Behavior Bytes | May 2012
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
12:00 AM, Sunday, May 20
Dear Dr. Schwartz,
My 6 year old Dachshund Little Willie loves to dig in the yard. He is out there for at least an hour in the morning and again at night, with shorter outings in between. We have spent a lot of money in landscaping and he is ruining our lawn and flower bed. He gets very agitated and pants heavily and it can take him quite a while to calm down and cool off once he’s back in. Can you please help?

Dear Little Willie’s Mom,
Dogs dig for a number of reasons. Burying bones or food for later use is common in many animals. Some dig a hole into the deeper layers of soil to make a cool spot for themselves; Nordic breeds dig a hole into the snow to keep warm and better protected from the wind. Dachshunds were born to dig, bred to dig to pursue their prey. Dachshund means ‘badger dog’; they are the only breed of dog to hunt underground to this degree. Badgers live in networks of dens deep underground and Dachsies were selectively bred to fit through those tunnels, digging along the way, and with the tenacity and aggression to confront an animal trapped in its den. Most dogs dig, Dachsies are just built for it with their deep, broad muscled chests and their oversized paddle-shaped front feet. Little Willie may look like an awkward sausage to some, but he is a lean, mean digging machine…if he has nothing else to do.

Dogs need to get out of their bubble (your house and yard) and explore beyond it in the company of their pack. Left unattended with no other outlets for his intelligence and energy, your dog is simply entertaining himself by doing what comes naturally. From your description, he is not happy to be out there all alone. However much you may enjoy your landscaping, he is socially isolated, alone, anxious and frustrated out there. Dogs can suffer heat stroke and become critically ill very fast when they have inadequate shade or cool water, and are stressing on top of it all. He is also an easy mark for coyotes on the hunt. Little Willie needs two long walks a day, starting with at least a 30 minute walk every morning. Walk him until he’s ready to have a nice long nap when you return, not just until you’ve had enough. Let him stay indoors where it’s cool and safe, after he’s enjoyed some quality time in your company during your walks. I’m sure that when his needs are met, he will be content to enjoy your garden…with you.

Dear Dr. Schwartz,
My Ragdoll cat Esmerelda is 2 years old and is normally playful and affectionate. I’ve noticed that on really hot days she really does live up to the breed’s name. She just lies around and avoids being held if I try to pick her up. Sometimes I’ll find her in a dark closet or lying spread eagle on the tile floor. Is this normal?

Dear Esmerelda’s Dad,
Ragdolls may have been more intentionally bred to tolerate human handling than are other feline breeds, but this doesn’t mean that they are literally ragdolls with no individuality or spunk. It is normal for animals, including us, to feel sluggish on hot days. Higher ambient temperatures trigger our bodies into conservation mode, to maintain hydration and energy for emergency use only. It is also normal to feel less hungry, and to drink more.

Esmerelda is not rejecting you; it’s really nothing personal. But on these dog days of summer (sorry, perhaps I should say cat days or the more generic pet days of summer?) cuddling means sharing body heat and she instinctively wants more ventilation and cooler resting places right now. This behavior is part of a survival mechanism that helps us to cope with environmental fluctuations. We see similar behavioral changes in response to fever, and for many of the same reasons. If Esmerelda’s lethargy rebounds when it is cooler, and she has no other signs of illness right now, then I would not worry. If, however, she doesn’t return to more normal behavior when temperatures fall or if she does indeed have a fever, please make an appointment for her evaluation by her primary care veterinarian without delay.

Dr. Stefanie SchwartzDr. Stefanie Schwartz is a board certified veterinary behaviorist based at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad, CA. She also sees patients at the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, CA. For more information, please call (760) 431-2273 and visit and

Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet

Paw-pular Articles