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Behaviour Articles
By Donna Brander, Animal Behaviourist

<Back to behaviour articles

This information is to be used as guidelines only. Decisions made about the future of any pet should be based on a professional assessment and a course of treatment that is personalised for the pet's individual situation.

Dogs who pick up rubbish and other nastiness when on a walk

Foraging or scavenging for food is a natural behaviour for dogs but some dogs seem to be obsessed with picking up every piece of rubbish they can find. These substances are usually repulsive to their owners; for example, worms, dead birds, the contents of dustbins or compost heaps. What upsets people most is coprophagia: eating faeces, either their own, that of another dog, or that of another species (e.g. rabbits). Since scavenging and foraging are a natural part of a dog’s behaviour, one of the best ways to treat it is to divert the behaviour into a more socially acceptable context. Use your imagination when you feed your dog. No more free food in a bowl! Split his food into many small portions which are then placed in small plastic bowls with lids. These can be placed in various places around the kitchen or, in the garden, on a nice day. Instead of eating his daily meal from a bowl, he must now scavenge for his food and work the lid off of the plastic bowl in order to access dinner. Praise your dog as he works his way through dinner. Use a little conditioning to teach what he is not allowed to do on walks. This can be done by consistently rewarding compliance to the command of “Leave it” by having a special toy or titbit ready when he breaks off the unwanted behaviour. The idea behind this behaviour therapy is that scavenging is a natural behaviour and requires a socially acceptable outlet. Your dog is also to be rewarded for breaking off the unwanted behaviour in unacceptable situations. This same behaviour therapy can be used for various types of unwanted scavenging.

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