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Your German Shepherd is full of life. He spends his mornings charging around local fields on his daily walk, sniffing everything he can get near. However, when he gets home, he doesn’t half cause trouble. He spends his time digging up your precious yard when you’ve spent months working hard to make it look nice for summer. In fact, your German Shepherd seems insistent on destroying your hard work.
Training him not to dig will save you from considerable pain. Firstly, your yard will go back to looking appealing and be a nice place to spend time. Your house also won’t get covered in dirt because he’s come back in and brought half the yard with him. Finally, this type of training will help you stamp out other bad habits too. Not to mention it will secure your position as pack leader.
Training your German Shepherd not to dig is surprisingly straightforward. The first thing you will need to do is take a number of steps to deter him from digging in the first place. You will also need to channel his energy into something more productive. Incentives will also be required to give him a reason not to dig. Finding the right motivator will be half the battle.
If he’s a puppy the habit should be relatively new. He should also be fairly receptive, which means you could see results in just a week or two. However, if this habit has been on-going for many years then you may need up to six weeks to fully get a handle on it. If you can get this training right you’ll have taken a big step towards a well behaved German Shepherd, who listens to your instructions.
Before you start training, you will need to get your hand on several bits. Stock up on mouthwatering treats. Alternatively, break his favorite food into small pieces. You will also need a water spray bottle, a deterrence collar and baby gates for one of the methods. Toys and food puzzles will also be required.
Try to set aside 15 minutes each time for training and be around as much as possible to react when you see him digging.
Once you have the above, just bring patience and a positive attitude, then work can begin!
The Deterrence Method
Keep doors shut
A simple way to prevent him digging altogether is to keep doors to the yard shut if you are not there to supervise him. Alternatively, you could fit baby gates to certain doors if that’s easier.
Water spray bottle
Whenever you see him about to dig or digging, you need to react swiftly. So rush over and give a quick spray of water near his face. At the same time you can give a firm ‘NO’.
You may also want to consider a deterrence collar. They can be bought from a range of online stores. All you need to do is hit a button when you see him digging and an unpleasant spray of citronella will be emitted. This will quickly get him associating digging with negative consequences.
Keep him tethered
You could also keep him tethered when you are in the yard. Simply ensure he has enough space to roam around, but not enough freedom that he can get onto grass and dig. It’s a quick, easy and effective measure to take.
Secure the grass
Another option is to place bushes, a fence or another form of partition between your German Shepherd and the yard. If he can’t see it or get to it he will quickly forget he ever used to dig.
The Distraction Method
German Shepherds need a serious amount of exercise, as they have so much energy. His digging may be him trying to use up that energy. So take him out for a longer walk of throw a stick as you go. The short sprinting will ensure he spends his time at home napping. A tired German Shepherd does not dig.
Spend a few minutes in the morning and evening playing with him and giving him attention. If his digging is attention seeking behavior this should stop it in its tracks.
If you leave him on his own for a lot of the day then his digging may be because he is simply bored. So try leaving him the odd food puzzle and other toys to play with. A food puzzle can keep him occupied for hours and his mind strictly off digging.
Tug of war
Whenever you do catch him digging, head out and encourage him to play tug of war with you and a toy instead. If you alway redirect his attention away from digging to something more appealing, he will eventually just look for that activity instead.
Whenever he is outside and he doesn’t try to dig, give him the odd treat and verbal praise. Positive reinforcement is often the most effective approach to take with German Shepherds. He will soon start associating playing outside calmly and not digging with tasty rewards.
The Time Out Method
Make sure if you let him outside you are always there to supervise him. Each time he digs without consequences will only push back the end result. So whether it’s you or someone else, be ready to react.
Whenever you see him digging or about to dig, rush out and take him by the collar inside. Place him in a room on his own for 30 seconds where he has no toys or other people and pets to play with. This will be his time out space.
Increase the sentence
Once his 30 seconds are up, you can let him back out again. If he proceeds to start digging once more, lead him back into his time out space. However, this time add another 30 seconds onto his sentence.
Add 30 seconds onto his sentence each time until he finally catches on. It may take a while, but German Shepherds are intelligent, so he will eventually start thinking twice about digging.
It’s important that you always stay calm when you lead him to his time out space. You don’t want to terrify him, he may become aggressive and then violent. Instead, keep your cool and he will get the message.
By James Barra
Published: 02/21/2018, edited: 01/08/2021