When we adopted Gomez in early November, we had no no clue that one month later would be the start of the most brutal winter in Detroit history. The polar vortex didn’t make it very easy to spend leisurely outside time with the dogs. But this past weekend brought actual, honest springtime weather and it was glorious. I couldn’t wait to sit in our little backyard and read while Asha and Gomez enjoyed the (much needed) warm sunshine. After a stressful week at work, quite literally all I wanted to do the whole weekend was hang out with my dogs, read and relax. At one point Asha came to curl up on the step next to me while Gomez trotted around the yard. He’s never at a loss to find something new and exciting to smell or explore even though our backyard is, for lack of a better way to describe it, rather small and junky. This is another bonus of adopting strays: it is so easy to trick them into thinking your modest, old home is a mansion and your crappy city yard a beautifully landscaped paradise. Gomez and Asha often marvel at their good fortune to be adopted by such fancy and extravagant people. I see no reason to challenge these assumptions.

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Jamie came outside to join us and we sat together petting Asha’s sun-warm fur as we watched Gomez bound around, sniffing the ground. Abruptly, he stopped and pawed the dirt. It was tentative at first. Paw a couple times, stop to deeply inhale and sniff the newly unearthed scents, paw a little more, repeat. Then, as if he were done warming up, he started digging with real intensity and speed. “Wow,” Jaime said, “He’s like, really digging a hole. And fast.” And he was. In less than five minutes, he was comfortably laying in a Gomez-sized hole, covered in dirt, panting and looking absolutely pleased with himself. In fact, he looked at us like, “Oh, by the way, this is my warm weather hobby. Impressive, no?”

And it was impressive. But when he got up, walked to the middle of the yard and proceeded to start another hole with expert speed and precision, I knew that this weekend wasn’t going to be spent reading and relaxing. It was going to be spent building a dig pit for Mr. Mudface. Otherwise, our yard would soon be a crater-filled mess and Gomez might expertly tunnel his way out of the yard or even to China. As much as I was not in the mood to lug around heavy bags of sand and topsoil, I was also pretty certain that this wasn’t a behavior I could extinguish with much ease. After all, digging is a normal dog behavior. And though I personally consider digging strenuous, manual labor, Gomez was positively beaming with grungy pride. As a bonus, it was clear he was physically exhausting himself, and I’m a fan of anything that can burn off some of his energy.

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The way I saw it, I had two choices here: designate a safe place for digging and train him to use it, or fight with him about this for the rest of our days together. And though building a dig pit for a dog struck me as a little crazy, wouldn’t it be crazier, or at least more exhausting and infuriating to attempt to stop him every time he tried to dig? I’d rather meet him halfway than banish him forever from participating in a behavior that he finds extremely rewarding.

 

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Jamie was not thrilled when I told her I needed her to come with me to the store to get dig pit supplies. Not because she thought it was a bad idea, but because, like me, this wasn’t on her agenda for the weekend.

Me: We need to go to Home Depot. I have to make a dig pit for Gomez as soon as possible.

Jamie: Today?

Me: Yes. That’s what I meant by as soon as possible.

Jamie: But I don’t want to go to Home Depot.

Me: Yes you do. You’re a lesbian.

Jamie: But I don’t need anything from there.

Me: Yes, but I do. And you have muscles. What’s the point of you having muscles if you’re not going to use them to help me achieve my dig pit goals?

Jamie: …

Me: Ok, cool. We’ll leave in 10 minutes!

We ended up going to Kmart because I realized I needed to get a few toys and bones to bury in the pit to help make it as enticing as possible to him. Since Kmart had a garden section, I realized that could save us having to stop at a second store for dig pit toys. As the cashier rung up our bags of sand and topsoil and assortment of dog toys and treats, he asked, “So, are you making a garden?” Part of me wanted to dramatically look both ways and lean forward as if telling him top secret information and say, “We are building a special garden for our dogs. We’re going to plant these toys and treats, water them every day and see what happens! Because we believe in MIRACLES!” Then I would cross myself and we would leave the store. But Jamie doesn’t like when I embarrass her in public, and I love her enough that I strive for embarrassment-free outings. So when she looked at me with an expression that said, “Please, just say ‘yes’ so we can get out of here,” I complied.

As determined as I was to complete this project, I was also well aware that I had only a vague idea of how to execute it. My plan of attack was basically, “eyeball it and avoid having to do any measuring or math.” I used some repurposed cement garden border thingys (I don’t know the terms) and started digging a little trench around the chosen area in which to place and then anchor the border. As soon as I started, Gomez bounded over to join in the fun. So while I was kneeling down and digging the trench for the border, he jumped right into the pit and started gleefully digging. Part of me wanted him to knock it the heck off because he was throwing dirt right on me as I worked, but since this was exactly where I wanted him to dig, I didn’t want to send a mixed message by stopping his hole making adventures. So, much to Jamie’s amusement, I continued to work while Gomez rewarded my efforts with paws full of dirt to the face. (Note to Gomez about gratitude: you’re doing it wrong.)

After I was done with the border, I decided I was done for the day. And so was Gomez. I brought my big, panting, happy dirtbag into the house and put him right in the tub for a bath. Later I went outside and put a big piece of plywood over the pit because it looked like it might rain. I also thought, “Maybe I’ll be able to train him to see the piece of wood as an indicator as to if the dig pit is ‘open’ or ‘closed’ for business. That way I can avoid a quick potty break turning into a dirty digging escapade.”

But we haven’t had a chance to explore that yet. Because not two days after this beautiful, warm spring weather, it snowed. To those of you who have not experienced going from the worst winter ever to a beautiful spring weekend right back to winter weather, it feels like a cruel, senseless trick. The only reminder I have that this warm, get-outside weekend even happened is this new, magical dog garden with a piece of snow-covered plywood over it. But when the weather starts to warm up again (soon, please!), we will continue with dig pit building, training and exploration. Here’s to a summer of unearthed treasure! And lots (and lots) of dog shampoo.