Using Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) to Manage Destructive Digging


This article explores the application of Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) as an effective method for managing and modifying a dog’s destructive digging behavior. By creating a designated digging pit and consistently redirecting and reinforcing the desired behavior, a dog can be trained to dig only in the designated area. This case study demonstrates how the DRI method can successfully resolve the issue of destructive digging in a yard while allowing the dog to enjoy its natural instincts in a controlled manner. The results highlight the importance of consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement in modifying a dog’s behavior and ensuring long-term success.

Dog Situation

Sally is a dog owner living in a suburban neighborhood with a spacious backyard. Her beloved dog, Buddy, is a two-year-old English Shepherd with a penchant for digging. Unfortunately, Buddy’s digging has become a nuisance as he has destroyed many of Sally’s plants and created unsightly holes throughout the yard. Concerned about the situation, Sally decides to seek professional help from a dog trainer named Tom.

Dog Behavior

Buddy is an energetic and playful dog who loves to explore the outdoors. He tends to dig in various spots throughout the yard, particularly near the flower beds and fence line. His digging behavior is not aggressive; rather, he appears to be having fun and exploring his surroundings.

Trainer’s Recommendations

Tom, the dog trainer, suggests that Sally use the Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) method to train Buddy to stop digging in the yard. He recommends building a designated digging pit for Buddy and using positive reinforcement to encourage him to dig only in that designated area.

How to Manage a Dog’s Destructive Digging

  1. Build a digging pit

    Select a suitable location in your yard and build a digging pit. Ensure that the pit is large enough for the dog to dig comfortably and is filled with soft, loose soil or sand. You can also bury some toys or treats in the pit to make it more appealing to the dog.

  2. Observe the dog’s behavior

    Monitor your dog closely when it is in the yard. When you notice the dog starting to dig in an undesired area, quickly redirect its attention to the digging pit.

  3. Redirect the dog to the digging pit

    As soon as you see your dog attempting to dig in the yard, calmly approach the dog, and gently guide it to the digging pit. Use a cheerful tone and positive words like “Come on, let’s dig here!” to encourage the dog to go to the digging pit.

  4. Reinforce the desired behavior

    Once the dog starts digging in the designated pit, immediately praise and reward the dog with treats or play. This positive reinforcement helps the dog understand that digging in the pit is the desired behavior, and it will be more likely to repeat it in the future.

  5. Be consistent and patient

    Consistently reinforce the desired behavior every time the dog digs in the pit. If the dog attempts to dig in other areas of the yard, redirect it to the pit and reinforce the correct behavior again. Be patient, as it may take some time for the dog to learn and adopt the new behavior.

  6. Gradually reduce the reinforcement

    Once the dog consistently digs in the designated pit and stops digging elsewhere in the yard, start to gradually reduce the frequency of treats and praise. However, continue to offer occasional rewards and praise to maintain the desired behavior.

  7. Monitor progress

    Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior over time to ensure that it continues to dig only in the designated pit. If you notice any backsliding, increase the frequency of reinforcement until the dog consistently chooses the digging pit again.


Sally follows Tom’s advice and creates a digging pit in a corner of the yard, away from her flower beds and fence. She buries some of Buddy’s favorite toys and treats in the pit to make it more appealing.

Over the next few weeks, Sally consistently redirects Buddy to the digging pit whenever she catches him attempting to dig elsewhere in the yard. She praises and rewards him with treats and playtime every time he digs in the designated pit.

Gradually, Buddy begins to understand that digging in the pit is the desired behavior, and he starts to prefer the pit over other areas in the yard. Sally continues to reinforce the positive behavior, albeit less frequently, to maintain Buddy’s interest in the pit.

After a couple of months, Buddy’s digging behavior has significantly improved. He no longer digs in the flower beds or along the fence line and instead focuses his digging efforts solely in the designated pit. Sally’s yard is now safe from destruction, and Buddy has a designated spot where he can indulge his natural instincts without causing any harm.


In conclusion, by employing the DRI method and following the trainer’s recommendations, Sally successfully resolved the issue of Buddy’s destructive digging behavior while still allowing him to enjoy his favorite outdoor activity.

Further Reading

  1. Pryor, K. (1999). Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training. Bantam Books.
  2. Reid, P. (2011). Excel-erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them. James & Kenneth Publishers.
  3. McConnell, P. B. (2002). The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. Ballantine Books.
  4. Ryan, T. (2008). The Toolbox for Building a Great Family Dog. Dogwise Publishing.
  5. Fisher, J. (1998). Think Dog!: An Owner’s Guide to Canine Psychology. Cassell Illustrated.
  6. Martin, K. & Cast, J. (2012). Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog. Sunshine Books, Inc.
  7. Donaldson, J. (2013). Train Your Dog Like a Pro. Wiley Publishing.
  8. Dunbar, I. (2010). Before & After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Dog. New World Library.
  9. Millan, C., & Peltier, M. J. (2006). Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems. Harmony Books.
  10. Rugaas, T. (2005). On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. Dogwise Publishing.
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Tony Bierman, "Using Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) to Manage Destructive Digging," OBTESA, Accessed June 18, 2024,