Do you often find your dog has their nose to the ground while you’re out for your daily stroll? Dogs are natural scavengers – it’s in their DNA.
But this behaviour can be a dangerous habit if they eat something toxic or potentially obstructive. Some human foods are harmful to dogs, and random objects could cause internal complications.
Their wolf descendants may have mastered the art of scavenging, but our domesticated fur friends live in a man-made world where forbidden temptations reside around almost every corner.
Your dog doesn’t understand that piece of chocolate can do them harm. So it’s your responsibility as an owner to keep them safe.
My Loki is a typical schnauzer. When we’re out walking she constantly scours the ground for her next meal. And she always seems to find discarded bread no matter where we are. We don’t know how she does it!
However, I use a few techniques to minimise her hunting instincts outside. She’s still young and learning the ropes, but I’m confident we can get this behaviour under control.
So if your dog gobbles down everything in sight, here are a few tops tips to help curb their scavenging urges.
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Use a muzzle
Many owners feel hesitant about using a muzzle due to its association with aggressive dogs. If you’re worried about what other people might think, don’t! Your dog’s safety is far more important than the momentary judgement of others.
Using a muzzle is highly effective for stopping scavenging in its tracks. It prevents your dog being able to scoop up food and rubbish while still being able to pant and drink. And enabling your dog to do both while exercising is crucial.
If you’re eager to find a quick fix for foraging, try a muzzle. This Baskerville Ultra muzzle comes highly recommended.
Be sure to introduce the muzzle slowly and use treats to build a positive association. Strapping them in immediately can make them fearful and adverse to the idea. Carry out a few introductory sessions around the home for a few days before taking them out.
Teach the leave it command
With training, you can teach your dog to leave any food or object the moment you say so. That way when you’re on a walk and they’re scrambling to devour something they shouldn’t, you’ll be able to say ‘leave it’ and they’ll retreat on demand.
This training starts at home in a controlled environment. Go here to teach your dog to leave it.
Walk with eagle eyes
If you’re more aware of what’s around you, you’re more likely to catch your dog before they make a beeline for a forbidden treat. That means keeping those eyes away from your phone!
Sweep your surroundings and keep a tighter grip on the lead while passing tempting items. Reinforce the desired behaviour by using ‘leave it’, and offer a treat if they don’t pull towards the object.
When you see something potentially irresistible, guide your dog away before they’re reeled in by those alluring smells.
Your dog won’t be enticed if they don’t know it’s there.
Learn their cues
Come to understand their behaviour traits when they’ve found a scent they like.
For example, when Loki has latched onto the scent of unwanted food, she picks up the pace and rapidly circles a small area until she’s found her prize. I know she’s about to find something she shouldn’t have, so I call her away before she can gobble it down.
Keep a close eye on your dog’s scavenging behaviour. If you learn your dog’s habits before they act, you’ll be able to stop them before it’s too late.
Practice the perfect recall
If you regularly walk your dog off-lead, scavenging can be more difficult to manage. Without great recall, you have very little control over what your dog does in the big wide world.
So when they’re investigating something they shouldn’t, calling their name should make them stop what they’re doing and come straight back to you. In an ideal world!
I’ll be writing another post in the next couple of weeks to demonstrate how we’ve perfected Loki’s recall. So check back for my top tips then.
Initiate controlled scavenging sessions
Some dogs are more prone to scavenging than others. Many terrier breeds like my schnauzer Loki, were bred as ratters. On farms, their job was to hunt and kill any uninvited guests.
To satisfy this instinct to scavenge, give your dog an outlet in a structured setting. Place treats around your home and tell your dog to ‘find it’. Allowing them to track down scents and gain a treat at the end is very rewarding for your dog.
If you give them a way to channel their innate desires they may be less likely to scavenge on walks.
Use treats to hold their focus
If your dog knows you have tasty treats on a walk, you have a powerful advantage. They’ll realise food comes much easier from you rather than combing the ground for scraps.
Make walks an interactive experience between you and your dog. Take quick breaks in the street and work on your tricks and training. As your dog walks to heel and looks at you, offer praise and treats.
The treats will help them see it’s more rewarding to give you their attention. They’ll soon learn they gain very little from scavenging morsels from the street.
Walk after they’ve eaten
When your dog heads out on a fuller stomach they’ll feel less inclined to forage. But always be sure to wait at least 30 minutes after eating. Dogs that exercise immediately after eating can experience bloating and even a torsion of the stomach.
Commonly known as a twisted stomach, this is more widespread in larger dogs who consume large quantities and quickly perform vigorous exercise. You should have no problems with a light walk 30 minutes after a meal.
If you feed your dog twice a day, schedule walks for after they’ve eaten breakfast and after dinner.
Scavenging can be a frustrating habit for us owners. Especially when the thing they find so desirable can be downright disgusting, like eating poop! This post provides a few preventative, distraction and training techniques to minimise your pup’s scavenging adventures. I hope you find them useful!
How do you deal with your dog’s scavenging on walks? Let me know in the comments below.