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You buy him expensive and tasty dog food to keep him content. Yet, when you return home and enter the kitchen you often find the remains of your trash can littered around the floor and your dog with a guilty look on his face. It’s the same when you take him for walks. Let him off the leash and you’ll sometimes find him 10 minutes later with his face in someone’s bin. Not only is it incredibly unhygienic and you’re worried he may catch an illness, but it also makes him smell somewhat unpleasant.
You need to find a way to train him to not eat trash before you’re landed with a hefty vet bill and before he’s left in considerable pain and discomfort. Not to mention it will be nice to not have to clean the floors of your own trash.
The good news is, training him not to eat trash is relatively straightforward. The biggest hurdle will be deterring him in the first place. This can be done by taking a number of measures to keep him away. On the flip side, you’ll also need to find a way to incentivize him to keep clear. You’ll need to use tasty food, toys and obedience commands to keep him distracted.
If he’s a puppy this should be a relatively new habit that you could break in just a couple of weeks. If he’s older with a lifetime of trash diving under his collar then you need up to six weeks to fully kick the habit. Training him not to eat trash is essential. One day he’ll binge on an old meat carcass that could not only give him serious food poisoning, but the bones could splinter and cause real internal injury.
Before training can begin you’ll need to gather several items. You’ll need to get a new, secure trash can. You’ll also require a deterrence collar for one of the methods and a water spray bottle.
You’ll need some mouth-watering treats to steer him away from the trash. Some food puzzles and some new toys will also help to that end. You may need to bring another member of the household on board to keep an eye on him throughout training.
Once you’re armed with those things you just need to be patient and vigilant, then you can set to work!
The Deterrence Method
Over the next few weeks, you need to constantly keep an eye out. That means, if possible, he isn’t left for long periods of time on his own where he has access to trash. That could mean enlisting the help of a neighbor or family member. You need to be able to react every time he heads for the trash.
As soon as you see him show any interest in the trash, say ‘NO’ loudly and clearly. You don’t want to terrify him, but make sure he gets the point. Give the command in a stern tone and he’ll soon associate heading for the trash with disapproval from his owner.
A new and secure bin
Try changing how and where the trash is stored. You can get pet secure trash cans from a range of online stores. These straightforward contraptions will make it impossible for him to get in. Alternatively, move the trash to a location he can’t access.
Another option is to employ the use of a deterrence collar. These are remote controlled and available from numerous online and local stores. As soon as he approaches the trash, you hit the button and an unpleasant spray of citronella will make him think twice.
Water spray bottle
Walk around the house armed with a water bottle in your pocket. Whenever you see him show any interest in the trash, go over and give him a spray of water near his face. You can give the ‘NO’ command at the same time. He will soon associate the trash with all these negative consequences, and he’ll eventually lose interest.
The Distraction Method
It may sound crazy, but lots of dogs behave inappropriately because they’re full of energy and need a way to release. If you can give him an extra walk each day or a longer one, you may find he spends his time at home napping rather than causing trouble. If you can’t walk him any more, throw a ball for him as you walk, the short sprinting will quickly tire him out.
Whenever you see him head for the trash, call him over and have him perform a trick. You can have him ‘sit’, lay ‘down’, ‘roll over’, and anything else you can think of. If you can distract him from the trash each time he’ll soon lose interest.
It’s important you give him a tasty treat after he’s completed the trick. Eventually, he’ll start naturally moving away from the trash can. Make sure you also give him a reward every time he moves away of his own accord. This will further reinforce that moving away from the trash is the right behavior.
If he heads for the trash at certain points in the day, you need to make an effort to keep him distracted to break the habit. You can play tug of war for a few minutes or head into the yard to play fetch.
If he heads for the trash around meal times he may simply be starving. Check you’re not underfeeding him. If you’re not, consider giving him a food puzzle when he usually starts to act up. This will give him the food he wants but in a safe and productive way.
The Time Out Method
Whenever you see him sniff around the trash or you catch him in it, take him by the collar and secure him in a room. Don’t say anything during this, you need to remain calm and calculated. You’re going to use the time out method to break his unsavory habit.
Leave him in the room, without you or any toys for 30 seconds. The idea is that this cool off period will be boring and he’ll want to avoid going in there. He’ll eventually realize that every time he goes for trash he ends up in the time out zone.
Lengthen the sentence
If he goes back to the trash after you let him back out, take him back to the zone again by the collar. However, this time leave him there for an additional 30 seconds. If he misbehaves straightaway again, take him back again and add on another 30 seconds. He will eventually realise the crime is no longer worth the time.
Don’t shout at him
It’s important when you use this method you don’t shout at him. You never want to scare him. You simply want to show him in a calm and controlled manner that there are negative consequences associated with the trash.
After a week or two he’ll start to catch on that the trash is no longer worth it. At this point, you can start giving him the odd treat and praise when you see him move away from the trash. This combination of positive and negative reinforcement will hammer home the final stages of training.
By James Barra
Published: 12/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021