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One of the greatest talents that dogs have is finding one random junk or the other to chew on while outside.
I won’t blame them though; you’d probably do the same if you had 300 million olfactory receptors in your nose.
In a dog’s mind if something smells and looks interesting, then it should be further explored in the mouth.
This action totally makes sense to them. However, it can be quite embarrassing and dangerous, especially when they decide to chew everything from discarded plastic dolls to leaves or grasses, sludgy mess, stones, and, worst of all, is when your dog snatches a bag of treat or food dangling carelessly from the hand of unsuspecting strangers.
I understand your frustration – I mean, if your dog turns into the canine version of a vacuum cleaner, scavenging and gobbling anything and everything on the ground, sooner or later it is going to ingest something harmful.
The blame will rest squarely on your shoulders for not figuring out how to stop your dog from eating everything it finds outside.
That’s why we put this article together, so you can quickly put an end to that embarrassing and nauseating dog behavior.
Let’s see why dogs eat random junk.
Why do dogs scavenge and eat everything they see?
As annoying and embarrassing as the behavior might be, there’s a reason most dogs chow on items that you consider gross. To fix the problem we first have to understand the cause. Here are possible reasons dog eat gross items
1. They’re yet to learn not to.
Dogs are natural scavengers – it’s in their DNA.
For them, scavenging and mouthing all of the random objects that they find is merely to explore the world. While this behavior is common in puppies who are yet to learn that eating junk can be dangerous to them, many older dogs suddenly start eating weird junk they find outside.
Some of the objects that dogs find irresistible are usually those that are flavored or scented such as discarded food remnants, dead seagulls, etc. Other sources of temptation are objects that have your smell on them such as slippers or worn socks.
Pica is when a dog repeatedly ingests non-edible objects. While puppies are known to accidentally swallow pieces of toys they play with, pica is the obsessive urge to eat sticks, rocks, chalk, clay, or other non-degradable or digestible materials.
This usually happens when an animal is starving, has electrolyte imbalance or its diet is missing essential nutrients. To verify if this is this case, you’ll need to consult your vet as soon as possible because pica can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, gastric upset, or intestinal blockage.
Coprophagia, which is the most common form of pica in dogs, refers to the habit of ingesting feces.
Yes, some dogs frequently take delight in dining on these odd and disgusting things. However, is it dangerous?
While poop eating is gross, it isn’t always dangerous – that’s not to say you should accept it as part of your dog’s personality. No!
Coprophagia exposes your dog to a multitude of harmful internal parasites if it ingests feces from other animals and should be discouraged. Again, electrolyte imbalance or a diet that is missing essential nutrients can lead to coprophagia, but not all instances of pica or coprophagia are the result of an underlying medical condition.
The behavior is considered normal in canine mothers.
Dog moms often lick their puppies’ lower abdomen to stimulate their pups to eliminate waste, after which they lick their bottom to clean them when they’re done. It isn’t unusual for dogs to ingest puppy poop while doing so.
4. Grass Grazing.
We all know dogs are carnivores. That’s why seeing your dog eat grass for the first time is quite a shocker.
Many canines often graze on grass for the vitamins in the grass or simply because they like the taste of the grass. Occasionally munching on grass is not a cause for concern if the grass on your lawn is not treated with a pesticide unless the habit develops into chowing on poisonous plants.
Your pet could be harboring a pathogen that is causing a nutritional imbalance in your dog. While you’re working on the training and nutritional aspects, it’s a good idea to get your vet to perform tests to rule this out.
6. Dirt’s hidden treasures.
It just seems like some dogs have the urge to chew on rocks, plastic toys, or other kinds of dirt.
Maybe it’s their instinct, or they’re pulled in by the scent on the object.
The scent of objects is particularly true if another animal was in the area. Remember, dogs are scavengers – just like their cousins, wolves.
When your dog picks the smell of an object that interests it, it follows the trail of the smell. Sometimes it finds the object, other times it loses the trail. However, when it finally discovers the object of interest, it might mouth the treasure to better understand it.
Although an occasional taste of dirt will likely not cause issues, too much of it can obstruct your dog’s digestive system.
On the other hand, chewing plastics or rocks need to be stopped or prevented. This is a choking hazard that is also harmful to your dog’s teeth.
If your dog is a puppy and enjoys chewing, get him an indestructible chew toy that it can’t choke on.
10 simple steps to stop your dog from eating everything it finds outside.
Now that you know the possible reasons why your dog enjoys eating random junk, it’s time to fix it. Start by…
1. Log your dog’s activities.
If your dog frequently displays the behavior typical of Coprophagia and PICA, then you’ll have to start logging its activities.
The purpose is three-fold: to identify where it happens, when it happens, and what’s going on around the dog.
This is an important activity because it helps you hold details that you might have forgotten. These details help you become aware of events that lead to the unwanted behavior so you can be proactive and keep them from repeating.
The logbook will help you see how much progress you’re making, and how effective the changes implemented are.
A Google doc is all you need to get started. If you need to provide more details you can record and upload a voice note to dropbox.
After some time, you’ll start connecting the dots between what seemed like random events. And when you do, here’s how you can prevent isolated events from repeating.
2. Teach the ‘leave it’ command.
Training your dog to leave any object or food immediately you say so is very valuable in curbing PICA. When you’re on a walk and your pet rushes to devour something you don’t approve of, you simply say ‘leave it’ and they’ll abandon the mission.
3. Identify their cues.
Learn the body language cues your dog displays when it has found a scent that interests it.
