Anyone who has a dog and has been anywhere rural probably knows: dogs may roll in, eat (ick!), or bring you lovely presents with varying degrees of filthiness. Those presents may include small animals like mice, rats, or squirrels killed by your proudly providing hunter, or pieces of other animal carcasses found outdoors. Some dogs are more prone to hunting small critters, and other breeds are more prone to retrieving dead things for you. So why do dogs bring you dead animals and what can you do to persuade your dog to stop? Should you be concerned? How do you train a dog not to touch dead critters?
The Root of the Behavior
Domesticated dogs are still a lot like their wild counterparts. Never is this more apparent than when we get the opportunity to see our dogs in the great outdoors. For some, hunting has been a selected trait bred into the species over hundreds of years. Many modern breeds descend from older types of hounds that were bred specifically for their hunting or retrieving skills.
Modern dog breeds are often categorized by the tendencies or skills the breed shares with others that are similar. Herding, hound, sporting, non-sporting, terrier, toy, and working are the categories currently listed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Even within these broad categories, there exists a great deal of variation in size, skill, and drive.
Hounds such as Beagles, Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, and others were bred selectively for their senses of smell, hearing, or sight. These dogs are excellent trackers, bred to trail game, or even chase and kill game. They may be more likely than other breeds to wander away from home in search of an intriguing scent. Usually of smaller stature and with high energy and drive, Terriers were bred originally for hunting and killing vermin. Sporting dogs include Spaniels, Retrievers, Pointers, Setters, and others. These dogs were bred for their ability to locate, flush, and retrieve prey in and out of the water. Dogs in these categories are generally great companions for bird hunting. Retrievers, specifically, tend to be very “soft-mouthed,” meaning they tend not to damage prey they bring back, which is highly valued in bird hunting.
What does all this mean? You may not have trained your dog to hunt or chase, but they may do it regardless. Why? Many breeds were bred to be good at finding, killing, or retrieving prey. It’s in their genes. So whether you want them to or not, your dog might be inclined to chase the occasional squirrel or bird, and may be determined to bring you back a souvenir. Even within mixed breeds, it’s surprising how prevalent their instincts can be.
Encouraging the Behavior
Is it okay for your dog to go after prey or bring you presents? That depends. If you live on a large property in a rural setting or have a ranch or farm, a dog that catches vermin might be a great thing for you. Likewise, if you’re a hunter, having a hunting dog can be a game-changer. But if you live in the city and your Beagle keeps wandering away and going after your neighbor’s pet bunny, it might not be such a good thing.
When your dog brings you dead presents, don’t punish them for it. To you, it might be disgusting, and even potentially harmful if they bring back something wild. But to a dog, all they want is to please you and provide for you. Think of their retrieving dead things like a cat’s hunting; they want to show you what they found you and they want to take care of you. It’s really a rather thoughtful gift even if it is a bit gross.
If your dog brings in a nasty morsel, don’t panic or yell at them. Instead, try to praise them for a job well done. Next, you should either move your dog or remove the dead thing from sight, so they can’t keep picking it up. An outside trash can is a good option. But make sure that the critter is actually dead. Be careful and keep the handling of the carcass to a minimum, as some creatures may carry diseases. If the animal is still alive, decide whether it can be let outside or, if not, contact animal control to handle it.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you want to discourage your dog from
retrieving dead animals, you should work on teaching your dog to “drop”
whatever they’re holding. You don’t want to have to wrestle an animal carcass
from your dog’s clenched jaws. But don’t expect that your dog will never go
after a stray squirrel or sniff out an appetizing bit of roadkill. To a dog,
there’s nothing wrong with a bit of wild meat. Making sure your dog will always
come when called and pay attention to your commands will help reduce the
prevalence of unwanted gifts if you can keep your dog close by.
Be cautious of your dog bringing back wild animals. Avoid touching wild animals like raccoons or opossum as much as possible. Keep your dog’s rabies vaccination up to date at all times. If your dog ingests anything dead, your dog should probably be fine. Dogs are used to gross things. But watch for diarrhea and vomiting, and call a vet if your dog exhibits any symptoms.
Dogs, like cats, may bring you the occasional gift. There’s nothing wrong with your dog trying to please you and provide for you. Just remain calm, try not to let it in your house, and dispose of the carcass as soon as possible. Otherwise, praise your dog for a job well done. It’s not every day you find someone willing to share their food with you.