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==> "Do you mean stealing food?"

No. Dogs don't steal. But maybe your dog is doing something you don't even notice?

How To Stop Scavenging!

Make sure you memorize what this smart lady says:

In this Periodical:

  • What is Scavenging?
  • Is Scavenging Normal?
  • Historical Background - interesting!
  • Risks of Scavenging
  • How to Stop Scavenging!
  • What to Do When it's Too Late

What is Scavenging?

scavenging dogWith Scavenging we mean "clearing any item found on the ground or above and ingesting it".

Foraying, foraging, looting. Then gobbling it.

Is Scavenging Normal?

Yes, scavenging is normal for dogs. By genetical heritage, dogs are scavenger animals. More so than wolves, from which dogs descend. This actually is THE canine trait that launched its very existence!

So, let's briefly look at the historical background.

Historical Background - interesting!

Although there are controversial opinions (opinions exist for everything...), for scientists it is fact that it was exactly this scavenging behavior that brought us our modern canine friends:

According to fossil founds, some 33,000 years ago a few wolves that weren't as shy of humans as others in their pack narrowed in on human settlements in Siberia in order to ... scavenge some food remains, yes! This was much easier than hunting other animals, and this motive certainly helped to reduce their shyness (called flight distance).

This behavior intensified within these particular family lines of wolves, and soon these wolves stayed with the human settlers all the time.

The human settlers liked the company of the wolves. One reason probably was that, in "exchange" for the scavenged "food" leftovers the wolves protected the people from dangers - because the wolves would hear anything coming close long before the people could hear it. It was a win-win for both parties really.

This moment was the start of our modern domesticated dogs! Soon the people must have ventured into targeted breeding of those wolves which demonstrated specific traits that these people particularly liked.

Since wolves (like dogs) mature early, they created a new offspring every year, so that very quickly the people had bred dogs:

Wolves that were markedly different in their behavior from the initial wild wolves (who would attack people when they see a chance). From breeding generation to breeding generation (ie year to year!) these new dogs became increasingly docile towards people, while remaining hostile towards all other dangers.

So much, that at some point these domesticated dogs were so different to their ancestors that they even protected the people from the wolves! (It is not clear at what time historically this transition took place, but it is said that still today eg the Anatolian Shepherd, English Mastiff, Presa Canario etc can thwart off wolves)

Now dogs had become people's best friend! Nonetheless the scavenging continued to the present day.

Risks of Scavenging

While scavenging always bears risks, the intense inbreeding of our modern dog breeds (particularly of popular breeds like the German Shepherd) has led to gastrointestinal sensitivities (and countless other health issues) that have made scavenging far more risky than it is for wolves. By the way, it is not all that rare that a wolf dies from scavenging, because wolves and dogs alike don't 'analyse' the found 'food' remains before they gulp them down. neutral

Risks of scavenging:

  • Obstruction in mouth or throat
  • Piercing of mouth, throat, or stomach (sharp pieces of litter, splint bones, etc)
  • Poisoning from plants or foreign bodies
  • Bacteria and parasites from decayed waste and carrion
  • Transmitted pathogen diseases, including those in feces (coprophagia!)
  • Allergies
  • Dietary disturbance (already this alone may lead to vomiting or diarrhea)

In addition, there are other issues related to scavenging:

  • If a dog scavenges a lot, say the owner literally throws food remains at the dog, or the dog has ample opportunity to scavenge (say being a butcher's dog or in a bakery), then clearly this can lead to Obesity.
  • Much more of a problem however relates to the behavior of dogs that have the opportunity to scavenge a lot, because the control over food increases the conflict the dog is experiencing in its Pack! See the Prime Secret about Dogs.

It is these behavioral implications of scavenging that lead to a whole array of problems for the dog owner. These problems can comprise excessive barking, jumping up, digging, couch possession and other territorial aggression, food aggression, and aggression against the dog owner.

How to Stop Scavenging!

So there is certainly a very strong argument to prevent our dog from scavenging. But what exactly can we do about it?

Most importantly, as I recommended at the top, did you memorize what this smart lady said?!! And she said a lot more smart things indeed:

Here's a list of measures we can take to prevent scavenging - in the order of usefulness (in my opinion):

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1) Applying our recommended Feeding Routine

Very soon after you subscribed to MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG we sent you the massive Periodical number 9 about Dog Meals, Meal Times, and Feeding Routine. That Periodical was lined up early for good reason: It is paramount in order to build the BEST relationship with our GSD - which is our mission statement here.

The Feeding Routine that we suggested in that Periodical indeed has implications reaching as far as scavenging! Because if we apply this Feeding Routine consistently at each meal time (or most of them), we almost certainly can prevent scavenging from the outset.

In case you forgot about it and didn't apply it, make sure you study the Feeding Routine now again. You will notice that (amongst many other things) it trains your dog to eat only when you give the signal (a verbal or hand cue).

Hence, if applied consistently, it conditions your dog not to scavenge anything - neither items it finds outdoors nor items in your house that you didn't lock away (say the roasted turkey, a cake, cookies, or whatever).

