My little scavenger
May 24, 2014 6:38 AM   Subscribe

My sweet pup learned to scavenge to survive as a stray in a rural area with her mom. Now she's up to her ears in kibble and tasty treats, but the allure of dead animals, chicken bones, live bees, and bird poop beats everything out...not to mention the nectar that is dirty pond water! I'm doing the obvious, but have any of you successfully untrained fervent, compulsive scavenging behavior? Tips to share?

This is Junebug. She behaves extremely well except in this one area, where becomes a terror. With her little corgi legs, she's at an optimal height to snatch up garbage quickly. The book suggested by our soon-to-be-trainer suggested a head harness, which we're working her up to now.

Things that are not yet successful:
1. Extreme vigilance - she's eating less trash and drinking less stagnant water than before, but she's quick, even in "heel" mode.
2. "Leave it" - she'll drop a stick or a shoe happily, but so far "leave it" just means she tries to gulp down the item in question quickly. I need advanced level leave-it strategies.
3. Diverting with a smelly, yummy treat - nothing is as tasty a leftover bone from a buffalo wing or a goose turd, apparently.

We are starting obedience training next week, which I'm hoping will help, but in the meantime I would appreciate any advice--she's already had two emergency vet visits this month from eating something she wasn't supposed to.
posted by gone2croatan to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What a cutie!

Are you letting her off leash outside in areas , where she might have access to those things? I'm afraid my suggestion is "don't," which falls into your extreme vigilance category. If she's on leash you pretty much control what she can have.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:15 AM on May 24, 2014

Also, I think obedience class will help.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:16 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Obedience training will help to some extent but you're just going to have to learn to be vigilant.

Some dogs are gonna scavenge; I had a corgi who was well fed and trained really well but her nickname was "PigDog" because of the way she lunged towards poop and chicken bones. Like, as though she was starving to death.
posted by kinetic at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2014

Do you scoop things out of her mouth when she picks them up?

I'm fosting baby chihuahua puppies with now, and they're just too tiny and dumb to know what is and isn't food yet; everytime I hear licking/mouth noises I wedge a thumb in their jaw to get it open (I'm having a surprising amount of difficulty finding a website that describes how to do this, but maybe you've put a bit in a horse's mouth before - same concept - this guide to pilling a dog may also be useful) and sweep their mouth with a finger looking for foreign objects, all the time while telling them "No!"

Then I remove the tiny shard of plastic or pine needle or other tiny thing that I have no idea why they wanted to eat it and give them another "No!" for good measure.

I'm not a dog trainer or anything, I am just another person who is trying to teach my dogs that THAT IS NOT FOOD, YOU DUMMY.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:46 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Obedience training will absolutely help. My pup loves feathers, and with time and reinforcement in class (and my voice dropped an octave), LEAVE IT has really worked.

What a cutie!
posted by mochapickle at 8:03 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your pup is adorable! Hmm, why don't you teach her to wear a basket-style muzzle, and then use it for training and while out and about on walks/romps? She can't grab and eat the source (except for tiny items, but they are still hard to pick up through the basket...) giving you a chance to intervene. It is spacious enough for your dog to pant, drink water, and eat treats. The muzzle enables you to train her "Leave It" and "Drop It" skills (and accompanying skills) without your being stressed that she will eat something dangerous.

Muzzles get a bad rap - but when used positively, basket muzzles are great training tools for many situations, including giving owners a large enough window of time to successfully train their dogs to ignore "bad things" rather than eating them. A great article is on Karen Pryor's Clicker Training site, and Chiraq Patel has a good video on training a dog to wear a muzzle.

In addition, you know that she will still occasionally succeed at scavenging food; it's been dogs' jobs for thousands of years. Given that, you could help make sure she has a strong foundation for being able to digest a lot of different foods. We pretty much follow Patricia McConnell's routine for feeding our dogs a variety of healthy foods. We eased them into it, and now they can eat something different every day and do not have any digestive upset at all.
posted by apennington at 9:42 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Junebug is adorable!

Keep working on 1 and 2 is all I can offer. When I first got Doctor, he would hoover anything and everything on the sidewalk. I've had to pull band-aids out of his mouth, and veer him away from used condoms.

