If you’re looking for a fun new skill to teach your dog, consider teaching them to dig on cue! Whether your dog loves to dig or isn’t a fan of getting their paws dirty, this trick is relatively easy to learn.
You can incorporate this skill into dog trick routines, which is helpful for those participating in AKC Trick Dog or wanting to get started. Learning this skill can also help eliminate unwanted digging. Once you’re able to provide your dog with a natural outlet for that behavior that’s on your command, they’re also less likely to dig in a destructive manner.
To teach your dog to dig on cue, you’re going to want a blanket you don’t mind your dog playing with and dog treats your pet is excited about. If you are clicker training your dog, you’ll want to have your clicker on hand, too.
Teach Your Dog to Dig: A Step-by-Step Guide
When you’re starting to teach this trick to your dog, choose a quiet area inside your home. Somewhere without a lot of distraction will help them focus on learning this trick.
Step 1: To start, lay the blanket out on the floor. Lift one side of the blanket and put a treat underneath, or you can fold the blanket over a treat. Next, you’ll show the blanket to your dog.
Step 2: As your dog sniffs at the treat under the blanket, wait. To try and get the food, most dogs will use their feet, starting to paw at the blanket to free the treat. When your dog paws at the blanket, click or praise, then move the blanket so your dog can eat the treat.
Step 3: Continue to practice Step 2, repeating until your dog is consistently pawing at the blanket. Now, it’s time to introduce your verbal cue of choice for the trick (like “dig” or “paw”). Put the treat under the blanket, and give your verbal cue right before your dog starts to dig. Praise your dog and give them the treat as soon as they paw at the blanket.
Step 4: After several repetitions, you can start to phase out having the treat under the blanket. You’ll start by putting the blanket down, but you won’t put a treat under it. Next, give your dog their verbal cue to dig. When your dog paws at the blanket, give lots of praise and immediately give them a treat.
If your dog is confused or doesn’t dig at the blanket because the treat isnt there, go back to putting a treat under the blanket. Do this for a few repetitions, until your dog is once again digging at the blanket in an attempt to get the treat.
Once your dog is digging on cue, you can start to practice this trick with different blankets. If you’re comfortable with it, you can also ask them to dig at the floor (without you having to put down a blanket).
Digging on Cue to Redirect Digging Behaviors
Teaching your dog to dig on cue can actually help to stop unwanted digging. Digging is a natural and self-rewarding behavior for dogs, meaning it’s instinctive and feels good, so your dog is likely to continue it. But that doesn’t mean your dog has to dig in places they shouldn’t.
Once you’ve taught your dog to dig on cue, you can provide them with areas where it’s safe and appropriate for them to dig. And if they resume digging in the wrong place, gently redirect them to their digging spot. Now that they know how to dig on cue, it’s easier for them to understand where it’s okay for them to dig and where it isn’t. Here are some ways to build a dog-safe digging space.
Build a Doggy Sandbox
Providing your dog with a sandbox allows them to enjoy digging while protecting the rest of your yard. When creating an outdoor sandbox for your dog, you can use whatever size and shape work best for your pet. Line it with landscaping fabric to help prevent weeds from taking over. Alternatively, you can use a plastic kiddie pool for a more contained dig area.
Then, fill your sandbox area with clean sand, which can be purchased from hardware stores. Sand is less messy than dirt for ongoing play. It is also safer than bark chips, which can be treated with chemicals and can splinter in your dog’s mouth. Make sure to keep an eye on them while they’re playing so your dog doesn’t start eating the sand.
Once your sandbox is finished, consider adding a tarp or other cover for the dig area when your dog isn’t playing. This can help prevent neighborhood pets or wild animals from using your dog’s sandbox as a litter box.
When the sandbox is ready, bring your dog to the area and give the dig cue you have taught. When your dog paws at the sand, praise and reward them. You can also bury some of your dog’s toys in the sand area to add an enriching challenge.
Create an Indoor Dig Pit
If you don’t have a yard but want to give your dog an outlet to dig, creating an indoor dig pit is another option for your dog to practice digging on cue. You can also create an indoor dig pit over an outdoor one to avoid bad weather, so you can practice year-round.
Sand indoors isn’t the best option, and can be tracked throughout your house, creating a mess. Portable ball pits designed and sold as toys for young children work great as an indoor option. Instead of sand consider using dog-friendly balls. You could use the balls included with the ball pit, as long as they are safe toys for dogs. Make sure to supervise your dog closely while they are playing to make sure they don’t start chewing on the balls. Alternatively, you can fill your indoor dig pit with fleece.
Just like with the outdoor sandbox, you can then cue your dog to dig and reward them when they do. To keep your dog engaged in the dig pit, consider burying treats, kibble, and/or toys in the balls or fleece.