If your puppy is trying to eat everything he sees on walks, or your dog is scavenging on walks, it’s more than annoying. It’s downright dangerous. Dogs can ingest something toxic or swallow things that could cause an intestinal blockage in the blink of an eye. Constantly nagging your dog or yanking on him and pulling him away will not stop him from eating dumb stuff. Yelling at him often results in him swallowing his prize as quickly as possible.
The best way to stop your dog from eating everything he sees is to teach him the “leave it” cue. This will take some time and patience, but it’s totally worth it. While you’re training, however, your best bet for a dog who insists on constantly eating on walks is a muzzle, so we’re going to discuss that first.
Using a Muzzle
A muzzle is the safest option for dogs who eat everything in sight; it’s the most reliable way to keep your dog or puppy safe. It is extremely important, however, that it is the right type of muzzle.
The only muzzles that are safe to use while out on walks are basket muzzles. Basket muzzles are loose-fitting with large openings allowing for panting, drinking, accepting treats, and the safe expulsion of vomit should that occur. See “Dog Muzzles: When to Use Them and How,” for information on muzzle fitting and introducing and accustoming your dog to wearing one.
Teach Your Dog to “Leave It”
With your dog protected by a muzzle on walks in the interim, start your “leave it” training sessions in the house. There are too many distractions outside of the home. Your dog or puppy needs to be able to focus while learning a new behavior and cue.
Start simply by having a yummy treat in the palm of your left hand. When your dog tries to take it, don’t say anything. Simply close your palm so he can’t get it. Once he stops nudging, pawing, licking, or anything else to get at the treat, quietly open your palm. If he comes back at it, close your palm. Keep doing this until your dog doesn’t go after the treat when your palm is closed. Mark this with the click of a clicker or a verbal marker, such as the word “Yes!” and feed him a treat from your right hand. Repeat this until you’re sure he understands that the way to get a treat is to refrain from trying to take it from you!
Next, put the treat on the floor. If the dog goes for it, quickly cover it with your foot. Repeat the same process you did for the palm treat until you’re sure your dog understands it.
Add the Words “Leave It”
Next, you will say, “Leave it!” and drop the treat on the floor. It’s important at this stage to do everything you can to make sure the dog doesn’t accidentally get to the treat. If he tries, be ready to stomp on it. Once he “leaves it” (backs away and/or looks at you), mark and reward him with something else from your pocket or treat pouch. Make this reward something else yummier and juicier than what he agreed to “leave.” Repeat this process until you’re sure your dog is rock-solid with this new behavior on cue. (For a more detailed protocol, see “How to Teach a Dog to ‘Leave It’ and ‘Drop It.’”)
Walking Without Eating Stuff
Now you can graduate to trying it out on your walks. Bring some treats you’ve used both for him to “leave” and for his rewards. Practice outside the same as you did in the house to cement his understanding.
Finally, go ahead and try it out on real-life encountered items, like that discarded sandwich remnant or rotting pigeon carcass. Be sure to congratulate him heartily if he is successful with “leaving” these high-value items! Have a big party and give him a jackpot of yummy special treats for being such a good, smart dog!