How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Garbage

Medium
4-10 Days
Behavior

Introduction

You come home from a hard day at work, let your pup out of her crate, and run into the other room for a moment before starting dinner. What could go wrong? By the time you get back to the kitchen, the garbage is strewn from one end of the house to the other--you name it, coffee grounds, last night's chicken bones, tin cans, and goodness only knows what else. Your young dog is sitting happily in the middle of it all with a half-eaten drumstick, which fortunately you are able to wrestle out of her mouth before she has a chance to swallow, but who knows what else she has ingested!  

Not only do you now have an awful unsanitary mess to clean up, you have to worry about what your dog might have eaten that could harm her before you discovered her.  Many garbage items like cooked poultry or fish bones can choke a dog, or scratch the lining of their esophagus or digestive system and cause serious, even fatal damage. Tin cans and other sharp objects can cut your dog’s mouth, toxic items in the garbage can be ingested and make your dog sick or even cause death. Keeping your dog out of the garbage is critical, not only for your sanity, but for your dog’s health.

Defining Tasks

Some steps to avoid having your dog raid the garbage are common sense. For example, make sure your dog is not hungry, make sure she is not bored, and does not have access to the garbage when you are not present, or perhaps even when you are. Keeping household garbage in a closed cupboard, or in a room that your dog does not have access to, which can be accomplished with child gates or closed doors, may be advisable. However, you cannot control your dog's environment all the time, nor their access to household or other garbage. Therefore, training your dog not to get into and eat garbage is important to keep her safe, and your house clean. Also, training your dog not to eat garbage transfers to other situations where you can direct your dog to leave items you do not want her chewing on, such as when you come across unknown food sources on walks, other dogs' toys or bones, or poop. Teaching your dog to leave garbage alone can take several days of vigilance and supervision but is well worth it.

Getting Started

You will need to ensure that your dog only has access to garbage when supervised so you can prevent her from getting into the garbage and being rewarded for that behavior. Put the garbage out of reach of your dog during the training period. You may want to purchase a commercial deterrent device such as a noise maker. You will need treats to use as rewards while teaching your dog to avoid the garbage on command, and plain treats to use as bait if you are teaching a generalized 'leave it' command. Consistency and patience are important to achieve success and there will be a significant time investment on your part.

The Claim the Garbage Method

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Step
1
Supervise
Ensure that your dog only has access to the garbage when you are present to supervise and “catch her in the act”. You may need to use barriers or close the garbage away when you are not present.
Step
2
Block
When your dog approaches the garbage, insert your body between the garbage and your dog.
Step
3
Push away
Push your dog away with your body, firmly.
Step
4
Use verbal command
Loudly say “leave it” or “off".
Step
5
Reward 'away' behavior
When your dog backs off, you can reward him with attention. Avoid punishing a dog that has already got into the garbage, as she will not associate it with the “dumpster diving” and punishment will only confuse her.
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The Negative Association Method

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Step
1
Set a trap
Purchase a commercial deterrent that makes a loud noise when touched, or create a homemade “booby trap”. For example, rig a line attached to a stack of tin cans that, when interfered with, will trip, spilling cans and creating a large crash that will startle your dog. Alternatively, supervise your dog surreptitiously, and have a loud noise maker you can deploy if your dog investigates the garbage.
Step
2
Allow trap to spring
When your dog interferes with the garbage she triggers the trap, or causes you to activate the noise maker.
Step
3
Create a negative association
The loud noise frightens your dog and causes her to jump away. It also notifies you, if you are in another part of the house, that your dog has approached the garbage.
Step
4
Repeat
Over a period of several days and repeated incidents, your dog should come to associate approaching the garbage with unpleasant consequences.
Step
5
Establish
Eventually, your dog will avoid the area the garbage is in altogether in order not to trigger the trap. Be sure to reward your dog for ignoring the garbage receptacle. This may not be a good method if your dog is extremely anxious or nervous, as being frightened may exacerbate anxious behaviors.
Recommend training method?

The Leave It Method

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Step
1
Present hand with treat
Hold a treat in your closed hand and hold your hand out. When your dog sniffs, licks, paws at, or approaches your hand say “leave it” firmly and calmly.
Step
2
Reward 'leave it'
Wait until the dog stops investigating and attempting to reach the treat in your hand. Say “Yes” and open your hand to offer the treat. On some occasions, hold the treat out in a closed fist, and let her investigate, and give her the treat without saying “leave it”, to establish it is only when you give the command that she needs to leave it.
Step
3
Put treat on floor
Start putting the treat on the floor, and giving the 'leave it' command. Use a plain piece of kibble or a biscuit. When your dog obeys the 'leave it' command, reward her with a much better treat, like a piece of hot dog or chicken.
Step
4
Add difficulty
Move the game around the house or outside and leave treats in planned places. When your dog discovers them, give her the 'leave it' command. Reward with a treat when she obeys, then move to just offering praise and attention.
Step
5
Apply to garbage
Use the 'leave it' command when your dog approaches the household garbage, or any garbage you come across on your walks. Firmly establishing the 'leave it' command should result in your dog avoiding the garbage. Be sure to praise her as a reward for leaving the garbage alone.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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