“My dog is destroying my backyard”
Is your dog digging and chewing in the backyard? A natural behaviour is understandable but not always desirable. Dogs chew. Dogs dig. These are natural canine behaviours and experienced by many pet owners. There are times we do not want our dogs to dig and chew, such as the veggie garden or a newly planted tree.
While digging and chewing are natural behaviours, they can have different motivations. From boredom to anxiety, sometimes looking for a cool place to rest, to relieve pain or frustration. As part of any training plan, understanding the why of behaviour will yield better results. A big key is that no dog does something for no reason. It serves a purpose to them.
Manage Your Dogs Environment
The reason to manage your dogs environment is to prevent rehearsal of the undesirable behaviour. To stop or reduce your dog from digging and chewing in the backyard. The phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ not only applies to desirable behaviour. The more your dog practices a behaviour, any behaviour, the better he gets at it. Training is made less effective if after your training session your dog goes back to doing what you have been teaching him not to.
For destructive behaviours in the backyard, digging and chewing, there are a few of options.
Is he digging in the garden bed? Place up a barrier. A physical wall that inhibits his ability to get into the garden bed. You can section off areas of the garden. Ensure your dog cannot gain access until he has learned appropriate behaviours in that setting. Even after learning appropriate behaviours, digging and chewing are natural behaviours. Unless absolutely sure keeping the barriers up or supervising around areas you absolutely do not want digging is best.
Remove Object from the Environment
When it comes to chewing, barriers and restricting access can also work. An alternative is to simply remove the object from the environment. If it is a sentimental or delicate piece, or an expensive piece, then simply keep it out his reach. This can be as simple as placing the items up high, out of reach. It can also mean putting them away in the garage or shed.
When in the backyard, supervise your dog. It will be that much harder for your dog to practice digging and chewing in the backyard, if you are there to stop him. Be outside with him, you can direct him to toys and objects he is allowed to play with. Should he attempt something unsafe, or undesirable then you are right there to stop him. Interrupt the behaviour and redirect to what he can do. Supervising your dogs also gives you information you might not have had otherwise. Your dog is chewing the apple trees but only along the fence and only after a dog barks there. This could be a sign of redirected frustration or relieving heightened arousal. Perhaps he is most likely to dig after a nap in the sun, so he can lay somewhere cooler. This information is to help us understand why the dog is acting this way. Knowing the why is really important information when it comes to a long term training plan.
“It is unmanageable!”
Perhaps all of this sounds impossible in your situation. However, without management, your dog will continue digging and chewing in the backyard. There are other strategies you can try which will help. The process however will be slower and you may be left with inconsistent results. While ever he has the option to do the digging and chewing behaviour, and it serves a purpose to him, he will continue to do it.
Teach New Skills
Teaching your dog skills that can help you communicate and guide them through the world is also an option. For chewing and digging behaviours, a “Leave It” can be extremely useful. Another skill to consider is a recall.
The concept behind the ‘Leave It’ skill is to teach your dog that not everything on the ground is for grabs. To ignore items in the environment that the dog should not be interacting with. This is a great skill not only for undesirable chewing but also unsafe chewing. As confident and secure as puppy might feel, what he’s about to put his mouth might be dangerous.
1. Place some dry dog food in your closed hand. Put your closed fist out in front on you. Let puppy investigate, as soon as they move away (or turn their heads away) ‘Click’, take dry food away and reinforce with a high value treat from your other hand.
2. When puppy gets the hang of it, easily ignoring the presented food add the cue. Put your closed fist out in front on you. Say ‘Leave it’. When they look or move away from hand, ‘Click’, take dry food away and reinforce with a high value treat from your other hand.
3. Place dry dog food on the floor. Bring puppy in to the space on a leash (the leash is there to prevent puppy eating what is on the floor). When they look at the food, say ‘Leave it’. When they look or move away, ‘Click’, and reinforce with a high value treat from your other hand.
TIP: If your dog or puppy struggles to look away, try increasing the distance between them and the food on the floor. You can also make the food/item on the floor less appealing
4. Gradually move closer to the food/item on the floor. Change up the food/item on the floor, using items that are more valuable to puppy/dog. For example, change out the dry dog food for biscuits or liver treats before going to chicken and cheese.
Training to Come When Called
A dog who reliably comes when called can be called away from an activity that you do not want them practicing. When you have called your dog to you, redirect them to an appropriate activity. For some great games you can play to improve your dog’s recall check out our blog here.
Meet your Dogs Needs
No dog, no animal, does a behaviour for no reason. It always serves a purpose to them. We may find it inconvenient, annoying or frustrating but that is not a reason for your dog not to do it. They have their own needs.
Physical and Mental Exercise
Everyday, dogs have energy that need an outlet. Physical and mental energies. Each day a dog needs opportunities for movement, physical activity. From walking to running, canine fitness programs, swimming and even a visit to the park. There are plenty of options. At the same time, brain games are important. Opportunities to investigate and problem solve. There are food puzzle toys specifically designed for this. Training exercises and walks that focus on sniffing are just a couple of other great options.
Dogs are social creatures who need social interaction. For some dogs this is time with their people and for others they enjoy the company of other dogs. Daycare, play dates with friends, dog beaches and parks are options for socialising with other dogs.
All 5 Senses
They have senses that allow them to interact with and investigate the world. Dogs can smell, taste, hear, see and touch the world just as we can. Activities targeting one of these senses can keep things interesting and fun. Playing music or farm animal sounds or leave the television on if they enjoy listening. Novelty treats, sights and smells are all a potential source of amusement.
As a pet owner it is your responsibility to ensure your dog has appropriate outlets for all their senses and energy. Each dog is different, so there is not a one size fits all enrichment plan. ‘Canine Enrichment For The Real World’ is a great book that touches on this topic in detail. It provides some truly excellent suggestions for you to try with your own dog.
Provide Alternatives Activities
Provide appropriate alternatives to the behaviours you are seeing. A legal dig zone is a great option for dogs who like to dig. In this way he isn’t creating landmines all over the yard or digging up the veggies. To do this, use barriers to prevent him going where he should not and hide yummy treats or toys where you want him to dig.
Make sure he has plenty of toys and objects he can chew on. Pay attention to the types of toys he gravitates to and provide chews of this type. Every day household items like toilet rolls, empty tissue boxes and bottles make for great chews. If puppy likes the remote control try plastic chew toys. If he likes wooden objects then a good stick from the park can be loads of fun.
Still Stuck? It’s not too late to Activate!
If you’ve tried some of these and you feel stuck or would like more personalised advice, feel free to contact us. Ask your questions or book a lesson today.