My dog can't stop eating the trash. Help.
September 26, 2005 2:47 PM   Subscribe

My Old English sheepdog has developed a very bad habit of using his snout to pop open the lid of our trash can in the kitchen - and then helping himself to whatever's inside. I've tried scolding him, as have my sisters and my parents. All he does is give us that same goofy-looking, puzzled expression, and then fifteen minutes later he's at it again. He's very well-fed and has more than his fair share of daily dog treats. Putting the trash inside a cabinet is not an option, and we'd really rather not resort to putting it on top of a clean kitchen counter. Help!

Does anyone know of any "special" trash containers that require more brainwork to open? If not, do you have any suggestions as to how I can get my dog to understand that the trash is NOT food? Thanks to everyone in advance!
posted by invisible ink to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Put a weight on the lid?
posted by Rothko at 2:52 PM on September 26, 2005

We spent good money for a regionally-known dog trainer, whose philosophy was no hitting (good) and making the dog respect you. He was totally worth his salt. The way you do this is set them up to fail. Set it to where the dog will get in the garbage can, observed. The very instant the lid is popping up, you give an extremely loud, booming "NO!!!", enough to scare him. Then you praise him lavishly for stopping. A few sessions of that will probably fix the problem; in just two days we stopped a problematic chihuahua from begging at the table.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:53 PM on September 26, 2005

You could sprinkle some cayenne pepper on the trash. That's what I did to keep my ferrets out of the houseplants. It doesn't cause them serious harm, and eventually you can put just a sprinkle between the bag and the can, and the very trace of the scent will serve as a reminder.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:55 PM on September 26, 2005

Some dogs just won't learn though, no matter how hard you try (and no matter how, um, dogged you are with the training. The food instinct is just too strong - they remain convinced that they may never eat again or something, even with all evidence to the contrary.


Guy with an almost full bleach bottle on the bathroom trashcan and the baby locks on the kitchen trash.
posted by mikel at 3:05 PM on September 26, 2005

Why not hold down the trash lid with a bungee cord?
posted by Radio7 at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2005

Duct tape? Strong magnets between lid and basin? Bungee cord (as suggested)? Hell, even velcro would work. These all seem like Kwik 'n' E-Z fixes; any one of them would install in half a minute and cost about three bucks.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:23 PM on September 26, 2005

I made a trashcan lid out of a piece of plywood large enough to cover the bin and some 2 x 4's screwed to it to make it sort of fit. It's pretty heavy and my food-crazy hound hasn't gotten into it. Bungee is a good idea too.
posted by theora55 at 3:27 PM on September 26, 2005

Cayenne or sour apple spray makes dogs (and all animals, really) stay away.
posted by klangklangston at 3:30 PM on September 26, 2005

Agree with the bungee/plywood/magnets suggestions. You could also consider a baby gate to keep the dog out of the kitchen, or get a taller, flip-lid style of trash can - whatever you do, I would keep the dangerous trash (like cooked chicken bones, chocolate and onions) somewhere else unless you can find a way to reliably keep the dog out of the trash. I disagree strongly with trying to train it out, it's a waste of time and energy and will cause more stress than anything else. Dogs are opportunistic feeders, they are hard-wired to eat if there is food available, their instinct will always win out, especially if you're not there to constantly reinforce the training. No matter how many times you try to tell your dog that garbage isn't food, he knows you're lying to him: his past experiences and his nose tell him differently. Physically keeping the dog away from the garbage is the only solution, and while you're doing that, attempt to replace the unacceptable activity with an acceptable one. You might also try getting a Kong toy, stuffing it with half his daily ration of food and some treats (ideally leftovers or something really appealing), sealing it with peanut butter and freezing it, then giving it to him before you go out (only try freezing it after he's already had an unfrozen one a few times) - the idea is to give him something more appealing than the garbage, and by the time he's worked all the food out of there, he'll have a full tummy and should be tired. But you also have to physically keep him away from the garbage in the meantime (putting it up on the counters temporarily, perhaps?), to help him break the old habit and learn a new one.
posted by biscotti at 3:39 PM on September 26, 2005

cooked chicken bones

Should have been "any cooked bones".
posted by biscotti at 3:39 PM on September 26, 2005

time for a new kitchen trash can! one of the heavy metal ones that you have to step on a pedal to open are best, this one has a lock so even if your dog manages to tip it over they still won't be able to root through your garbage.
posted by lia at 4:08 PM on September 26, 2005

I've always found that "magic surprises" work best -- basically something awful (from the dog's perspective) that happens without apparent human intervention. Booby traps, in other words. Dropping an empty bleach bottle (done from hiding) next to our dog is enough, yours might need something louder, more impressive. It's really the best/only way I've found, and providing the fright is real it works as a long-term deterrent.

