Ever come home to find holes dug in your precious lawn, poop from one end of the yard to the other, plants ripped out of your garden, or brand new shoes in a chewed up mess?
Maybe it's the yellow wee stains in your grass that drives you mad, or complaints from neighbours about barking?
Chances are your dog needs something to do while you’re away.
It’s no secret that we’re big animal lovers here at Coolabah Turf, and we think Aussie backyards and dogs go together like tacos and Tuesdays.
But from time to time, our furry friends wreak havoc on new and established lawns, and we get lots of questions from our lawn loving community on what they can do about it.
While we’re bonafide experts at growing turf, when it comes to explaining doggy behaviour we're a bit out of our league, so we’ve brought in Echuca Moama’s resident dog whisperer to help answer some of your burning questions.
Kathleen Kemp (ACE Dogs instructor) is a qualified dog trainer and animal behaviourist with extensive experience training horses, dogs and cats. She’s so good in fact, that she was named Dog Trainer of the Year in 2016 by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).
We asked Kathleen some common questions that get thrown our way from pet-owning backyard lovers and we know you’ll find her advice just as helpful as we have!
What causes our dogs to behave undesirably in our backyards?
In the last 15 years we’ve seen the start, increase and development of many social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat to name a few, that keep us very entertained inside our homes. To add to this, the increase in organised sport has meant families and children do not spend as much time outside in the backyard, playing with their dog, as families did once upon a time. So, we have to be far more pro-active in making sure our dogs get what they need.
It’s also important to note that these ‘problematic behaviours’ are only considered undesirable in the human world! Digging and barking is who dogs are! So we need to offer something much more enjoyable for them to do. To punish by saying ‘no!’ is confusing for our dogs. It damages the human canine relationship and creates a vacuum - ‘what do I do instead’ wonders our canine companion….
How can we be proactive and make sure our dogs are getting what they need?
Enrichment, Education and Exercise are all part of the prevention protocol. Dogs who have their 3 E’s needs met are much less likely to dig and/or bark excessively.
Enrichment - One major cause for destructive behaviour (digging and chewing) is the dog having nothing to do with all his or her energy while you are gone. The more opportunities a dog has to practice being destructive, the harder and longer it will take to reverse the process. Behavioural or environmental enrichment means any activity, item of interest or change in the environment that enhances the quality of your dog’s day. Providing enrichment ensures your dog will have less time to be bored or engage in destructive behaviours.
Education - Training using only positive reinforcement methods makes it fun for your dog and an enjoyable experience for all. See https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-is-reward-based-dog-training-and-why-does-the-rspca-support-it/
Exercise - This includes play as well as walks (at least twice a day). It’s very important that when you go for walks with your dog you allow time for them to sniff the ground as they wander. Sniffing new smells out on a walk is one of the most enjoyable and enriching activities for dogs.
How do I stop my dog from digging holes in my prized lawn?
Digging and barking is who dogs are, so we need to offer something much more enjoyable for them to do. Giving dogs another option to satisfy their need to dig can help. A good idea is a purpose-built sandpit or clamshell filled with sand where you can bury your dog’s favorite toys or pigs ears.
Boredom stoppers are about prevention rather than trying to ‘stop’ a perceived undesirable behaviour.
How do I prevent the yellow stains on my lawn from my dog’s pee?
‘Dog Rocks’ are stones/rocks that you pop into your dog’s water bowl and those unsightly patches on your lawn disappear. I use them and they work!
The important thing to note is to make sure that the water bowl with the rocks in it is the only drinking water for your dog. If they have access to other water, such as a wading pool, then the rocks do not work as well.
*Side Note: One of the benefits of Coolabah lawn is its ability to self-repair, so even if you do have dead spots or visible stains from the urine, it will regenerate in time.
How do I encourage my dog to poop in the one area of my backyard, rather than leaving minefields across the entire lawn?
This behaviour is trained in the same way as any other behaviour. Reinforce your dog/puppy with something they love (e.g. yummy fresh roast chicken pieces) when they poop in the spot you want them to. Set them up for success by making it easy for them to know where to go. If you know that your dog always poops at a certain time of day take them out to the spot, on lead and just hang out in that area. My dog poops every morning and night when we are on a walk so I pick it up in a poop bag and it goes straight in the bin. I rarely have to pick up poop in the back yard.
It is very important to never scold your dog/puppy when they eliminate (poop or wee) in a spot you don’t want them to. They will only learn to never eliminate when you are around and you will more than likely confuse them and jeopardise your relationship. Set them up for success.
Some great info on this can be found at:
How do I stop my dog from barking and driving our neighbours crazy?
Barking is a normal and healthy dog behaviour. It communicates play or excitement, fear and stress, territorial breaches or warnings, anxiety, aggression or illness. While it is normal and healthy behaviour, constant barking that disrupts neighbouring residents needs to be addressed.
As with young children seeking attention or acting out, dogs that bark constantly are often trying to alert someone that their needs are not being met. It could be attention, exercise, hunger, fatigue, pain, discomfort or they don’t feel safe. In many cases, ensuring these needs are met can help to alleviate barking problems.
Some tips on how to do this effectively can be found here:
It’s important to never use the electric or citronella barking collars. There is extensive evidence and research to show that these devices create aggression (based in fear), other behavioural problems and can seriously jeopardise the human canine relationship. The American and Australian veterinary associations have a policy statement against these devices and many other countries around the world have made their use illegal.
What if nothing seems to work?
Seek advice from a positive reinforcement dog trainer when your dog has a behavioural issue that you need help with.
Some final advice from us at Coolabah!
If your dog has caused a problem with your lawn that’s beyond reasonable repair, and you haven’t got the patience to wait for it to regenerate, just replace the bare area with a with a couple of pieces of turf. We sell from a minimum of 1 square meter up to the hundreds and thousands of metres.
To make a purchase click here or call our friendly Coolabah Turf team on 1800 055 515.
BONUS TIPS for providing your dog with enrichment to prevent bordeom:
Cardboard boxes– put treats, bone, raw egg, kibble or biscuits inside the box and close it so the dog has to break it open to earn the rewards.
Treat balls – available at pet shops. Put part of a daily kibble ration, treats or broken up biscuits inside the ball.
Kongs– available at pet shops. Stuff with treats, kibble or cheese and make it challenging to access by topping it off with peanut butter or low fat cream cheese. Prepare and freeze for hot days.
Bones– these can be hidden on their own or inside boxes. (bones must be fed raw)
Chicken wings, drumsticks and necks– use wings and drumsticks to signal to your dog that you’re going out. Hide the necks around the yard. Chicken must be fed raw.
Plastic bottles – remove and discard lids and put biscuits, kibble and treats inside the bottles.
Variety of toys– squeaky toys, plush toys and rope toys. Rotate 2-3 times per week and provide seven toys at a time. Have enough toys that your dog only has the same toy once per month. He or she will think it is a new toy.
Dried meat treats– kangaroo jerky, pig ears and trotters can provide hours of chewing and can also be hidden in boxes.
Iceblocks– a great way to keep your dog cool and busy in summer. Make iceblocks out of liquids like diluted pet milk, sandwich tuna or meat stock. Freeze in ice cream containers of kongs.