Most dogs will pick up the pace and tug the leash in the direction of the scent that’s hitting their nose. The closer they are to the source of the smell, the more you’ll see them sniffing the ground around the area.
When you see your dog display these body language a couple of times and end up with something in its mouth, memorize the pattern and call your dog away before it can chow whatever it was.
4. Be their eye in the sky.
Many people simply react to their pet’s actions whenever they’re out on walks. However, if you’re aware of the things in the surrounding you’re definitely going to spot a forbidden meal before your dog has the chance to gobble it.
Dogs love to explore their environment. And the world outside offers many different smells, sights, tastes, and sounds begging to be experienced. All of these contribute to your dog’s socialization so don’t deprive them of this.
What you want to do is perform a quick scan of the environment. If you spot anything that looks tempting, maintain a tighter grip on the lead and guide your dog away before that enticing smell gets too strong for their willpower.
5. Use treats to make them Focus on You.
This is another key step that will help stop your dog’s impulse to eat random junk it finds outside.
When you’re on a walk and your dog knows you have treats for him, then you have an upper hand. It’ll realize that combing the ground for scraps is harder than getting the tasty treats you have to offer.
This training technique is easy to practice at home:
- Hold something your pet likes (maybe a toy) in one hand.
- Put a treat in the other hand and hide the behind you, but make sure the dog doesn’t perceive it).
- Allow the dog to play or chew the toy you have in your hand, but don’t give it to him.
- Bring the treat close to his face so he can pick up the scent.
- When his focus shifts from the toy to your hand, give the command you want him to learn then release the treat.
Consistent practice will teach your dog to leave an object of interest when he hears your command.
Distraction is another way you can get your dog to leave random junk on walks. This is why it’s important to carry treats so you can get the dog’s attention immediately you ask.
6. Fill ‘em up before walking.
Your dog will have little interest in scavenging if it is heading out on a full stomach. However, it’s very important to wait 30-45 minutes after a meal before heading out.
Vigorous exercise some minutes before or after meals can cause bloating, twisted stomach, gastric, or gut torsion in your dog. So, if your dog eats twice a day, you can walk it 45 minutes after breakfast or dinner.
Frequently make use of interactive toys when giving your dog its meals and treats. Interactive toys, such as the KONG and Twist ‘n Treat Dog Toys, makes your dog work for its food both physically and mentally.
7. Make walks interesting.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” has never been truer.
A big part of a dog’s scavenging habit is often the result of boredom or lack of mental exercise.
Dogs are intelligent creatures that enjoy completing tasks.
A dog that’s playing fetch with his owner or leaning to jump, is less inclined to scavenge or chew rocks. So learn new ways to engage and keep your dog amused on walks. This will reduce the number of problematic behaviors you have to deal with and also help build a stronger bond with your dog.
8. Introduce controlled scavenging.
Scavenging is a normal dog behavior, however, some dogs are more likely to do so than others.
You have to provide a clean and healthy outlet to this instinct to scavenge. Hide treats in locations where your dog can sniff them out. This is very rewarding for a dog since the exercise allows them to express their instinctive nature, and it’s rewarding.
9. Have patience.
Training takes time!
Teaching your dog to immediately abandon an object he thinks is interesting or delicious takes time. You need to be patient when you introduce the concept because trust me, it’s natural for a dog to go after what he wants.
It’s unnatural for a dog to move away from an object of interest towards you when you command him to. You have to teach him that abandoning his current quest will get him something of equivalent value or better. And this concept takes time and stages to learn.
10. Muzzles – a last-ditch effort.
Most owners are hesitant to use a muzzle on their dogs. This is due to the association of muzzles with aggressive dogs or animal cruelty.
I know it’s easy to say “don’t worry what people think of you”. However, your dog’s safety is more important than what people think.
A muzzle is very effective at stopping pica. It makes your dog unable to scoop up some random junk on the road. But, it allows the dog to pant and drink water like it normally would, which is important, especially while exercising.
If scavenging is causing lots of frustration and embarrassment, consider getting a muzzle. The Gentle Muzzle Guard prevents your dog from foraging on walks. An accessory like this one buys you enough time to train your dog at home and gauge its progress on walks.
Strapping your dog immediately can make them develop a negative association with the muzzle. Be sure to introduce the muzzle slowly while using treats to build a positive association.
Your dog will slip up.
If your dog is making progress, you can’t relax. And, if your dog is not making any progress, you can’t give up – at least not too soon.
Depending on how much progress you’ve made or not, your dog will slip up a couple of times and grab something you don’t approve of. It’s okay.
Make a hook with your index finger and remove the junk from its mouth. Reward the dog with some treat or a quick round of play afterward. This will make it less disappointed it couldn’t get enough of the ‘treasure’ and might bite you the next time you try.
Many dogs simply outgrow the habit while some seem to get only worse and frustrating. If your dog falls in the latter, then…
You’re not alone, lots of dog owners really struggle with this behavioral problem. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help if you can’t handle it on your own or nothing seems to work.
This is about your dog’s safety!
If you feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to seek advice for a qualified pet behaviorist. They will support and encourage you if you’re already making progress. Or offer an alternative way to approach the problem if nothing seems to be making a difference.
Scavenging can be a tough issue to resolve on your own and the process is quite frustrating for most owners. Especially when you take one look at the thing your dog finds so desirable and feel nothing but disgust.
However, this post provides a structured approach to solving or minimizing the behavior. I can’t say how much work is ahead of you but it is a lot.
The first step begins with logging your dog’s activities. If your efforts fail to make any impact, the logbook can help a behaviorist to solve the problem quickly.