Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun!

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun!

Or, Why we Built a Digging Pit at the Shelter


This summer, with the help of some very handy volunteers, we built a digging pit in one of the fenced-in play yards outside the shelter.  The shelter dogs are lovin’ it!  But you may be wondering why on earth would we encourage dogs to dig?  Afterall, digging has to be in the top 5, on anybody’s Top 10 list of “bad” dog behaviors of all time!

While it’s true that many owners consider it bad behavior for their dog to dig under the fence, or dig up those beautiful just-planted flowers  . . . digging in and of itself isn’t “bad behavior.”  It’s just “dog behavior.”

Digging is a natural behavior in dogs.  Wild canines dig to make dens in which to raise their young.  They dig to make cool places to lie down in the summer, or warm nests for repose in the winter. 

They dig to hide valuable items, like bones and food. And they dig to hunt all variety of burrowing vermin.  

Though our domesticated dogs don’t need to do any of this digging for survival, the hard-wiring is still there, and digging isn’t a chore – it’s fun!  While everybody loves watching dogs have a blast (in the dirt, in the pool, in someone else’s laundry pile), giving shelter dogs fun stuff to do is not just a hoot for us, it’s in our job description.

   Dog trainer, Richard Edge explains:    

“We expect dogs in shelters to be kept in excellent physical health, by way of a good diet, medication if required and excellent housing.  However, just as important to a dog is enrichment; the process of mental stimulation through activities such as play, social interaction and environmental enrichment, such as swimming and sand pits.  The effects a good enrichment program can have on reducing unwanted behaviour and boredom are not to be under estimated, as a good program dramatically reduces the chances of stereotypy behaviour and depression in shelter dogs.  An excellent shelter, similar to an excellent owner needs to consider both the physical and mental health of the dog before they can truly say they have done their best.”  Richard Edge, BSc(Hons) Canine Behaviour & Training, APDT, KCAI CD

The digging pit not only expands our menu of enrichment activities for our dogs, it’s also a great physical activity that burns up doggie energy, making it more likely that our dogs will be restful when returned to their kennels.

Our staff members have found that dogs “appear pretty satisfied and tired” after digging in the sandbox.  If we’re having a doggie play group, all it takes is one dog to start digging before the others quickly join in the fun.  We’ve also seen a reduction in digging elsewhere on the property – a bonus!

While watching dogs dig in a digging pit is a lot of fun, we recognize that digging in the wrong place can be a serious problem!  Building a digging pit in your yard is one way to solve this problem.  Rather than trying to extinguish this super-fun behavior entirely -- which is very difficult to do – many trainers suggest you teach your dog that he is welcome to dig in his digging pit, but not in the flower bed.   

If you want to learn more about building a digging pit and training your dog to dig only in his pit, not in the Hostas, here’s a great resource for you: