Q. I adopted a Lab/pug mix from a local shelter, and we just love her. Unfortunately, she’s a digger. She is digging our tree and lilac roots, which she pulls out and chews up. I’m hoping it might be a vitamin deficiency that we can fix with nutrition. Otherwise, any suggestions? I have put her poop in the holes, filled the holes with dirt, and dragged her to the holes after the fact and told her no. I have heard mouse traps work, but that seems mean. I have a dog door to the backyard, so I don’t have complete control of when she’s going outside. I also have a Shih Tzu, so I don’t want to block them from going outside altogether.
A. While supervising your dog and catching her in the act is the best way to correct unwanted behaviors, there are some things you can do to discourage or reward — yes, reward — the behavior when you’re not home.
There are many reasons why dogs dig that all require different solutions. Based on your letter, I think your dog developed the habit to entertain herself, so let’s talk about ways to discourage the behavior first.
You can put a small metal garden fence around the areas where she likes to dig. If she steps over the fencing too easily, then crisscross rows of twine in a grid pattern a few inches off the ground or put potted plants or heavy rocks where she likes to dig. The idea is to set up roadblocks to keep her from digging in this area.
You mentioned using mousetraps to startle her into staying away. I don’t think they are safe around pets, but there is a product called Snappy Trainer that is similar and safe to use. Place it in the yard where you don’t want her to dig. If she touches or bumps it, the device will snap and flip into the air, which may discourage her from going near your trees and lilacs.
If she loves to dig, however, she may just find another place in the yard to have fun. That’s why I think it might be easier to reward her habit by making her a digging pit — a 3- by 6-foot sandbox where you can hide toys and treats that she can uncover and discover every day.
To train her to use it, let her see you bury a few hot dog pieces in the sand, then use show and tell to teach her how to “dig in the box.” When she uncovers a treat, give her another treat as a reward. If she knows there are buried treats, she will likely stop digging elsewhere and focus her energies on her new “treat” pit.
Q. We had two cats who were litter mates and adopted as kittens. One of the two cats disappeared and hasn’t returned. The other is still mourning his lost brother. Is there anything we can do to comfort him or help him get over the situation? Would a new kitten help?
A. I am glad you recognize your cat is experiencing grief over the loss of his companion. It could take days, weeks and sometimes even months before he adjusts to life without his best friend.
While getting a kitten to be his new friend is a good idea, don’t rush into adopting just yet. Sometimes, if a pet doesn’t have time to mourn, and another pet comes along too soon, they tolerate each other, but they don’t become good friends. Also, people tend to shower attention on the new pet and unintentionally ignore the grieving pet, which can make the grieving pet feel worse.
Instead, give your cat lots of attention for a few weeks to build a new relationship between the two of you and reassure him of his place in the home. When you finally bring a new kitten home, give your older cat more attention for the first few weeks. It’s sort of like making an older brother or sister feel special when a new baby comes home. Like a baby, your new kitten won’t have any expectations of you yet. So, love on your older cat more during the transition period to help him feel secure and motivated to accept the new kitten in the home. Before you know it, they will be best friends.