Owning a dog is a wonderfully rewarding experience, but that goes hand in hand with training them to understand right from wrong. One of the earliest lessons they need to learn is what they can and cannot eat, especially when it comes to things they find on the ground.
If you don’t correct this behavior, it could result in the loss of a cherished or valuable personal object, physical damage to your furry best friend or both!
Does your dog manage to scout out and eat any type of food they find on the ground when out on your walks?
Why are they doing this and what can you do to break this habit?
First, it’s important to understand that this is perfectly normal behavior; dogs are naturally curious and sniffing out new smells and tastes is basically canine sight-seeing! Also, most dogs love their food, so it’s one of the toughest things to prevent them from eating their finds, whether that be food scraps or horse poo!
There are many basic training methods that can help to stop this. Positive reinforcement training is usually more successful than a reprimand, but you may have to include negative reinforcement to.
I’m not going to lie, trying to train your dog out of this habit takes time and effort. It can be harder still if you’re trying to retrain an older dog, as such training can be confusing because they’re suddenly being scolded for doing something that has been accepted as OK for possibly years!
#1. Positive Reinforcement
Positive Option A
First step is to find and stock up on the treats your dog goes crazy for!
When it’s time for their walk, start by showing your pooch you have a bag of their favorite treats, give them a sample when you put them on the leash and ensure they see where you have put them, so they know they are coming on the walk with you. Also carry a treat in your hand (they know it’s there!). As you give them one, replace it with another, so you are able to reward correct behavior immediately and your dog understands what they are being rewarded for.
When you’re on your walk, you’re going to have to encourage them vocally with a cheerful and upbeat “Hey, Barney look at this!” type voice calls, whenever they go to sniff and show them their favorite treat in your hand. When they come to you, immediately reward them with their favorite treat, PLUS lots of verbal praise in a happy and excited voice, so they associate the treat with verbal praise. Repeat.
Don’t use any negative commands, such as “Leave it” for this training option – keep it totally positive! This option has several benefits; it can become a game, so you and your furry friend can have more fun on your walks, it serves to distract them from unwanted behavior, plus they receive lots of praise from you which they simply love and thrive on.
When you start, it will take a lot of time and treats, but once they have grasped the idea, it’s not necessary to reward them with a treat every time,BUT it is VITAL you keep up the verbal praise and replace the treat with a quick belly rub or ear tickle.Be sure not to stop treats altogether, as they may simply revert to the unwanted behavior and maintaining this command can prove useful in many other situations, when you want your dog to come to you.
Positive Option B
Another approach starts by teaching your dog a “touch command”, so that they touch your hand with their nose.
Once they have mastered this command, you can use this training when they see something on the ground. Eventually, when they see something on the ground, it becomes the cue for them to come to you and touch your hand and you reward them with their favorite treat. They will learn that this behavior is much more rewarding than eating something on the ground and probably much tastier!
#2. Negative Reinforcement
This technique includes negative reinforcement BUT only in so far as your verbal command is in a sterner/stricter voice – you should NEVER resort to physical reprimands – this is your best faithful friend we’re talking about here! Punishing your pooch might suppress the symptoms but only through fear and that’s no way to build a solid, fun and trusting relationship between you and your canine companion.
Keep your pooch on the leash while you place a tempting item a short distance away from them – something they like to eat but NOT their favorite treat. They will initially strain and pull to get to the item, but keep repeating the “leave” command, while you wait for them to calm down and stop attempting to get at the item, and then reward them with their favorite treat, you will teach them that they will be rewarded for obeying that order. Like most training, it can take a while for it to click with your furry friend – it’s just a case of lots of repetition and lots of rewards!
#3. If All Else Fails
These training exercises take time and practice. If you have a serious problem with your pooch or you haven’t got either the confidence or the time, seek the help of a qualified positive trainer or behavior consultant. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Pet Professional Guild both have searchable directories to find someone qualified to help your dog in your area.
What about non-nutritional objects?
Does your pooch eat things such as stones,pieces of metal, pencils or hairbrushes?
This type of abnormal eating behavior makes no sense at all, because the things they eat are not remotely like food.
Very young puppies are naturally curious and they can often start chewing things to ease teething pains, but it’s not natural for them to swallow such items and could be very dangerous, if this behavior is not managed correctly.
I know it’s easier said than done but try and make sure the dog’s area at home is cleared of anything small enough to consume, or keep them in a clear confined (but still comfortable!) space when they are left alone.
However, it might not simply be a case of a mischievous mutt!
The bottom line is that this problem can happen for a variety of reasons, so the first vital step is to find out what the real underlying reason is.
Eating objects which are not food is sometimes due to a condition called Pica, which can be caused through anxiety or can even be signs of a mental disorder. In some cases, it can even be due to a nutritional or mineral deficiency, due to a digestive system issue, so it is worth checking out with your veterinarian first.
If these reasons are ruled out then it could literally just be down to boredom or loneliness, so make sure that your dog is socializing enough and getting plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
Don’t get complacent!
With the best will in the world, even when you have an amazing well-trained dog, things might still get into their mouths by accident. Cover all bases and make sure your furry best friend’s immune and digestive systems are in tip-top condition, with a daily dose of Probiotics with Probiotic, to help them fight off any tummy bugs or allergies and make your dog more resilient to viruses and infections.
FidoActive’s all-natural Advanced Probiotics for Dogs fits the brief perfectly and theunique formula even includes 74 minerals and a natural de-wormer. With no odor or flavor, you can add it to their wet or dry food without resistance or gagging, so ideal for any dogs with IBS and even the pickiest pooches get the goodness they need!
Without a doubt, breaking bad habits take patience and perseverance – doesn’t sound that different to us humans! BUT please stick with it, as this could stop them from eating a cherished personal item of yours or something poisonous or dangerous, so you could quite literally save your furry best friend’s life!
Wishing you and your canine companions the best of health – always!
Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team
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