Your well behaved dog doesn't jump up, bark or overwhelm house guests. They're perfect, well, except for treating walks like a free-for-all at Fresh Choice buffet. Yes, even the most mannerly mutt can learn that keeping an eye out and being quick while on walks can score them a tasty nibble. The bad news is that while some treasured finds like a dropped crackers may be harmless, others can be quite dangerous or at least cause discomfort and mess. Think chicken bones that fell out of a trash bin, dead wild animals or their scat which may contain worms or disease, chewing gum with xylitol in it (toxic to dogs) or even worse, one of the tainted, poison meatballs left in San Francisco neighborhoods not too long ago. So how you stop your canine from dining on walks? Here are a few ideas.
- Pay attention to your surroundings on walks. Survey the ground, notice if your dog is moving to sniff a certain area, if you notice something suspect on the ground walk well around it or give your dog an obedience command well before reaching the item.
- Keep your dog on leash. Management can be the simplest solution to preventing your dog from scrounging. If they are within 4-6 feet of you at all times, you can watch for potential dangers and use the leash to keep them away from enticing but off-limit items. Since most people cannot see what is 10-15 feet away from the, flexi-type leashes do not count as good management tools.
- Teach your dog the "Leave it" command. This means don't touch the item your are clearly interested in, even if the human giving the command isn't right next to you.
- If your dog is off leash and seems to be sniffing or nibbling on something, have them recall or "come" so they leave the object. Don't forget to reward a good recall.
- Always play by the rules of never letting your eat found food on the ground, asking them to leave items they found and recalling them away from potentially edible items. If you consistently prevent them from "stealing" items they find and reward them for avoiding and ignoring these items, chances are good they will begin to follow these rules by themselves.
- If your dog is in training to reform their street-food snatching ways, use a tool to prevent them from eating items they find. There are a number of "head halter" type of leads such as the Premier or Halti. These tools allow your dog to breath, drink and take treats from you normally but if they pull or dash towards an offending object, pressure is applied to the top of their nose so they are less freely able to grab items to swallow whole. They will still be able to ingest items if the leash is loose so careful observation is still needed however it is a good tool to use while you're working on training a "leave it" command.
- Same is true for dogs who hike off-leash and just cannot help themselves when they come across rotten something or other. In that application, you may want to try the Outfox Field Guard. Actually meant to prevent foxtails from getting into noses, eyes, mouths and ears this mesh head mask will also prevent them from gobbling down items they wish you wouldn't. If you'd like to learn more about this item, read the7 article written about it in this column.
No one method will work for all dogs but careful supervision and practicing basic obedience will go a long way. Just remember that each time your dog finds a "treat" on the ground, they probably find that rewarding for scrounging and are likely to do that behavior more. On the other hand, if they are given obedience commands to ignore items and pay attention to you, which they are frequently rewarded for with treats, praise, petting and games, they are much more likely to do those things instead. Don't give up hope, with a little bit of work your almost perfect dog can dramatically improve their tendency to gobble on the run.