How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Off the Ground

How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Off the Ground
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-3 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

How much trouble can your dog get himself into?

Quite a lot, as it happens. When your hungry hound chows down on garbage in the park, then 'garbage gut' is often the unpleasant consequence. And that's the good scenario! All sorts of dangers await the unwary, from rat poison to cocoa mulch, from daffodil bulbs to stones, a pet parent must protect their dog from himself.

The answer to this problem is training, but you need to be realistic about how long this takes. If your dog is a danger to himself while he's learning, then consider using a muzzle while out on walks so that he's physically unable to eat things he shouldn't. Then once your commands are rock solid, ditch the muzzle.

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Defining Tasks

Training the dog to not eat off the ground involves a command that immediately focuses his attention away from the object. This could be 'Leave it', where he physically leaves the object, 'Drop it', which goes a step further and has the dog drop something out of his mouth, or a strong recall which has him move away from the danger.

Success depends on regular training so that the dog doesn't hesitate to obey, even when faced with the tastiest of finds on the ground. Dogs that aren't food-obsessed tend to learn this lesson more quickly than those with a bottomless pit for a stomach...but stick with it, you will get there in the end and it could save your dog's life.

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Getting Started

Whichever method you decide to teach (Why not learn all three?) you'll need:

  • Ultra-tasty, high-value treats
  • Less tasty, low-value treats
  • Two identical toys or balls  
  • A long line or leash
  • Start your training in a quiet room without distractions. Aim for two or three, five to ten-minute session each day. As the dog gets the hang of things, vary the location and then ultimately go outdoors.

As with so many commands, the dog learns fastest when he is a puppy. However, dogs of all ages will and do learn, so it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

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The "Leave It" Method

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"Leave It" method for How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Off the Ground
1

Introduce a treat

Hold a low value treat in a loosely clenched fist. Offer the fist for the dog to sniff.

2

Observe and reward

Watch him closely. He will nose at your fingers to try and get at the treat. Eventually, he will glance away to see if it fell on the floor. The instant he looks away from your fist, say "Leave It", and immediately reward him with the ultra-tasty treat you have concealed behind your back.

3

Repeat

Repeat, until he learns to look away when you say "Leave it"

4

Open your hand

Now make things more difficult. Have the low value treat on your open palm. If the dog snatches at it, close your hand into a fist and say "No".

5

Reward for leaving it

If the dog merely looks at it, or sniffs then looks at the floor, say "Leave It", give him a huge fuss and a tasty treat. Repeat.

6

Move to the floor

Ultimately, place the low value treat on the floor. If necessary anchor it with a strategically placed fingertip. Use your "Leave it" command and reward his cleverness.

7

Practice

If the dog snatches the treat, go back to the step he can successfully complete and work more on this

The "Drop It" Method

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"Drop It" method for How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Off the Ground
1

Prepare toys

Have two identical toys or balls that the dog loves to play with.

2

Gain interest

Play with the toy so the dog grabs hold of it.

3

Switch toys

Start playing with the second toy as if it's the most interesting thing you've ever seen

4

Introduce command

The dog will soon shift his attention from the toy in his mouth to the one in your hand, and drop the former. As soon as his jaws slacken, say "Drop It", and make the second toy more interesting.

5

Reward!

As he drops the first toy, praise him, and reward him with the second. This toy exchange teaches him that releasing an object results in even more fun.

6

Try treats

Alternatively, exchange the toy for a tasty treat, using "Drop It" as he releases the toy to eat the treat.

The Strong Recall Method

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Strong Recall method for How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Off the Ground
1

Teach "come"

With the dog on a leash, let him sniff and wander. When he turns towards you, slap your thigh to get his attention. If he steps toward you say "Come" in an excited voice to encourage him closer.

2

Encourage

As he steps towards you, try taking a step or two away from him, which should encourage him to close the distance. Repeat "Come" and make excited noises.

3

Reward!

When he's within touching distance, offer an ultra-tasty treat

4

Repeat

The dog starts to anticipate that "Come" means a reward and will approach more readily.

5

Dial back the treats

Once he is reliably coming for the high value treat, switch to a lesser treat

6

Go off-leash

When he is doing this reliably, try him off leash - if necessary, reverting to the high value treat to emphasize he's making a good decision to return to your side.

7

Practice

Now repeat in a variety of settings so that he instantly obeys no matter where you are.

Written by Amy Caldwell

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 09/21/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Koda

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Poodle mix

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Eight Months

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Question

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I started training my dog to be a service dog he did great but one problem is he won't stop barking at cars people walking past. How do I fix this ?

Dec. 12, 2023

Koda's Owner

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Tay

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Pit bull

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22 Months

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Question

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My dog is like a vacuum on walks. Lately, he's eaten something off the ground on almost every walk we've been on -- even when I just step outside quickly to let him go potty. He is the master of the leave it and "look at me" commands, and I do "look at me" throughout almost every walk to try to keep his attention off of the ground. He also has a solid understanding of drop it, but usually refuses to drop whatever he picks up off the ground. What I see as the biggest problem is his speed. He's so quick that I don't have time to give any commands before he's already chewing on *something*, and he snatches stuff up so fast that I have no idea whether that *something* he's chewing on is trash, food, or just a leaf. What can I do?? I already had to take him to urgent care after he tried to swallow a corn cob whole. I'm so worried about what this habit might do to him. Thank you for your help!

Dec. 15, 2021

Tay's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Haley, At this point, due to the danger of this behavior and pup understanding the commands but doing it anyway, I would hire a professional trainer with experience teaching an avoidance with low level remote collar training. I would then set up an intentional trail of safe items, commanding leave it as you approach each item you have set up. When pup obeys, reward with a treat. When pup starts to fixate on the item about to grab it, you would correct with the remote training collar. The collar needs to be used very consistently though whenever pup is outside for a while, so that every time pup goes to pick something up you haven't thrown for pup, pup is corrected, making the game of grabbing things no longer fun for pup, while also rewarding attention on you instead so pup has a good alternative behavior they can do to earn rewards on walks. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 15, 2021


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