and in local pet stores that emit an unpleasant spray of citronella or water. Simply hit the button when you see him about to start digging and he’ll quickly think twice.
Many dogs dig out of boredom because they’re full of energy. Take him for a longer walk each day or even an extra one. If you can’t do that, get him sprinting on walks by throwing a ball or stick for him to fetch. If he’s knackered he’ll be dozing in the afternoons, not digging.
The Positive Reinforcement Method
Take him outside into the yard each day on a leash. It won’t be the freedom he’s used to, but until he can behave out there he stays under your control. Walk him around the yard at least a couple of times a day.
Whenever he isn’t showing signs of wanting to dig, give him gentle praise and the odd treat. This will reinforce what kind of behavior you do want to see when he’s in the yard.
Correct any digging
If he does show signs he’s about to dig, quickly give the leash a pull and walk him away. At the same time you do this, issue a ‘NO’ command in a clear, firm voice. This will really hammer home that digging won’t be tolerated.
As soon as you’ve pulled him away and he’s stopped showing signs of wanting to dig, give him a treat and praise again. Continue doing this every day for a week or two and he will quickly catch on how to behave in the yard.
Lose the leash
When he’s stopped showing signs of wanting to dig when you walk him, lose the leash and watch from the window. If he does go back to digging, it’s too early to lose the leash so return to the above steps for a little while longer. Eventually, this close monitoring and positive reinforcement will do the job.
The Distraction Method
Toys and puzzles
He may be digging simply out of boredom. If this is the case, you need to give him something more productive to do when he’s outside. You can get food puzzles that take most dogs a little while to figure out. This should keep him neatly occupied and digging off his mind.
Tug of war
This is another way to distract him when he’s outside. Get a toy and play tug of war for a few minutes each day. Not only will it tire him out, but it will make him reach for the toy instead of starting to dig next time.
Throw a ball or a stick outside for him. The sprinting will tire him out and he’ll soon be retiring for a lie down. All of these measures are to show him that there is much more fun to be had outside than digging. If you keep him distracted for long enough, he’ll kick the habit on his own.
When you’re playing any of the games above with him, give him treats throughout. This will help reinforce the correct behavior and distract him further from digging. As he starts to improve and stops digging, you can gradually cut down on treats.
If he does start digging when you’re outside, you must react swiftly. Run over to him and pull him away by the collar. Don’t give him any attention, you need to remain calm. Simply lead him away and then continue as before. You need to ensure you catch him every time.
By James Barra
Published: 11/09/2017, edited: 01/08/2021