Dog Behavior Q&A

My dog keeps digging in the yard. Why does he dig and how can I make him stop?

There can be different motivations for digging including regulation of body temperature, play and exploration, hunting, escape behaviors and burying food items. To control unwanted digging, you must first determine the motivation for the digging. If the pet is trying to control body temperature, offer the pet other cool locations on hot days or heated areas on cool days. Providing the pet with plenty of exercise and attention can decrease digging for exercise and exploration. If the digging appears to be due to anxiety, a diagnosis and treatment plan should be developed for the specific anxiety. If prey is the motivation for digging, the prey must be removed from the environment.

Sometimes, especially for those dogs engaged in recreational digging, it can be helpful to provide them with an acceptable digging area. Encourage use of a special area by providing soft, loosely packed dirt and burying things that a dog may like to dig up. Make other unacceptable digging areas unattractive by placing booby-traps such as motion activated sprinklers or rocks in those sites. Limiting unsupervised access to attractive digging sites by kenneling the dog or keeping the dog inside can also control the problem.

My dog has started eating feces from the cat’s litter box. This can’t be a good thing.  How can I get her to stop doing this?

The ingestion of cat feces by dogs is a common owner complaint. The scientific name for the ingestion of feces is coprophagia. Coprophagia may be a result of normal exploratory behavior, establishing intestinal microflora or compensating for a nutritional deficiency. Cats consume high protein diets and their feces tend to be highly attractive to most dogs. Since consumption of the feces is inherently self-rewarding to the dog, it becomes a habit that is difficult to eradicate.

The most successful way to control this undesirable behavior is to make the cat feces inaccessible to the dog by use of covered litterboxes, elevated litterboxes or gated litterboxes. Higher tech alternatives such as remotely activated citronella collars or automated scooping litterboxes may discourage the behavior. If a dog exhibits coprophagia, regular fecal analysis should be conducted on the dog’s feces to ensure that it has not acquired any intestinal parasites.

When I take my dog for a walk, he pulls on the leash. How can I get my dog to stop walking me?


Dogs pulling on their leashes during walks can be very unpleasant for the handler and sometimes can be painful or dangerous. Dogs pull for a variety of reasons: they want to access a certain area/scent, the handler is walking at a slow pace, the pressure created by the collar/harness may exacerbate additional pulling and/or the dog has not mastered basic obedience. The consequence of a pulling dog may be decreased exercise for the dog, often exacerbating other behavioral issues.

A collar does little to discourage pulling and in fact may encourage the dog to resist and pull more when it feels the pressure on the front of the neck. A body harness with the leash attachment over the back is designed to allow a dog to pull heavy loads, therefore it doesn’t inhibit the pulling behavior. Newer front attachment body harnesses (leash attaches on the chest area, e.g. Easy Walk® Harness) reduce pulling.

Another successful tool to manage pulling is the head collar. There are several brands of head collars (Gentle Leader, Halti, Snoot Loop, etc.) and each owner should investigate and decide which collar works best in their hands. Proper fitting of head collars is important and although not difficult, it does require some attention. Obedience training the dog to heel via positive reinforcement is advised.

Source: Jacqui Neilson, DVM, DACVB