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How to stop your dog scavenging

Is your dog stealing food and picking up discarded items on their walks?
Written by Mayhew team
Updated 1 month ago

Dogs are natural scavengers but some are more enthusiastic than others. Before dogs became domesticated, they had to hunt for their own food and take advantage of every opportunity to gain nourishment. This behaviour is still in their DNA even though we take care of our pet’s sustenance needs, and so when they come across a discarded box of chicken bones or a used tissue, their natural instincts kick in and they just can’t help themselves. 

But as pet owners, we know that these roadside treats can pose a danger to our four legged friends and can result in gastrological problems, blockages, or even poisoning.  So here are our tips to stop your dog from scavenging.

Leave it!

Teaching your dog basic commands will help keep them safe throughout their life. It also helps prevent undesirable behaviours in your house and when out and about. A command like “leave” or “drop” will help in many situations, and a solid recall will ensure that they come back to you if you spot a tasty temptation in the distance. 

Don’t forget to keep training sessions short and fun. Remember: they should be enjoyable for both you and the dog and always end on a positive note. Find out what really motivates your dog – this could be a treat or a toy – and use this during training sessions to get the best out of your pup.

Visit areas with fewer temptations

One option if your dog is an avid scavenger is to take them for a walk in an area that you know has fewer temptations. You could take them for a walk in the countryside or woods rather than in a more suburban area where there is likely to be more residue and rubbish around. 

Make dinnertime exciting and challenging

If your dog’s number one activity is eating, then it’s a good idea to make their dinnertime something to look forward to. By making eating at home mentally stimulating, you might reduce their need to find edible treats whilst they are out of the house. You could try feeding your dog with a puzzle feed or snuffle mat, so that their brain is engaged and the experience is more exciting for them. 

Teach your dog to walk to heel and pay attention to you

Ensuring your dog is well trained is essential for their safety. Work with a trainer or take your dog to training classes to teach them how to walk next to you and pay attention to you as you walk. Once your dog is trained to walk alongside you, you can communicate with them easily and reward them for positive behaviour. 

Learn your dog’s signals

Get to recognise your dog’s behaviour before they scoff their scavenging prize. Dogs may sniff or circle when they’ve found a scent that they like. Pay attention to your pooch to see if there are any identifiers that will alert you before they lunge for that discarded sandwich wrapper. Once you have learnt their behaviour, you can call them away or distract them until you pass the potential danger. 

Ensure your dog is in good health

Although all dogs scavenge by nature, obsessive consumption of things that aren’t their regular food or treats may indicate a health issue. If you notice it becoming a problem, do get them checked out by your vet. 

Muzzle training

If your dog is scavenging relentlessly and you feel it’s becoming dangerous for them, you could look into muzzle training. There are lots of different muzzles available, so the first step is to find one that is suitable and comfortable for your dog. It should fit well to their snout without stopping them from opening their mouth or being able to pant. A basket-style muzzle will allow your dog to breathe more easily and they are still able to drink if they need to whilst out and about.

Take it slowly when introducing a muzzle and use reward based training so that they associate wearing a puzzle with positive activities. You can work with a trainer to help you if you would like some extra support getting your pooch comfortable with wearing their new muzzle. 

Help! My dog is a picnic gatecrasher!

If your pooch is a bit of a wild child and you find them making a dash for family picnics in the park, there are a couple of things you can do to prevent this from happening alongside the above advice. 

  • Consider walking in different parks or green spaces that are less likely to be picnic destinations
  • Take high-value treats with you and reward your dog regularly for positive behaviour
  • Walk at a different time of day when there are likely to be less picnics around 
  • Be eagle eyed! Stay on the lookout for potential picnics and make sure your dog is on the lead before they notice it too

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