2) Sticking to our recommended Meal Times

In addition, if you stick to our suggested consistent Meal Times (two or three for the adult dog, three or four for the puppy), then it is less likely that your dog grows very hungry at any point in time, and the dog then knows from experience that (s)he will get another meal very soon, and the dog's metabolism has then adapted to the fixed meal times.

Conversely, a dog that is very hungry is very hard to stop from scavenging - even with excellent training! Because, the most fundamental quest of the dog is to secure food! See the Prime Secret about Dogs.

Generally, a dog doesn't really know when it will get the next meal. Although dogs do build an expectation when you feed them regularly, if you diverted from the schedule only once then this will stay in your dog's memory much longer, and - being unsure about the next meal time - (s)he will make use of any chance to secure food.

3) Committing to the right Dog Meals

In addition, if you commit to our suggested Dog Meals, such that you don't feed table scraps - particularly not throwing food on the ground, or feeding your dog from above the table! - then your dog is never being conditioned to search for food outside its food bowl.

Then your dog will not scavenge the ground, and will not leap onto the table or kitchen counter to scavenge from there.

In fact, it has been reported that dogs that have never been 'hand-fed' (think of treats!), do not ever linger around their master drooling for food. - Which, contrary to what dog owners like to hear, is the true reason for a lot of (misinterpreted) canine affection towards their owner... (this we better discuss another time).

4) Keeping tempting items out of reach

Further, obviously it is a smart move to lock away items which you know are tempting for your dog. Put them out of reach. Needless to say, this doesn't work for items your dog might scavenge outdoors.

Note though that some dogs are so crafty that they open cupboard doors with their paw, and even open drawers by mouthing the knob! (One of our dogs did)

This is why (the right!) training has to be at the heart of our strategy to prevent our dog from scavenging. Without such training, there are just too many temptations for a dog to snatch some extra foods.

The most important training is the Feeding Routine mentioned above.

5) Training the LEAVE IT command

The objective to prevent scavenging is a great reason to teach your dog the LEAVE IT command - but note that I put this only at position 5 in this list, because:

Training a dog through our body language (behavior) is always much better than giving commands!

How to train the LEAVE IT command

  • Place an item that is attractive to your dog on the ground, and step away. If your dog approaches the item, firmly say "Leave it" while you step further backwards. Increase the distance that you move away from the item and from your dog (you can even go into another room).
  • Reward your dog each time (s)he leaves the attractive item on the ground - whether or not focusing on you (because you want your dog not to scavenge items even if you are not around!). - Praise as reward is sufficient, no food treat needed. wink

6) Walking on a short lead in tempting areas

In certain places food remains are expected to be on the ground, say at bus stops, railway stations, near supermarkets, etc.

You know that such places are tempting to your dog, so if you feel you need to, put your dog on the short lead in those areas - but always walk with a loose leash.

7) Considering a muzzle

basket muzzle

The muzzle is one of these weird things in life: Give your dog a muzzle, and people will immediately behave with caution towards you and your dog - although there is now hardly a chance at all that your dog might hurt people!

Take the muzzle off, and people (who didn't know the prior situation) will come and want to pat your dog!

Really weird. Anyway, despite all misconceptions, a muzzle can be a wonderful invention (if it's the right one!): It allows (very literally allows) a dog - any dog - to closely socialize with anybody, including small children. And it can prevent scavenging too.

So, for as long as we can't really anticipate how our dog may react in a new situation (maybe because we have a rescue dog, or for other reasons why we don't yet know our dog's full range of behavior), a muzzle is actually a win-win for everyone - including the dog itself, yes!

But of course only:

  • If we use the right muzzle (right size, shape, and material) - a basket-style muzzle is best
  • And if we train the dog the right way to use the muzzle - see the video below: great video, except for the fact that this dog owner seems to know only food rewards, which obviously is bad!

What about the common options?

Using a water pistol or plant water sprayer, or Mikki Discs??

The purpose of a water pistol or plant water sprayer here is to spray water into a dog's face (any dog) when the dog is doing something you don't want (like about to ingest an item found, ie to scavenge). If at all, of course this only works at that same moment and in close proximity (and needless to say, it doesn't work for all dogs).

The same is true for John Fisher's Mikki Discs, only the concept is different: The purpose of these is to irritate the dog (any dog) with the sound these discs make when you throw them in the direction of the dog (not at the dog) and they fall on the ground (they are very light, you can't throw them far, they can't hurt, and they are not meant to be thrown at the dog anyway).

Regardless whether you feel items like these would help, I don't feel that any of these items are necessary! But I also want to make clear that I find it wrong to stigmatize things like these: Kids and dogs have loads of FUN using eg a water pistol in PLAY!

The only point to make clear is that the kids may never use any item or any behavior(!) to annoy, scare, spook, or punish a dog. But this is a general rule, and has nothing to do with these items. If the kids don't observe this general rule, they aren't allowed to play with the dog anyway: PLAY is for everyone to have FUN, not to take the piss out of anyone (dogs are always included in this pronoun).

