Dog digging is a behavior that is likely all too familiar to most Australian Shepherd owners. Unfortunately, digging is a habit that many dogs develop and in some cases it is a behavior that is part of their genetic makeup.
In either case, it can be difficult to deter this behavior and frustrating as you watch your lawn being ruined with holes. Worse, it can be dangerous if your dog decides to dig out from under a fence, allowing him to escape the safe confines of your yard.
So what can you do to stop dog digging? Well, first off, don't automatically treat it as if it is a case of disobedience or bad behavior. As stated above, it may just be a natural outgrowth of a dog's genetic background. Some breeds, such as terriers and certain hounds, are bred to hunt animals that burrow underground, so digging is their natural way of tracking their prey.
Generally, those drives aren't as strong for Australian Shepherds as they are for dogs bred for the purpose, but they can still play a role.
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The problem with getting your dog to stop digging is that it is such a fun pastime for them.
The only way to stay on top of things and stop dog digging is with vigilant supervision. Also, you should realize that digging can actually be a good way to get rid of excess energy. If it's possible, setting up a designated area where digging is acceptable may help.
If you find your dog digging outside of the "safe zone", divert his attention back to it. You could even try burying some treats in the "safe zone" to help draw him to it.
Creating a den or "denning" is another possibility, however, this is also a drive which is stronger in other breeds, like Siberian Huskies, that spend extended periods of time outdoors. As dens are insulated they provide a way of keeping cool when the temperatures rise or staying warmer when the mercury drops. This is not usually the cause of Australian Shepherds digging as they don't like to be left alone for long periods and should especially not be left out in temperature extremes.
If the digging takes place around fences, it could be an attempt to escape. Make sure they are not bored or left with tempting potential escape routes. Every dog wants to know what's going on outside their fence. One innovative product that helps satisfy their curiosity while keeping them and passersby safe is a dog fence window. It's easy to install. You just cut a circular hole in your fence at your dog's head height and mount a clear acrylic dome with a supplied ring that mounts it securely to your fence. It gives your dog a perfect viewport. Another bonus is that it might help to reduce barking.
Some dogs love to chase common garden pests like chipmunks, moles, squirrels, and rabbits. Keeping your yard free of pests will help to reduce temptation but it may not always be possible.
Still, others seem to enjoy hiding special "treasures" like bones or toys. As mentioned above, creating an area where your dog is allowed to dig is an option. You might even want to make a sandbox and use play-sand as it's easier to clean off of their paws than soil.
But one of the most common causes of digging is boredom, particularly among active, intelligent breeds like the Australian Shepherd. Aussies and other active breeds need a greater than usual amount of stimulation or they are likely to become bored and expend their excess energy in any number of less than ideal ways. So in cases like these, the best method to stop your dog digging is to find a way to prevent boredom.
Australian Shepherds love to be with their people and if left alone outside for too long they can suffer from separation anxiety and stress. Digging provides the mental distraction and physical stimulation needed to burn off the stress, anxiety, or boredom.
No matter what the underlying cause of dog digging, there are certain steps you can take to prevent it. Securing your yard with a fence is a good idea but it may not be enough to keep your dog safe. If you need to leave your dog outside for any length of time you might want to install a dog run within the yard with fencing that is buried beneath ground level or sunken in concrete so your dog can't dig out from under it.
My Aussie, Levi, got out of the yard once and gave us a real scare. He managed to make his way across a very busy street near us which could easily have ended tragically. After that, I got a bunch of sidewalk slabs and ran them all the way around the inside of our fence making it impossible for him to dig under the fence. It may not have been pretty, but it was effective.
The best advice is to make sure your dog is supervised as much as possible when he's outdoors. If he does tend to start digging, try to break him of the behavior with positive dog training approaches and patience.
Remember, he's not doing it just to be a bother. He's a dog and it's just a natural reflex reaction—but you can change his behavior if you approach it the right way.
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