5 ways to stop your dog from eating garbage on walks

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5 ways to stop your dog from eating garbage on walks
You should ideally plan your walk to avoid areas with lots of trash.Peter Cade/Getty Images
  • You can keep your dog out of trash by teaching your pup the "leave it" command.
  • Planning your dog's walks to avoid trash will also cut down on the risk of eating garbage.
  • You can also "claim the trash" by standing in front of it and teaching your dog that it is "yours."

Every dog owner has been through it - you're out walking your dog, when suddenly he grabs a piece of garbage and starts eating it. Eating garbage isn't just gross - it can also cause serious problems if your dog gets into something toxic.

Planning walks ahead and teaching your dog certain commands can help stop your dog from eating garbage. Here are several methods you can use to teach your dog to leave garbage alone.

1. Teach your dog to "leave it"

The "leave it" command is a useful tool on walks because it signals to dogs to stop what they're doing when they move toward a piece of garbage.

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The best way to teach your dog "leave it" is to start training in your home, where the dog will have fewer distractions, says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DACVB, president of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies.

How to teach your dog to "leave it"

  1. Put your dog on a leash as if you were going for a walk.
  2. Put something in front of your dog that he may want, like food, a treat, or a toy.
  3. As your dog moves forward, say "leave it," then keep the leash tight so he can't reach the item.
  4. Praise your dog enthusiastically and give him a reward treat.
  5. Use a second command like "OK" or "take it", and allow him to move toward the item and get it.
  6. "Repeat multiple times in short sessions until he doesn't strive to get the item," Dodman says.

When you're teaching "leave it," you have to use very high-value treats, like small pieces of meat, to reward your dog for following the command, says Melissa Bain, DVM, a professor of clinical animal behavior at UC Davis.

This way, your dog learns that following the "leave it" command is more rewarding than eating the garbage.

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2. Plan your walk to avoid trash

You may find that some public areas like parks or bus stops have more garbage on the ground to tempt your dog.

If your dog has mastered the "leave it" command, it can be helpful to take walks in these areas as practice. However, if you're looking for a smooth walk or if your dog isn't well trained yet, you should avoid high trash areas for the safety of the dog.

Important: Avoid retractable or overly long leashes. Strong, short leashes allow you to walk your dog close to your side and restrain them if they are going after trash.

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3. Claim the trash

Your dog may be more likely to leave garbage alone if you signal to him that the trash belongs to you. This method is similar to the "leave it" command, but you also use body language to signal your dominance. To do this, you can "claim the garbage" following these steps:

How to claim the trash:

  1. When your dog moves toward a piece of garbage, hold him still on the leash so he can't reach it.
  2. Step forward to put your body in between your dog and the garbage.
  3. Push your dog firmly away from the garbage, using a command like "leave it" or "away."
  4. Reward your dog with a high-value treat.

This method can also work for dogs that get into household garbage cans, but you will need to watch and catch your dog in the act of lunging for trash for the trick to work best.

4. Focus your dog's attention on you, not the garbage

Keeping your dog's attention on you during walks can help stop behaviors like garbage eating or barking at other dogs. This is because your dog will learn that paying attention to you is more rewarding than any outside distractions.

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To teach this, you can start by waiting for your dog to look at you during walks. "Whenever your dog offers you attention without being asked, even if it's just a quick glance your way, make a big deal about it and reward," says Cathy Madson, MA, CPDT-KA, a certified professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant.

"You'll find that the more you reward your dog for paying attention to you, the more they start to offer this behavior," Madson says.

This training can come in handy when you see a piece of garbage ahead while on a walk with your dog. As you pass the garbage, keep your dog's eyes on you so he doesn't get tempted to eat it. You can do this by calling the dog's name or holding up a treat in front of your face.

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"Training should start in low challenge situations, in the house and yard, before even expecting a dog to focus on you when there are more and more exciting things around," Bain says.

5. Muzzle your dog

For dogs that have a hard time resisting garbage, it may be necessary to use a muzzle while on walks.

Important: The only kind of muzzle that you should use for this purpose is a basket muzzle. Basket muzzles do not force your dog's mouth shut, so your dog can still pant to cool itself down.

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Muzzle training dogs is a great option if they have a history of eating things so quickly you don't even have a chance to ask them to leave it alone, Madson says.

"This way you can prevent them from ingesting dangerous or toxic items while you work up to a solid 'leave it' cue," says Madson.

However, it's important to let your dog get used to the muzzle gradually by putting it on for short periods and then giving high-value rewards.

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"An owner must condition the dog to accept wearing it, and not just put it on them and expect them to enjoy wearing one," Bain says.

Signs to look out for if your dog has eaten garbage

If your dog eats a piece of garbage before you can stop him, keep an eye out for certain symptoms that may mean your dog is seriously ill.

Dodman advises that symptoms that don't clear up quickly can be a cause for concern, including:

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  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Heaving or retching
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Lethargy
  • Staggering
  • Constipation

"Any time you think your dog might have eaten something toxic, it's important to contact your veterinarian. It's always better to be safe than sorry, and your veterinarian can give you specific things to watch for," Madson says.

Insider's takeaway

It can be a challenge to keep your dog away from garbage while out on walks, but using methods like the "leave it" command or planning your walks to avoid trash can help make the process easier. If you're struggling to change your dog's behavior, it may be best to use a basket muzzle to keep your dog safe and seek out a qualified trainer to help practice these methods.

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