with Lisa Peterson
Dear Lisa: I'm spending more time outdoors with my young puppy since the warmer weather arrived. However, all she wants to do is dig in the yard. She digs in different places and is destroying the lawn and garden. What can I do to stop her from this annoying habit? —Testing Terra Firma in Topeka
Dear Testing: Dogs will dig! It's a tool they use to accomplish many tasks. Reasons for digging fall into two categories: a natural instinct to achieve a goal or a symptom of a behavioral problem.
Instinct vs. Bad Behavior
Many purebred dogs were selectively bred for their digging abilities. The terrier breeds in particular and some hounds are noted for "going to ground" to locate their quarry. While Dachshunds may dig for badgers and Parson Russell Terriers for fox, other breeds use digging to help locate weasels, otters, rodents and other small vermin that live underground.
Dogs may dig when they find moles in your yard. With dogs' acute hearing they can locate them scurrying along in their underground burrows and their keen sense of smell helps identify the exact spot to dig. Some dogs may dig to create a cool spot in the earth during summer's heat or just to have fun.
Other times dogs may dig out of boredom, obsessive-compulsive behavior or the need to escape. Puppies especially have tons of energy and need to release it somewhere. If a puppy isn't mentally challenged or physically exercised enough she could be digging to relieve that pent up energy. Dogs that dig at a fence line may want to escape from the yard either to play with other dogs or to try to locate their owners due to separation anxiety.
If prey drives your dog to dig then remove the vermin. For fun diggers, don't provide easy targets such as bare spots of soft earth. Cover barren patches with stones, tiles, gravel or wood. This may stop digging in one area but may lead to digging elsewhere.
The best solution is not to try and stop your dog from digging but give her a place to dig by building a digging pit or sandbox. Many people also divide their yards into dig-free zones, one for manicured gardens and lush lawns and a fenced-in area for the dog. This compromise gives man and his best friend what they both want with no hard feelings between them.
Dear Lisa: I have a puppy (Shih Tzu) who is just over 4-months-old and is really bad about biting me. He doesn't bite anyone else in the house quite like he does me. I have told him no and hit him on the nose with a fly swatter and my hand but that just makes it worse. Any ideas? – Biting The Hand That Feeds in Florida
Dear Biting: Biting or "mouthing" is normal behavior for puppies and because they don't have hands to explore with they use their mouths. While you can't stop this behavior you can teach the puppy "bite inhibition" which lets him know when he is being too rough. It is best to teach this before the pup is four months old, so you better hurry up!
A Big Game
You must step in and take the role of "pack leader" to teach the pup that his boisterous playing and nipping is now unacceptable behavior.
Since biting is a game you must learn the rules of the game. Puppies learn from experience. We cannot train them to understand when biting is too much. This natural learning comes from seeing what the "reaction" is to the object they are biting. A startling yelp from mother says "too hard, knock it off."
Leader of the Pack
If your puppy nips at your ankle and it hurts, let out a loud "ouch" directed at him. If he comes back for another nip, yell "ouch" even louder. Make an impression that you are unhappy. If he comes back for a third nip, simply walk away and ignore him. If he is nipping at your fingers try folding your arms. This will signal him that "If you can't play nice, we won't play at all."
If your pup is persistent and comes back again for a nip, this time grab him by the scruff of his neck and give him a little shake and a firm "No". If he returns again, grab that scruff and give him a firmer shake. If he still doesn't get a clue and comes back once more (remember this a game to him) grab him and hold him until he shows a sign of submission, such as ears back, a relaxed body or just being still for a few moments. The pup may squirm and shriek at the prospect of being held, but you must not give in to his objections. Just wait it out and he will settle. When all is calm, release him and tell him he is a good boy. He will test your limits so be prepared.
Also, it's a good idea to keep a stash of suitable chew toys and bones handy that can replace your hand or ankle as an object to gnaw on. This proven "substitution training method" of immediately replacing off limit objects with approved items, followed by praise, teaches the puppy right from wrong when it comes to chewing.
Lisa Peterson, a long-time owner/breeder/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds, is the AKC Director of Club Communications. If you have a question, send it to Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org and she may select it to be answered here in Ask AKC.
© 2006 The American Kennel Club, Inc.