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You know the scenario: your puppy is walking confidently next to you, head held high. You're so proud of how far they have come in their training in just a few short weeks. Your head is held high, too. After all, you have the perfect pooch.
Of course, that's when the lead goes taut, jerking you off balance. As you stumble back, you realise your perfect puppy has found some piece of unidentifiable food on the ground (at least you hope that's food!) that they’re trying to lick up as fast as they can.
You wonder why they have to try and eat everything, but not before they’ve wolfed down a few bites of the sludgy mess.
So how can you prevent your dog from eating (usually gross) stuff off the ground on your walks? Read on for some ideas.
Why Does My Dog Try to Eat Everything?
Journey Dog Training owner Kayla Fratt says it's natural for dogs to want to taste or eat whatever they find — no matter how gross it might be. Dogs munch on poo and soggy rubbish because it's in their DNA.
"Your puppy is acting on their most basic impulses to explore the world with their mouth, then eat everything they find," she writes on her blog. "This isn't uncommon."
Fratt also notes that many puppies simply grow out of the stage where they want to try everything. But because eating weird things can be dangerous to your dog, causing an upset stomach or even requiring a trip to the veterinarian (and don't even mention that breath!), it's worth the effort to train your dog to steer away from things that shouldn't be in their mouth.
Teaching Your Pup to Focus on You
The first important step toward helping your pup stop eating everything in sight is to get them to master the command to "drop it" or "leave it." Sandy Otto, the owner of Puppy Preschool dog training, advises clients to practice this skill every day with a new puppy.
This training technique is easy to practice at home:
- Hold an object (like a toy) in one hand.
- Hold a treat behind your back with the other hand (you want to make sure the dog doesn't smell it).
- Let the dog chew on the toy you're holding, but don't release it.
- Put the treat up to their nose, so they can smell it.
- When they let go of their toy to get to the treat, give your command of choice and then give them the treat.
Practising this consistently will teach your dog to let go of an object when you give your command.
Another way to help your puppy "drop it" is to distract them. Carrying treats on walks is important so that you can get your dog to pay attention to you immediately when you ask.
Dogged Decision Making
Just like young children, dogs can also practice impulse control. Fratt gives several ideas for "games" that actually teach a dog to "consult" with you before following their nose to that curious smell on the ground. She calls one game "It's Your Choice."
This game teaches your dog to pause and look to you for guidance when they want something. It can teach them to make good decisions when they’re being tempted:
- Put treats in your hand and hold your hand in a fist.
- Let your dog sniff, nibble or paw at your hand.
- Don't open your fist until your dog sits back to wait.
- Close your hand when they dive toward the treats. When they sit back again and waits a second or two, place one treat on the ground for them to gobble up.
- Gradually increase the time between opening your hand and delivering the treat to build their impulse control.
“While these methods can help reduce your dog's penchant to pick things up on walks, don't be surprised if these tips don't work all the time,” Fratt says. “Be patient, and don't be afraid to pause a difficult training session and try again tomorrow.”
If you believe your dog's eating habits might be due to more than just curiosity, you should consult your vet. While unusual, your dog's tendency to eat everything in sight might come from a disorder called pica, which Wag! explains causes dogs to compulsively eat non-food items. A vet can help you determine if your dog suffers from pica. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also recommends keeping an eye out for other reasons that a puppy might chew on strange items, such as teething or stress.
By patiently working with your dog, playing teaching games and keeping your puppy focused on you (instead of on that fast food wrapper), you can help teach them that "going on a walk" doesn't mean "the buffet is open for business."
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.