Welcome to Day 30 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour
- similar to chewing and dissection in annoying pet owners
- food based and sensory based enrichment
- different dogs have different motivations for digging, with some digging at any opportunity, while some show little interest in digging as a past-time
- get the family involved in this one – kids love making puzzles for pets and these challenges offer lots of opportunities for children to use their imagination to come up with the best busy boxes for their pets. There are some training exercises here too, and while children can be great dog trainers, lots of adult support and guidance are required.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
- Lots of these digging puzzles will take only minutes to prepare (and some minutes to clean up after too!) and training exercises are best practiced in very short sessions of 30-60 seconds at a time; have as many sessions as you can!
What do you need?
- treats & toys
- blankets, towels, sheets, face cloths
- access to different loose substrates such as potting soil, children’s sand, loose soil and foliage (in the real world)
- loose items such as paper cups, paper, plastic bottles, balls, toilet roll tubes, Pringles tubes, stuffable toys like Kongs and so on (items with rounded or soft corners)
- large, shallow tub or box
- to facilitate digging behaviour
- to encourage a wide range of foraging and exploratory behaviours
- to do more feeding related behaviour than eating
- to encourage the development of strategies (behaviours) for getting the food out of digging boxes
- to teach a cute trick
- to teach the dog that their human will ask for behaviour and will make sure reinforcement is available – this reduces stress by improving predictability and controlability
- to build the bond between dog and human and have fun together
- to learn about learning – this is just another puzzle to your dog…”how do I train the human to make rewards available?!“…it’s all human training, for dogs!
While this challenge may be food based, dogs are also experiencing cognitive, sensory and environmental enrichment, with lots of crossover between categories.
Digging behaviour is part of the in-built motor patterns all dogs come with. Many dogs will dig for the sake of digging, as a release for stress and arousal, as a displacement behaviour and apparently, just for the fun of it!
You can certainly introduce food to digging pits, adding a food based component to these challenges too.
Digging encourages pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the digging substrate is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
Training exercises certainly fall into the cognitive enrichment category and can provide so much more.
Providing dogs with cues allows for a complex level of communication between two species; you are merely requesting that the dog perform behaviour (he already knows how to do the behaviour…they can already dig) and that request comes with a contract. Respond appropriately to this signal and rewards are coming your way. That’s the deal…that’s what being a good teacher is about – keeping your word and making it easy for your dog to train you.
This forges the most healthy of relationships between our two species. This is a level of social enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.
When we talk about enrichment being enriching, this is never more clear than when we start to teach behaviours intentionally. It’s the human’s job to set the dog up for success by making sure the behaviour is doable and that rewards are fast-flowing.
There’s no test at the end of this and you and your pet are not under any pressure. Learn to enjoy the time together, whether you achieve the goal behaviour or not. That’s what’s enriching here…the social and cognitive outlets such exercises provide (for both species).
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
- give your pet plenty of space for working on these challenges and bear in mind there will be mess, so think about spaces that are easier for clean up
- the more difficult you have made the challenge, the higher the value the reward must be so use HIGH value foods to motivate exploration and experimentation and make it VERY easy to get the food (no frustration!)
- work with toys or other rewards that your dog enjoys – the reward for doing the behaviour must be worth it and it’s the dog that decides something is worth working for!
- keep it simple and split behaviour – reward approximations toward the final behaviour, rather than hoping that your dog will offer the goal behaviour quickly
- take your time and work in many short sessions
- try for 30 seconds at a time, 5-10 rewards each session, and then take a break
- plan each session – what behaviours are you looking for and rewarding?
- portion out your dog’s daily food and allot some for training exercises
- make a training mix by adding in something yummier and leaving it all to ‘cook’ together in the fridge; the smells will mingle, harder foods will soften a little, and everything will become more valuable
- remember to adjust your pet’s diet accordingly to accommodate the extra calories from treats added, where relevant
- split your food rewards into little bowls with just the right number of rewards in each bowl so that you are ready to go; stick bowls of rewards in places where you may need to teach and reward behaviours so that you have rewards ready to go
If you are feeding wet or fresh foods, cut up small or mash to a paste and present on a wooden spoon or spatula. Alternatively you can freeze in small ice cube trays or a pyramid baking tray so that you can use small portions and individual treats.
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of Digging:
Digging is a food related and social sensory related behaviour; dogs may dig to acquire or cache food (burying) and dogs may dig shallow sleeping pits or small dens for puppies to be born.
We have selected for digging conformation and increased digging motivation in lots of types of dogs too, who, for example, have been used to unearth quarry or go to ground after game.
Because this behaviour may be useful to the adult dog, puppies and young dogs, particularly, will practice lots and lots of digging…much to the annoyance of green-fingered owners…
But, digging will fulfill functions in dogs’ lives beyond food. And while providing food based enrichment is important for dogs, appropriate digging might be applicable in lots of ways, helping dogs experience new insights to their sensory world.
Digging is goal oriented behaviour so providing exposure to positive stress or eustress. All of the challenges through #100daysofenrichment are designed to provide dogs with lots of opportunities for eustress. The more the animal has experience with good stress, the more resilient they become.
Digging facilitates the development of dexterous skills, contributing to cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting food used offer sensory pay off, but so does finding each hidden food item, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of satisfying the digging goal.
