Help training dog to stop eating rodents
September 27, 2019 11:35 AM   Subscribe

My dog really, really likes eating dead rodents and I really, really would like him to stop. How do I train him for something that’s a rare and surprise event?

My dog is a border collie mix that we rescued from an Arkansas shelter when he was two years old. I know only the barest sketches of what his life was like before that. I’ve had him for about a year and a half now. He took to training really well and in normal circumstances he’s plenty obedient. He is excitable, though, and sometimes when he’s overexcited he doesn’t respond to commands. It’s hard to tell if that’s willful or if he’s just so wound up they’re not even registering.

We live in a dense urban area with enough greenery around that there’s the usual cast of critters around too: mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits. Occasionally on our walks we’ll pass a dead one of these critters. It’s hard to say what killed them, but if it matters they usually don’t look like roadkill; as often as not they’re in places where it doesn’t seem possible for them to have been hit by a car.

He is generally mouthy on his walks. He’ll try to eat long grass, acorns, and little fruits that drop off trees around here. And if he can find one, he’s very eager to eat those dead critters. Sometimes his body language gives away that he’s on the scent of dead rodent, and I can stop, assess the situation, and avoid it. But other times it’s more of a surprise, and sometimes the first moment I know what’s up is the moment he’s got it in his mouth.

He generally knows the command “drop it” and usually obeys it when we’re playing with toys, or when he’s got lower-value stuff like the acorns, but apparently dead rodents are too high value to him for him to obey the command when this happens. He has never even acknowledged a “drop it” with a dead animal in his mouth. Early on he used to let me just open his mouth and pull the animal out—gross, but it seemed like the least worst option. But now that has become a game of tug of war in his mind, and he keeps his jaw locked shut, so that’s not an option anymore. These incidents are turning into long standoffs, sometimes in busy areas with onlookers, and I need that to stop.

What training or other changes should I be undertaking to (ideally) avoid or (in the shorter term) deescalate these incidents? I’m open to both high-level ideas (about environments we should be training in, general patterns of what we should be working on, etc.) and lowel-level “do this specific exercise” ideas. Thanks in advance.
posted by brett to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
Is there any treat that is higher value than a dead rodent? If you ALWAYS carry a SUPER HIGH VALUE treat, you might be able to get him to trade the rodent for the treat. This unfortunately probably means real meat (or anyway it would for my dog). But if you do that consistently enough you may be able to teach him that smelling a rodent, showing you, but not putting it in his mouth -> very high value treat, which would (it sounds like) be a win for you.
posted by branca at 11:41 AM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Try dog sushi treats as a drop it swap? They are very, very stinky and high value in our house.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:52 AM on September 27, 2019

My parents (who normally use very gentle forms of training) did poison toads/rattlesnake electric shock aversion training with their puppy in Arizona. A professional showed up with a (I can’t remember, real or model?) poison toad and a rattlesnake, and shocked the dog (in a systematic way, starting with extremely low shock to use the least amount necessary) to create an aversion so she gives those critters a wide berth.

I’m not suggesting you do the shock thing, since this is not a life and death thing, but... maybe you can stockpile some dead rodents, and then train her with your typical positive reinforcement or negative feedback to leave them alone?
posted by cnidaria at 11:55 AM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Is a cage muzzle a possibility? It sounds like constantly monitoring where his mouth is going is a lot of work! Walks would probably be more fun for both of you if the whole issue went away, at least during the training process. You could always transition back to muzzle-free walks after he learns to obey in more controlled situations where you've "planted" dead rodents and/or away from busy areas where you feel pressure to move along quickly.
posted by teremala at 12:05 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

I had this issue but it was with dog poop with our 1-year-old puppy at the time. About as pleasant as dead rodents. (It was a low time in my life having to dig dog poop out of his mouth.) The only way I got him to drop it once he had it in his mouth was by training the verbal command "leave it" extremely aggressively.

I did it with beef ribs. Once you can get a dog to drop a whole beef rib, I think he'll drop essentially anything. This was when I was very into BBQ restaurants so choose whatever meaty thing is easy to have on hand for you.

1. Give him a beef rib with meat on the bone (I got the smoked, BBQ kind and watched him very closely to make sure he wasn't shattering the bone since that can be dangerous).
2. Say your chosen command (e.g., "leave it") while he's nomming on it. Immediately take it away or nudge him away from it. Make sure he has stopped eating it.
3. This is KEY: Give him the tastiest thing in the world to him as a reward (in our case, a big chunk of smoky, fatty BBQ brisket).
4. Give the beef rib back to him.
5. Rinse and repeat. I would often practice 4-5 times on the same rib. He eventually became eager to drop it because he knows he's just getting double the treats.
6. I would also periodically practice with any other treat that I would be giving him since BBQ ribs was a special occasion for both of us. Example: Am I eating string cheese? Split off a big piece of string cheese that he won't swallow immediately. Let him take it and then have him drop it.

At the height of this training, I could even get him to spit out the *brisket meat* that was a reward for dropping the bone. Very effective.
posted by hotchocolate at 12:52 PM on September 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

Agree, "leave it" training with good treats!

Also, commands that help the dog learn to pay attention to you:
- Teach your dog a release command. Use it in combination with other commands (sit, down, stop).
- Teach your dog to heel. Use this command in the likely rodent-harvesting areas. The rest of the time, release from heel.
posted by zennie at 2:24 PM on September 27, 2019

Seconding a muzzle until you can reinforce drop it.
posted by frumiousb at 4:20 PM on September 27, 2019

Question for the muzzle recommenders: I have a 75 pound coonhound who is similarly fond of eating all manner of garbage he finds on the street and good at selectively hearing "drop it" when he has something he really wants. Putting a muzzle on him in my urban neighborhood has always seemed like a non-starter because it signals "this large dog is dangerous" and I don't want that. What do you say or do to reassure your neighbors that your dog isn't wearing a muzzle because he wants to tear them limb from limb?
posted by fancypants at 4:29 PM on September 27, 2019

What do you say or do to reassure your neighbors that your dog isn't wearing a muzzle because he wants to tear them limb from limb?

If you have neighbors you can speak to, the truth! "He's not dangerous, he just eats gross stuff off the ground, we're working on it."

If you can't speak to them, maybe a sign he can wear to that effect?
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 6:38 PM on September 27, 2019

since this is not a life and death thing

Just a note that unmarked dead/dying rodents could be victims of poisoning, in which case it might be a matter of some urgency to keep one's beastie friends from snacking on them :(

Sorry to not have a direct answer but I live in an area periodically overrun with rats (initial animal hoarding situation compounded by abandoned buildings) that are periodically poisoned, a worrisome lose-lose situation for folks with outdoor animals.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 8:58 PM on September 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm nervous around dogs, and less so around muzzled dogs. What are they going to do, nudge me?

So don't worry about what strangers think.
posted by Scram at 9:15 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

So if you live in a dense urban area there's a much higher chance the rodent has died from rat poison. So this is incredibly critical you figure out before it hurts your dog. If the dog does eat something that might have been poisoned you should take them to the vet to have them vomit it up immediately. If there is no vet available, Google how to induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide (less ideal, but better than a dog who does from rat poison).
posted by KMoney at 7:17 AM on September 29, 2019

« Older Recipe to refill alcohol mister?   |   What can I make with this chocolate sludge? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.