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Pet Q&A: Our Backyard Is a Doggie Digging War Zone

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Q: Our backyard looks like a war zone with all the holes our 7-month-old puppy Linus has dug. We’ve tried dissuading him with everything -- but he just digs new ones. He gets plenty of exercise: We walk him three times a day, and he plays with the neighbor’s dog until he’s wiped out.

With spring here we need help. We'd like to have a nice yard to play in this summer!

--Nestie anabelamm

A: Kudos to you for giving your pup lots of exercise and socialization! Well done. You sound like a savvy dog owner. But he’ll just keep digging new holes until you find the right strategy. Doggie digging is a natural and favorite canine activity. They love it! And your guy especially, it seems.

If he’s digging up the yard when you’re not home, you’ll need to keep him inside when you’re away. It’s not fair to leave a puppy alone with a patch of dirt and expect him not to get his paws all up in it. Give him a chew toy and leave him inside, crated if necessary. Millions of dogs spend the day indoors when their owners are out. There’s nothing cruel about it -- in fact, dogs left in yards would usually give their right canine tooth to be waiting inside on the sofa for you to get home.

If he’s digging in the yard when you’re home, though, a digging pit can be a great solution -- a trick plenty of dog trainers swear by. The pit is simply a small corner of the yard dedicated to doggie destruction. Pick a spot that’s more or less out of sight (or that’s already destroyed beyond repair). Fill it with sand if you want to get fancy, or leave it as is. Then put a stuffed food toy designed to hold his meal (I like Busy Buddy’s Kibble Nibble) a few inches down. Encourage him to dig them up. Praise him heartily when he finds them. Every day, put a new prize inside. Soon, he won’t bother digging anywhere else. If you see him starting to dig elsewhere, though, tell him to knock it off, then bring him to his pit and encourage him to dig there.

Sometimes owners express concern at encouraging their dogs to dig, thinking it might make matters worse. But really, he’s already digging without any urging on your part. With your guidance, he can learn to only dig in one spot and to stop and smell the roses in the rest of your garden.

Erica Nance, MA, CPDT, makes dog training effective, fun, and stress-free for pets and their people at her New York training facility, Dogs of Hudson. She previously owned and operated DogStar Dog Training and Behavior Consulting and worked as the Manager of Operations of the Animal Behavior Department at the ASPCA in New York City. Erica has a master's degree in experimental psychology specializing in evolutionary psychology. She shares her home with a rescued husky named Nova, her husband, and her young son. The household is managed and directed by an 11-year-old border collie named Jack.

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