Having a dog that digs in the trash isn’t just an inconvenience — it’s also a danger to them. Trash cans may contain all sorts of items that are toxic and even fatal to dogs, from insecticides to sugar-free foods. If your dog is a committed dumpster diver, here are seven strategies that can help them break the habit:
Keep your dog fed.
While most dogs dig in the trash out of boredom or anxiety, in some cases, they may be foraging for food because they are hungry. Make sure that you are feeding your dog enough nutritious food on a regular schedule so that they stay feeling full throughout the day. If you’re not sure how much you should be feeding them, your vet will be able to help you calculate how much food you should be feeding them. If you tend to feed your dog a lot of high-calorie treats that are quick to eat, it might be useful to scale back on those in exchange for more food, which offers a higher volume for lower calories. Giving your dog longer-lasting dog treats with a bigger payoff, such as bully sticks, is also a good strategy to make the most of their treats.
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Secure the trash can.
The most effective way to keep your dog from getting into the trash can is to prevent them from getting to the trash in the first place. This means getting a trash can with a lid that is short enough to go into a cabinet and potentially putting a child lock on the cabinet as well (if your dog is smart enough to open closed cabinets on their own). If your dog has been getting into your outdoor trash cans, secure the lids with a bungee cord or another device that will keep the trash can closed even if your dog manages to knock it over.
Use baby gates to fence it off.
This is an effective strategy if your dog is also wreaking havoc on other areas of the kitchen. For instance, snatching food off the countertops is a common activity. Using baby gates to fence off “prohibited” areas (especially when you are out of the house) will teach your dog that the entire room is off limits to them and further discourage them from getting in the trash. Once they fully grasp this, you might even be able to remove the gates if they will stay out of the room on their own. If you have a fenced yard, keeping your dog and the trash cans on opposite sides of the fence will provide another barrier to them getting into the trash.
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Be strategic with scolding.
Coming home to find trash strewn all over your kitchen is a very frustrating experience, and it’s natural to want to scold your dog when this happens. However, your dog won’t understand that they are being reprimanded for something that they did several hours ago. They will think that they are being scolded for whatever they are doing in the moment, even if that’s peacefully lying on the ground. The only effective way to discipline your dog for getting into the trash is if you catch them red-handed in the middle of the act. Otherwise, you’re better off cleaning up their mess and then directing your energy towards the other more effective strategies on this list.
Keep your dog entertained.
Most dogs dig in the trash because they’re bored, and this is true of many other undesirable behaviors as well. Thus, keeping your dog exercised and entertained is of paramount importance if you want to stop your dog from digging in the trash. This means exercising your dog multiple times a day to burn off their energy and mentally stimulating them with fun activities so they don’t have time to be bored. If your dog tends to dig in the trash while you’re away, tire them out with a walk first — then, distract them with a puzzle toy or some antlers for dogs will help keep them occupied while you’re away.
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Be careful with deterrent devices.
While researching how to keep your dog from digging in the trash, you’ll almost certainly come across advice that encourages you to keep your dog away through the use of deterrents such as setting up zap mats, throwing pennies, setting up a soda can trap, and engaging in other unpleasant behavior. Unfortunately, these deterrents could cause your dog to make the wrong associations and decide that you are the scary thing, not the trash can, which is obviously not an outcome that you want. It’s better to pursue other strategies on this list than to risk frightening your dog for life.
Train your dog to stay away.
If you want to go the extra mile, consider incorporating the trash can into your training routine. Set up the trash can on the floor and observe your dog closely. As soon as they make a move for the trash can, tell them the “no” or “off’ command (or whatever word you have taught them). When they back off, reward them with a long-lasting dog treat and/or lavish praise. Practice this consistently every time you see your dog go for your trash can and, eventually, you will teach them that not digging in the trash equals a reward. Obviously, this is only possible if your dog digs in the trash while you’re around, but it’s still a great strategy to have in your toolkit.
Have you managed to break your dog of their trash can habits? Do you have a dog that you are currently trying to keep out of your trash can? Let us know in the comments below!