While young dogs are most likely to dig a lot, dogs of any age may dig, while some dogs show no interest in digging whatsoever.
Digging is likely to be most intense as dogs mature through adolescence, with lots of dogs discovering the joys of digging at about 5-7 months of age; of course, they may have been digging before that but not been able to cause too much damage due to their size, strength, and coordination.
Lots of exploratory behaviour will be seen in adolescent dogs as they continue to experience and learn about their world.
Digging may also function as a stress releaser and a displacement behaviour. And it’s no surprise then, that dogs confined and isolated outdoors for long periods will take up digging.
You might notice that your dog digs intensively before or after defecating, during or part of “zoomies”, when alone or when frustrated at a barrier.
Dogs might use digging to stir up odour, allowing them to gather more olfactory information from a particular spot, and I have even seen dogs use digging motion in behaviour that would seemingly be used in butchering prey animals, separating skin and meat.
Because of the home made nature and variable materials used in some of today’s challenges, it’s best to supervise your pet carefully when they have access to these puzzles.
Know your dog! If you have an ingester, some of these challenges may not work for you or require adjustment.
If you are concerned about your dog ingesting non-food items during puzzling, have a pocketful of HIGH value treats in your pocket and be ready to toss a couple toward your dog, across their eyeline, if you think they are thinking about eating something they shouldn’t.
Making sure the challenge is very doable and they can get to the food rewards quickly is key to modifying their behaviour and expectations during puzzling.
Check all your equipment for this challenge carefully and make sure to remove tape, staples, other fasteners, small pieces, plastic pieces and so on. Play safe!
Dogs dig. And some dogs dig a lot. For many owners, this digging behaviour is a problem, possibly ruining their gardening efforts.
If digging is something you want to tackle, don’t think in terms of stopping the digging. Instead, think about offering acceptable outlets for digging.
Try the following program:
- confine the dog from digging areas or prevent them digging there by supervising and/or having them on a long line in that area
- some suggest to put the dog’s own poop into any existing holes to prevent them going back to continue the excavation
- provide a digging pit and encourage digging there by providing a loose substrate, such as potting soil, and burying frozen stuffables or chews or food rewards there.
Make food parcels with paper or cardboard tubes and bury those.
Option 1 Digging in the Wild
If your dog loves to dig, let ’em dig.
Bring them to places that facilitates digging, allow them access to substrates that make digging enjoyable.
Link (Decker will dig for treasures in the bottoms of flooded ditches or ponds.)
Option 2 Digging Pits
If you have a die-hard digger, providing them with appropriate outlets isn’t always easy. Providing the dog with his own digging pit might allow him to get his digging jollies, without sacrificing too much of your garden.
Use a corner of the garden, and build a little boundary around it so it’s clearly defined.
Alternatively, use a child’s sand pit, paddling pool (not the inflatable type) or large shallow tub, like in this clip.
If your dog is digging in particular spots where you would prefer they wouldn’t, start by positioning the dog’s digging pit there until you get them consistently choosing their new digging pit. Then you can move it to a more convenient location.
Dogs tend to prefer to dig in fine, loose substrate such as potting soil and compost or children’s play sand.
You can prime the area by burying toys, stuffables, chews, kibble, treats or treat parcels.
Or just tossing a heavy toy, like an empty Kong, into loose substrate to encourage digging as part of fetch games.
Option 3 Digging Boxes
Sometimes providing outdoor access isn’t always possible but we can help dogs dig indoors too.
Tomorrow, Day 31, we will be talking about Foraging Boxes, and while they are similar, there is a difference. Today’s Digging Boxes aim to encourage digging, while Foraging Boxes encourage snuffling.
To differentiate for the dog, construct a Digging Box:
- use a shallow, open box or tub
- layer some cloths, towels, blankets on the base over some scattered food
- continue layering; food, towel, food,towel, food, towel, food
- add loose items such toilet roll tubes, plastic bottles, balls, paper cups and so on
The difference between a Digging Box and a Foraging Box is the layering. The layering at the base may encourage the dog to use their feet because food is only distributed underneath all the stuff, rather than through it and among it, as in a Foraging Box.
But, whatever way the dog finds their enrichment is fine with me…it’s their puzzle after all!
Option 3 “Wipe Your Paws”
Teach your dog to dig on cue and apply it to this cute trick or just digging on cue!
Having behaviour, like digging, on cue means that you can ask your dog to dig when they might need a bit of a release or to have some fun!
By putting a treat just under the edge of a blanket, towel or mat, you can prompt your dog to dig and then capture that behaviour by clicking and/or rewarding it by tossing in more treats.
Decide what you would like your dog to wipe their paws on. If it’s pretty loose, then you can use that and place a treat under it. If it’s firmer, like a door mat, it’s better to use something loose over that and fade it.
In this clip I demonstrate that process, starting with a blanket, than a face cloth and then just the door mat.
To encourage the digging movement, rather than snuffling, place the treat just under the edge at the side furthest from the dog.
- start with the treat under the mat
- reward any foot movement toward the edge of the mat
- toss food rewards where you want your dog to concentrate, onto the edge of the mat
- soon your dog will offer the digging behaviour, without you need to bait under the mat
- you can add your cue “wipe your paws” by saying it just before your dog digs
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!