Purpose: Digging outside is not always ideal from a behavioral or logistical perspective… So I taught my dogs to “dig” on a piece of fleece fabric.
Equipment: Piece of material preferably fleece. I found fleece works better than any other fabric, as it doesn’t rip or tear the way cotton does.
Targets: Digging is a great way to strengthen the front end assembly, and targets the musculature along the caudal/back aspect of the thoracic limb… starting at the shoulder, through the elbow, and most importantly through the carpus/pastern. It’s actually one of the best exercises I’ve found for maintaining strength through the front feet and carpus.
Digging is also a great core strengthening exercise, as the hypaxial muscles (musculature like the psoas and iliacus) have to engage isometrically (without movement) to resist the forces produced by the front end. At the same time the epaxial muscles (back muscles) are working eccentrically/isometrically, which can help to lengthen muscles along the top of the spine (especially at the TL junction) that can have a tendency to be short/tight.
The hamstrings and hip flexors are also working hard to stabilize against the digging forces. In this exercise the hamstrings are working in a lengthened position, which helps promote flexibility through the hamstring, and also works to strengthen the more vulnerable connection of the hamstring to the ischial tuberosity/sit bone. In this exercise the dog is using their own muscles to promote flexibility, making it an AROM exercise.
Lastly, many dogs who participate in sprinting sports develop tight hamstrings, so this could be a good complement to an existing fitness program.
- Teaching this exercise is pretty straightforward.
- I started by placing a cookie underneath the piece of fleece fabric I use for my “digging blanket”.
- I pointed at the covered treat to draw my dog’s attention to it.
- I waited until he started to paw at the cookie and then mark/reward. (Any foot interaction at all gets a mark/reward.
- Biting gets a reset cookie, and/or ends the session)Multiple paw interactions gets a jackpot.
- In the beginning it’s likely to be the same paw repeatedly, that’s ok.
- Placement of reward is important. Mark/reward like the cookie is being “dug out of the blanket”.
- Mark/reward BEFORE your dog stops digging. This encourages your dog to keep digging until they hear a terminal marker (This will evolve organically over time. In the beginning focus on any foot interaction)
Watchpoints: This is a very hard exercise! Even my highly conditioned BC can only dig dig for about 30 seconds at a time, and then needs a break before the next set. Think of this like a sprint workout. I focus on high speed, high energy output, fast rhythm, short duration.
Necessary Prerequisite Skills:
- Follow a tossed cookie