DEAR DIDI: Our blue nosed Pit Bull, Bruno, is the love of our life but we have one issue that just drives us crazy. We both work all day. We want Bruno to be able to enjoy our very large landscaped back yard during the day while we are at work. Instead, Bruno digs holes everywhere, which is costing us lots of money and time to fix. He digs up bushes, holes in the lawn, and has even dug up our sprinkler system at times! He has had excellent training courses, listens to commands beautifully and even won a blue ribbon at a minor obedience competition. We are at a loss for his destructive behaviors. What would you suggest? – Bruno’s Mom
DEAR BRUNO’S MOM: Pit Bulls are amazing, loving animals and they excel at having a job. This breed of canine does agility, fly ball, Frisbee, dock diving, search and rescue and more. The problem with having a working breed of dog is that they get bored very easily. Bruno is great when he is asked to perform. He knows how to sit, down, come and heel nicely. Better than nicely, even. He rises to the challenge when given a task!
So…when you and your husband go to work every day Bruno is left with nothing to do. Don’t mistake his running around the yard, barking, chasing bees and digging as being happy. Those are all signs of anxiety and stress. Bruno has to endure eight hours of outdoor stimulations ranging from the sounds of another dog being walked by the fence to thousands of birds flying through his yard. Those things keep him in a constant state of stimulation which doesn’t allow him to take naps, as he should. Now Bruno is sleep deprived which raises his anxiety and lowers his tolerance. Most healthy dogs need 10-16 hours of sleep a day. We know that dogs redirect their frustration when they can’t unleash on the actual cause. I suspect Bruno takes his frustration out on your bushes, grass and sprinklers!
Many people are under the mistaken impression that dogs need to be outdoors in the yard. They think this is where their dog is happiest. I’ve even had people swear that their dogs act nervous when asked to come in the house and run back outside at their first opportunity. This just shows that the dog has “learned his place.” If a dog is left outside too much, they get the idea that this is where they belong. Believe me, a happy well-adjusted dog will always choose companionship within the home.
The other issue with leaving dogs outdoors is that they are subjected to weather conditions. What if they spill their water bowl at 9 a.m. and now have to wait in 100 degree heat for their owner to come home at 5 p.m.? Okay, he will probably find shade and survive but he definitely is not comfortable or happy and this experience can change a dog’s thought processes and moods. Many breeds of dogs find a solution to their boredom by eating objects. Bark, pebbles, dirt, sticks, etc. This can potentially cause intestinal blockage and death. Other dogs, run around barking all day. This is a classic sign of fear and anxiety. The whole world is out to get them and they feel the need to act like a security guard all day. Worse yet, this is the exact reason some people get dogs. The scary looking German Shepherd is thrown out in the yard all day to keep burglars away. Poor dogs!
Particularly with Bruno, I would recommend an early morning training/exercise session before you go to work. He needs a heavy duty work out both physically and mentally. Pit Bulls are very difficult to wear out physically and they recover quickly! So, really make him think during his training sessions in order to wear him out for the day. Try agility or search scenarios. If that isn’t realistic for your lifestyle then let’s crate Bruno in the house. This way he can’t be destructive in the yard or in your home. No more over stimulation all day in the yard. He will basically be forced to take long naps in your climate controlled, comfy, house. When you get home he can then enjoy those exercise/training activities with you and he will be all the more into it!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University, owner of California Canine, and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Just email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.