After several years (!) he's gotten a bit better. A "Leave it!" or "Don't eat anything!" combined with a quick tug on his leash will usually do the trick. If you've got a scavenger, vigilance is key.

Good luck!
posted by trip and a half at 9:43 AM on May 24, 2014

On failure to preview: I tried a muzzle on Doc, but it made him so miserable that it made me so miserable that I had to give up on it. Maybe that makes me a terrible dog guardian, but I just couldn't do it. Might be different with you and Junebug, though, so it could be worth a try?
posted by trip and a half at 9:54 AM on May 24, 2014

It's not necessarily the early life experiences making her scavenge, it's the disgusting nature of these wonderful beasts. My dog has led a charmed life from birth. Seriously, people tell me they want to be reincarnated as my dog. And yet he eats horrible things if I don't watch him - poop, dead animals, bugs, rocks, dirt, paper, snails, plants, wood, and completely unidentifiable detritus.

So two things:

1) watch her like a hawk
2) teach her a sound of disapproval that you make to get her to stop what she's doing when her brain says "yes! Eat that!". Early on you can associate the sound with something she doesn't like such as a squirt bottle or a can of pennies. Later just the "ah ah!" sound or whatever you make will suffice.

Beautiful dog!
posted by cecic at 10:25 AM on May 24, 2014

I think that once you establish more formal training with the trainer, this will get better. When I took my little terrier rescue to training, *everything* got better, even stuff I wasn't specifically training him on.

That said, I did also have a Corgi, and she was a master at sneakily snatching up food on the street. We'd be going for half a block before I'd realize there was a chicken wing in her mouth. So not to say that it's not fixable, but it might be part of her (adorable) genetics. If it's really causing physical issues right now you may have to go with a muzzle on walks.
posted by radioamy at 1:12 PM on May 24, 2014

This is pretty much just life with a Labrador.

Both our labs have been highly obedience trained with swags of ribbons and awards. But if there is some food, or cat poo, or water, within a 100 metre radius when they're off lead, they'll be in it in a heartbeat. And if it's something fun or tasty, calling them back is not only useless, it generally weakens their recall.

For us, the solution has been not to let them off lead in places where temptations dwell — it generally doesn't take too long to work out where those places are.

Yes, our puppy would love to be off lead more. But we know he wouldn't love to have his gut punctured by a bit of chicken bone someone tossed on the ground that he couldn't pass by. So we all live with the situation.
posted by damonism at 3:22 AM on May 25, 2014

Junebug says thanks everyone for the compliments, and requests belly-rubs from anyone within a 50-mile radius of Atlanta.

It seems like we're on the right track--we just need to keep at it. I'm glad to know there's not some magical technique that DUH EVERYONE KNOWS that would magically keep me from having to pull nasty crud out of her mouth in the meantime. Thanks so much for the help. Now, to feed this little lizard-pig some breakfast...
posted by gone2croatan at 3:31 AM on May 25, 2014

If it's any help in imagining a chicken-bone-free future, my inveterate scavenger has become really good about "Leave it!" through 1.) constant positive reinforcement (treats) for anything dropped, and 2.) a mouth-sweep every damn time she doesn't drop it. She still lunges for anything edible on the ground but we've reached a point where she will drop—albeit still resentfully—high-value items like chicken bones and such, for intermittent rewards, and I haven't had to pull anything out of her mouth in forever. (She's two, we got her at ten months, this took the better part of a year.)

BUT: part of getting to this was finding treats she really, really liked. We bounced around a little and finally settled on some that she is nuts for (Wellness Wellbites, for what it's worth), and the training only really started working when we got the really good ones. I thought she liked the ones we were using but I found out that there's a difference between treats she will gladly eat and genuinely high-value treats.

Good luck! It's part that she's still a puppy, part time and patience. I'm sure you'll get there, too.

p.s. cute dog!
posted by felix grundy at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2014

(Our trainer used to carry around a baggie of shredded turkey from the deli. She explained it's everybody's favorite. Might be worth trying for extra-special training.)
posted by mochapickle at 8:33 PM on May 25, 2014

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