Health and Behavioral Problem Discussions
DOES YOUR DOG HAVE A PROBLEM?
In this section, Dr. Dare Miller answers our customers' letters.
DOG MAKES SWISS CHEESE OUT OF BACKYARD
Dear Dr. Dare:
You'd swear this dog we've got thinks he's a prospector. He's dug up the whole side of the yard, halfway to China in two different places (which we filled) and this morning he's started a third. I've tried all kinds of suggestions; from our veterinarian, the pet shop and from the neighbors. They include spanking him, throwing things at him, setting traps for him, putting some "dog-away" stuff in the hole, even filling the hole with water and trying to put his head in it (from a dog book). I got the worst of that one. Our vet at first sold us some dietary suppliments and when that didn't work he tried shots, then resorted to surgery. First he tried castration then took the dog's claws out. Nothing helped, still he digs. My husband says it's in his blood. My sister says he's buried something and can't find it. Is this possible? What's with him anyway?
At least you are finally on the right track but I doubt that your dog is looking for anything. It sounds like he's simply relieving too much frustration. But note that he is doing so toward the source of his frustration which is something probably along that one side of your yard where he digs.
It never ceases to amaze me why we humans don't try first to find out why or what is making the dog to dig rather than so much competing with him. We waste too much time and money trying to treat symptoms. We should always try to find and treat the cause. Dogs get started digging for all kinds of reasons. Here's a formula I use in digging cases to determine the real cause. I call it my Where, When, Why formula:
CASE HISTORY I - Owner: my dog digs.
Counselor: Where? Owner: by the fence.
Counselor: When does your dog dig? Owner: whenever he gets the chance.
Counselor: What's on the other side of the fence? Owner: another dog.
Counselor: Does the other dog dig too? Owner (surpirsed) Yes, they say he does, how did you know?
Counselor: That's probably why he digs. Maybe you and the other dog's owner could get together on a solution, such as possibly not letting them out at the same time. Owner: Good, I'll do it, but how did you know?
Counselor: Dogs usually dig for a reason. Their digging usually makes a pattern which points to that reason or cause.
CASE HISTORY II - Owner: My dog digs.
Counselor: Where? Owner: By the back steps.
Counselor: When does he do this? Owner: I don't know, when he feels like it I guess.
Counselor: Well, when did you first notice his latest digging? Owner: Right after the guests left.
Counselor: you had him shut out? Owner: Yes, we can't control him with guests.
Counselor: Does he also scratch at the back door which I assume is above the "back steps?"
Owner: Yes, the screen door is in shreds and now he's digging around the steps. But how did you know?
Counselor: Now, why do you think he digs? Owner: I guess it's because we put him out.
Counselor: Yes, probably. And you put him out because you can't control him?
Owner: Yes. I suppose we'd have him in more if he behaved himself.
Counselor: It would seem that the cause of your problem is the lack of control rather than its symptoms, digging. You see dogs are highly sociable. They are herd or group animals like us. They understand and need guidance— a teacher or leader. A dog will surely vent his frustrations at being shut out of the group. He will howl, chew, or do some other nuisance behavior. It is best to teach him a little self-control and avoid those problems. Most guests admire, even enjoy a little self-control.
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