Digging for tips to change your dog’s behavior

Published 4:37 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2019


K9 Corner

A reader called asking why her dog was scratching and digging at the cushions of her couch and how she could stop this behavior.

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After a few questions, I determined that the problem probably stemmed from food eaten while watching television that had dropped between the cushions. Another possibility was suggested when the owner said that, on occasion, the dog tries to bury her treats in the couch.

The best method for stopping this type of digging is to keep the dog off the couch. This involves breaking a bad habit and introducing a new good habit. Tell the dog, “No,” whenever it tries to get on the couch. Be sure to have a rug or cushion beside the couch, which you will point to and command the dog to “sit” or “down.” Praise the dog lavishly and give it a reward — treat or chew toy — when it goes to the mat or dog bed.

When you get up to go into another room, slap the couch and say “No, off!” Then either barricade the couch with chair ( I turn two or three occasional chairs upside down so the legs point up), or you can use card tables against the couch as a barrier.

There used to be a training device called “Snappy Trainer” that looked like a mouse trap with a big plastic paddle attached to the killer bar, but I haven’t seen it in the catalogs for a number of years. The idea behind the Snappy Trainer was that it provided an element of surprise without hurting the dog. I never used the Snappy Trainer, but I did use balloons safety-pinned to the couch that popped when the dog leaped up. Dogs really dislike being surprised like that and will usually avoid the couch or anything else with balloons — though I have seen videos of terriers having a ball popping balloons. I guess it depends on the handler laughing and praising the terrier as it runs around the room popping them.

Because the caller admitted that there were food crumbs and dog treats between the cushions, I recommended a thorough vacuuming at the end of each day, until the dog has learned not to get on that piece of furniture.

If the dog has been in the habit of sleeping on the couch, another reason for scratching could be the instinctive digging dogs often engage in before curling up for rest. Again, this problem can be solved by teaching the dog to sleep on its own mat or cushion.

Although this was never brought up in our conversation, training a dog to sleep in a dog crate is best. The dog learns that the crate is his/her own bedroom (den), and doesn’t try to sleep on couches or overstuffed chairs.