Making the items taste unpleasant

Some dog owners go a step further and change the appearance of the item that may attract their dog (instead of just putting the item away...). Obviously, this can only work for items inside your house if you fear your dog might scavenge them, not for items your dog might find outdoors on a walk.

Typical forms of camouflage here are layering it with some spicy mustard, Tabasco, Bitter Apple Spray or similar.

Personally, I wouldn't go to such length, I'd rather just put the item away, and use the first two for my food. wink

What to Do When it's Too Late

Now, of course it may happen that we can't prevent scavenging anymore, because our dog has the item in question already in its mouth. What then?

Is the item still in the mouth?

At this point we would need another trained(!) command: DROP IT.

Note that any item your dog has in its mouth is very attractive to your dog - as a rule, dogs don't keep something in their mouth that is only mildly attractive.

So, without resorting to some form of force (which we never do, and which in case of a German Shepherd is unlikely to bear success anyway), we need to have something that is more attractive to our dog (more attractive than very attractive).

The only things these can be are the ones as high up as possible in the canine quests hierarchy - see the ineffably important Periodical The Prime Secret about Dogs. The top quest for any dog (unless traumatized) is to secure food. Canines' second quest is to belong to a Pack.

So, in the likely case that we don't have some food treat at hand that is more attractive than the very attractive item our dog has already in its mouth (if it's not a food item, we have a good chance in any case), we need to resort to quest Number 2 to make our dog drop the scavenged item voluntarily:

Demonstrative exclusion from the Pack - like dogs experience during litter socialization as well!

How to train the DROP IT command

  • If you sometimes use food rewards for training anyway, then you can now straight away resort to offering your dog a more than very attractive food treat in exchange for the scavenged item your dog has in its mouth:
    • Stand at least 2 meters away, hold the food treat in your hand, and give your usual signal that invites your dog to eat (like a hand cue downwards, or saying "Enjoy your food", or whatever you chose).
    • If your dog does not drop its scavenged item and come over straight away to pick up your offered food treat, then keep your food treat and walk away (which is measure 2, see below for further procedure).
    • Be aware that any exchange training conditions your dog: Smart dogs may quickly (in this case) scavenge intentionally, because they learned that this will earn them a more than very attractive food treat! This is another reason why I personally prefer measure 2 below.
  • If you don't use food rewards for training, then you must now straight away resort to respond to the canine quest number 2 and withdraw Pack membership feeling:
    • Stand about 2 meters away, ie not directly next to your dog (because this could appear rather threatening than inviting), and now say once "Drop it!"
    • If your dog does not drop its scavenged item straight away, then walk away.
    • Now you do what already every puppy learns during litter socialization: Upon misbehavior (not following your benevolent(!) commands) you demonstratively exclude your dog from its Pack for a while - you ignore your dog, like you learned in our Training Essentials Periodical.
    • So, when your dog (finally) comes to you, ignore your dog. Do not speak to your dog, do not look at your dog, and do not touch your dog. Only later, when your dog does something on its own (is not lingering around you), you can call your dog to you and act as if nothing happened, ie now you can look at, speak to, and pat your dog.

Is the dog choking on the item?

If the item is at the front of the throat and the dog is choking, then there's a good chance that the dog will get out the item by itself.

However, if our dog turns to forceful coughing, pawing at the mouth, and respiratory distress, then most likely the foreign item has reached the larynx, and our dog may not be able to cough out the foreign body without our help.

Larynx

This is an emergency! You will not have time to get to the nearest veterinary clinic! You must help your dog instantly yourself.

With the Ultimate Guide to Dog Health you also got the Ultimate Guide to Dog First Aid as a bonus for free. Proceed as shown in those books.

Finally, note that if our dog's scavenging leads to diarrhea or vomiting for more than 24 hours, we must visit the vet straight away.

 

Checklist * (see note at the bottom)

  • Scavenging is part of canine genetical heritage
  • Risks of scavenging: see list above
  • Behavioral problem of scavenging: It increases the conflict the dog is experiencing in its Pack - because scavenging gives the dog the impression that (s)he can control food!
  • How to Stop Scavenging:
    • Apply our recommended Feeding Routine
    • Stick to our recommended Meal Times
    • Commit to the right Dog Meals (incl. how to serve any food to the dog)
    • Keep tempting items out of reach
    • Train the 'Leave it' command (see above, how)
    • In tempting areas, make use of the short lead
    • Consider the use of a muzzle (incl. how to gently train a dog to almost 'like' the muzzle, see the video above)
    • If you feel you'd rather turn it into some fun distraction, you can try using a plant water sprayer or similar non-painful means
  • Note that most likely you will only need the first four measures above
  • What to Do When it's Too Late:
    • Make use of the (trained!) 'Drop it' command (see above, how)
    • Consider applying the Heimlich Maneuver or other procedures as you see them in the Ultimate Guide to Dog Health (incl. its free bonus, The Ultimate Guide to Dog First Aid)

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