Q: My yard is full of holes! My dog Violet is constantly hiding toys and treats, scratching the ground after she poops, digging up fence posts and randomly removing the grass for no reason. Why does she do this? Is there something I can do to prevent her destructive behavior?
A: Violet’s scorched earth policy is not unique. As much as some dogs crave lawns to run and play on, others seem to want nothing more than to destroy its lush beauty with their paws.
Sure, your yard may be a hole-riddled mess as a result of Violet’s “poopy dances” (along with a variety of other random personal excuses to excavate), but you should nonetheless keep in mind that digging doesn’t really qualify as “destructive” behavior, much though it may annoy those of us who cherish the sight of a well-groomed lawn.
Digging is a natural, instinctive behavior for dogs. They dig in dirt, mulch, sand or even gravel to bury items they want to save for later, keep things away from competitors or uncover tidbits they’ve hidden in the past. They also till the earth to search for prey like rodents, insects and lizards. Others dig for escape or to cope with stress (as during thunderstorms, when suffering separation anxiety, or when displaying anxiety-induced compulsivity).
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In the wild, canids such as wolves, foxes and other wild dogs may kick the ground after elimination for sanitary reasons. But the behavior is also a way to mark territory. All dogs have glands in their feet that secrete pheromones, and a couple of backward scratches into the earth releases those chemicals.
Understandable. But that doesn’t men you have to like it. Though the solution to your problem is by no means easy, it usually comes down to a few simple rules:
▪ Keep her in parts of the yard where digging isn’t easy, or where it won’t matter as much.
▪ Supervise her. Distract her with a good game of fetch. And teach her commands that make her stop her in her tracks. (“Leave it!” is a good one.)
▪ Exercise is an excellent solution, too. Nothing beats exhaustion for its ability to curb unwanted behaviors and dampen anxieties.
▪ Escape-proof a runaway’s fence-line. An impenetrable fence is a great digging deterrent. Ask your veterinarian about dog-proof fence solutions … and for a referral to a certified dog behavior specialist if needed.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com.
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