Dogs are born scavengers, and it’s one of the reasons they’re so easy to train; they’ll do anything for food. This behaviour to find sustenance is hardwired into your dog’s DNA, but in most cases, your dog will scavenge out of boredom. But why does your dog eat everything they find, even if it’s not food?
Dogs have a natural urge to sample things, and this doesn’t just apply to food. They will sniff out anything that smells interesting or looks appetising – even if it’s gross! They’ll constantly scavenge for food (and many items that should not be eaten) and scoff it down with wild abandon. Often before you’ve even noticed.
To us, eating old food wrappers and horse poop is revolting. But to dogs? It’s like walking into a shop filled with free chocolates and pastries! Just like us, your dog can’t help but sample one or two…even if they just ate dinner.
“If the dog becomes a canine vacuum cleaner, grabbing and swallowing anything and everything off the ground … sooner or later the dog is going to swallow something harmful.”Kathy Diamond Davis, Veterinarian
If your dog is young, you may find that they simply grow out of the stage where they want to try everything. But as a dog parent, you want your pup to have the best life possible and not leave things to chance. That means teaching your dog from an early age which things can and cannot go into their mouth – even if they look tasty!
With an increase in the number of dog poisonings, it’s more important than ever to have control over your dog’s scavenging behaviour.
So, here are my top 8 ways to stop a dog from scavenging while you are out on your walks.
Teach your dog a solid “leave it” command
Teach your dog such a good “leave it” that the command works all of the time. This will help prevent scavenging while out walking and at home when you don’twant your dog to eat something they have found
This training technique is easy to practice at home:
- Hold a toy in one hand ( tug rope is good for this)
- Hold a treat behind your back with the other hand.
- Encourage your dog to get a grip on the toy in your hand
- Hold the treat up to their nose so they can smell it.
- When they let go of the toy to get to the treat, say ‘leave it’ and then give your dog the treat.
- Repeat this 5 times
By consistently training your dog to leave items on command, you’ll be able to minimise the number of undesirable things your pet will eat.
You need to make sure they also have a solid ‘drop it’ command too, just in case they pick something up.
Read next: 8 Commands Every Dog Should Know
Reinforce your dog for paying attention to you
Take smelly treats with you on your walk. Stop every now and then and use the ‘watch me‘ command to get your dog’s attention. When they are focused on you, give them a treat and praise to reinforce their good behaviour and make it more likely to happen again. This is also helpful when out walking because if their focus isn’t elsewhere, there’s less chance of scavenging.
Teach your dog impulse control
After getting their attention you can teach your dog to pause and seek permission from you when they spot something they want. You can teach your dog to make good decisions about temptations with this game.
Use this game to teach your dog some impulse control
- Put a tasty treat in your hand and hold your hand in a fist.
- Let your dog sniff, nibble or paw at your hand.
- Don’t open your fist until your dog sits back to wait.
- Open your hand so they can see the treat
- Close your hand immediately when your dog lunges to take the treat.
- When they sit down again, wait a second, place one treat on the ground and give them the ‘okay’ signal to eat it
- Gradually increase the time between opening your hand and delivering the treat to build their impulse control.
Walk in places with fewer temptations and opportunities to scavenge
Chose the areas you walk in carefully. If you know that a certain path or wood is often littered, avoid it. This will help to prevent scavenging while out walking because there won’t be as many things for them that they can find.
Dolly and I take a carrier bag with us on walks and actually pick up litter on our way. I can’t believe people still chuck their rubbish on footpaths. So much for the countryside code.
The countryside code is a set of rules meant to keep the natural environment clean and tidy. It’s not just about litter, it also includes things like putting fires out properly and closing gates on farmland.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled Whilst Walking So You Can Divert Your Dog’s Attention
You can turn yourself into an eagle-eyed spotter as you walk. If you see something first you can walk away from it, pick it up quick or divert your dog’s attention by using a toy or treat as you walk past. Better to pick up the rubbish if you can so someone else’s dog who hasn’t got any scavenging control doesn’t eat it.
Make Your Dog’s Mealtimes Fun
There are many ways for making dinnertime more engaging, including using a slow feeder, like a snuffle mat or hiding your dog’s food in treat puzzles. This will help satisfy your dog’s desire to hunt and consume scraps and if you feed them at least an hour before a walk it should reduce the intensity of their scavenging behaviour. Using enrichment activities at home can calm your dog before they go out.
Do Some Nose Work With Your Dog
Nose work is a great way of keeping your dog’s mind active and engaged, as well as teaching them some new skills. It also gives you an opportunity for bonding time with one another which can be very important if you are trying to gain your dog’s trust.
Read Next: How to play nose work games with your dog
How To Stop a Dog From Eating Everything Using a Dog Muzzle
If you have a dog at risk of health problems due to scavenging, consider an extreme solution. A muzzle may be the answer for your situation and it will prevent them from eating anything they find on their walks or in other environments where there are food temptations like parks with picnics going underway.
On the upside, muzzling will work; on the downside, it is not a perfect solution and your dog will look like Hannibal Lecter.
Concerns about dog muzzles
Some people are concerned about the safety of a muzzle. However, if you have done your research and know what type to get, it should not be an issue for most dogs as long as they can still pant or breathe easily through their nose while wearing one.
What type of dog muzzle stops a dog from eating?
The type of muzzle that will stop a dog from eating is one with an open nose. This allows the animal to pant and breathe through their mouth while still being able for food or water intake as well, which can be important in hot weather conditions like summertime when temperatures rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27°C).
Dog muzzles don’t work for every dog
Some dogs may not be able to wear a muzzle because it will affect their breathing. This is especially true for animals with short noses or flat faces, like pugs and bulldogs who have difficulty breathing while wearing one of these devices.
Can you stop your dog eating everything on walks?
As we all know, dogs who love to snarf up things are certainly in danger of hurting themselves. However, what you may not have realised is that some canines who inhale the world in a second often have an extra zest for life!
We don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm for life. Still, we do want to protect them from harm so hopefully, by using the techniques outlined in this article, you will be able to reduce or eliminate scavenging behaviour and enjoy your walks again.
Nine surefire ways to minimise scavenging behaviour in your dog:
- Make sure your dog is well-fed at least an hour before you go on a walk
- Carry smelly treats with you to distract them from scavenging
- Take the dog’s favourite toy along for the walk and make it a game of fetch or tug-of-war
- Teach your dog to stay by your side while out on walks and pay attention to you
- Teach your dog solid ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ commands
- Walk in places with less temptation
- Keep your eyes peeled for rubbish
- Use nosework games to satisfy the scavenging desire
- Use a muzzle
Dog Scavenging Behaviour FAQs
Why do puppies scavenge?
Puppies learn with their mouths and love to investigate tastes and smells. Mouthing gets them a better idea of an object and how best to interact with it. Things that also taste nice could be fun to eat. It is up to you as their owner to show them that this isn’t acceptable all the time and to only eat food offered to them.
Why do rescue dogs scavenge?
Rescue dogs may have had to eat off the streets to survive. Older dogs that are rescues may have learned that food and rubbish on the street could be their only meal for a while. This also applies to those lacking appropriate care in their old home who may be fearful of food security. It can take time for them to get over this and trust that you will provide everything they need.
Why do older dogs scavenge?
But, there are still some older dogs that eat off the ground and should know better. You may still find that some adult dogs revert to these instincts and act like puppies. This may happen when they are somewhere new. This is why it is important to train dogs well from an early age.