It took a few days for our dog to really get the message: empty plastic bottles, water jets, stuffed animals, etc., but nothing physically damaging of course. Our trash has been safe now for a year with only an occasional sniff in the direction of the bucket (which gets a magic surprise once in a while, as reminder.)
posted by anadem at 4:24 PM on September 26, 2005

Agree that behavior modification is the best route, but I would also suggest Velcro tape. We use it to keep raccoons out of our outside can - it's the only thing that works.
posted by SashaPT at 5:32 PM on September 26, 2005

I recently bought a couple of pedal step-cans at WalMart where the lids are smooth, so there's nothing for a big snout to catch on to open it. So far, that seems to be keeping the puppy and the bathroom trash separate.

My old dog is a trash-picker, though. I've blocked off the entrance to the kitchen with a rolling microwave cart for years - and I gained a couple of shelves and a cutting surface in the bargain, so it's not a bad deal. It's much easier to hinder the progress of a big dog than a small one, so it won't take much to keep an OES out of the kitchen, assuming it's not totally open plan.

If you need something more drastic, a mousetrap under a towel on top of the trash can, or inside it, will probably modify his behavior pretty quickly. Or, if you have a sense of humor and your dog is fairly easily startled, there's a number of cheap motion-activated screaming/shouting/singing Halloween decorations out right now. Walgreens has a big fat rubber rat that complains about how full it is at a volume loud enough to startle me two rows over.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:31 PM on September 26, 2005

anadem has the right idea, booby traps are the solution (aren't they always? :).

The problem with using a technique like this, a form of punishment, is that punisment isn't effective unless its an immediate consequence of the behavior. Unless you can watch your pet all the time, you won't be around to catch them (and even then, they would learn that you were part of the surrounding stimuli that lead to punishment).

What I used very successfuly with my dog was a mouse trap, but not to snap the dog. When you arm it, put it on the lid upside down. That way, with any disturbance, the trap goes off with a loud *SNAP* and the mousetrap goes flying up in the air, but doesn't actually catch anything.

With a dog, its very unlikely that they would actually get caught by the trap, but is scares the hell out of them and they learn that the garbage is a scary thing that makes all kinds of bad snapping noises.

Oh, if you do have small kids, this is not a good idea as their fingers can get caught (though still unlikely if the traps are upside down).

My large dog learned in about a week of mouse trap training that the garbage was off limits.

It's also worth rewarding good behavior during this period as well. If you come home, or leave the area around the garbage for a period of time and the trap hasn't been set off, give the dog a small treat and praise them.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 8:37 PM on September 26, 2005

We use a wooden trash container a lot like this one. Ours cost less though, we bought it at a local craft fair. I'd never go back to another garbage can, truthfully.
posted by GaelFC at 9:22 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: These are all fantastic suggestions. I've been racking my brain, trying to come up with the right solution - something that would allow us humans easy access to throw something away, but would also be too tricky for a Old English sheepdog (not the brightest of dog breeds, I must admit:-) to figure out. If I were more handy with tools, I would try the plywood option or making something like the one GaelFC recommended - but until then, velcro tape sounds perfect. Thanks everyone!
posted by invisible ink at 9:46 PM on September 26, 2005

Why not hold down the trash lid with a bungee cord?

We had a similar problem with a cat. We thought the garbage was safe enough in a lower cupboard, but he figured out how to open the door. We hooked a spring to the door such that if he stuck his paw in, he could get the door open, but it immediately slammed back on his paw (not too hard, honest!) He tried maybe two or three more times and gave up.
posted by Doohickie at 7:05 AM on September 27, 2005

Spray him in the face with water everytime he does it. It'll stop very quickly.
posted by suchatreat at 7:32 AM on September 27, 2005

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