How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Everything?
We often hear about the importance of getting out and walking our dogs. But what do you do if your dog is determined to eat everything in sight every time you are out and about? Not only is this behavior frustrating, but it can also be very dangerous. There is the risk that your dog will eat a toxic substance or swallow something that causes a life-threatening gastrointestinal blockage.
If this concerns you, you’re not alone! It’s a struggle faced by many dog parents. In this article, I will share 8 solutions to stop your dog from eating everything. Proper management is the key to keeping your pup safe.
Why Does My Dog Eat Literally Everything?
For most dogs, the desire to scavenge and eat everything they can find is nothing more than an instinct. In the wild, your dog’s ancestors had to find enough food daily to meet their nutritional needs. This often meant eating things that may have been less than desirable to get through from one solid meal to the next.
While your pup has the guarantee of a full food dish waiting for them, they may still pick up anything they believe is edible without giving it a second thought.
There is a chance that your dog is trying to tell you that there is something bigger going on. A dog that is missing something in their diet may eat items they find to meet this need. This could also indicate that they are still hungry for medical reasons. If they are suffering from a condition preventing them from feeling satisfied or absorbing the nutrients they need, this could lead to scavenging for food.
Finally, there is a small chance that your dog is suffering from a condition known as Pica. This disorder is when a dog compulsively eats or chews on non-food items. This may present as an obsession with eating rocks, dirt, plastic, cloth, or cardboard. This behavior must be addressed for your dog’s health and safety.
These unusual eating habits could also result from boredom, anxiety, or a need for mental enrichment.
Do Dogs Grow Out of Eating Everything?
Whether your dog will grow out of the habit of eating everything and anything will depend mainly on the reason for this behavior. Behavioral issues like Pica aren’t going to go away on their own. Like physical health concerns, mental health or behavioral problems require professional help. This could mean working with your veterinarian, a dog behaviorist, or a trainer with related experience.
However, if your dog’s desire to eat is fueled by puppy curiosity or an attempt to soothe the pain from teething, you’re in luck. There is a chance that your puppy’s behavior may turn into a habit. But in most cases, these are behaviors that they will grow out of.
8 Ways to Stop Your Dog from Eating Everything
While I would love to tell you that there is a simple solution that will work in every situation, the truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. Instead, here is a list of possible resolutions:
Feed a Healthy, Balanced Diet
The first thing to consider is what you are feeding your dog and whether their diet meets their nutritional needs. If you’re unsure whether your dog is eating a balanced diet, you may wish to consult with a veterinary nutritionist. They will be able to assess the quality of their current food and make recommendations to make improvements.
Rule Out Medical Reasons
As I previously mentioned, your dog’s bad habits could result from a medical condition. The only way to know if your dog is experiencing a health-related problem is to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. They can run the tests necessary to rule out any diseases or ailments that could trigger an increased appetite.
If there is a medical reason, you must treat the underlying causes before you can resolve the behavior. After the necessary medical treatment or management has been implemented, your dog may stop trying to eat everything on their own. In some situations, you may need to consider training or counterconditioning to break habits they have formed during this time.
Address Potential Causes of Anxiety
When we discuss anxiety and high stress in dogs, we usually pair these challenges with a loss of appetite. However, in some cases, your dog’s mental health may lead to increased hunger or a tendency to eat things they shouldn’t. One explanation may be that they find eating or chewing the item of choice calming or soothing. In these situations, you will need to address the cause of anxiety to stop the behavior.
Begin by trying to identify the trigger or cause of these feelings. Do you notice that your dog only responds in this way when you are walking through high-traffic areas? Is your dog’s anxiety heightened by storms or loud noises? Does your dog tend to eat things more often when you first take them out after a day at home alone? All these situations provide insight to help you resolve or manage their anxiety.
Generalized anxiety, like a dog that lives in a heightened state most days, will need a different form of treatment than a dog that is reactive to the presence of people or other dogs on a busy street.
If you can avoid your dog’s triggers, try doing so to see if the behavior stops. This may require choosing a different route or walking your dog during a quiet time of day (like early morning or late evening). If the reason for your dog’s anxiety is loud noises like thunder or fireworks, keep them home safely during high-risk times.
Focus on Obedience
Even the most responsible and proactive dog parent may find themselves in a situation where their dog has picked up something off the ground. At this point, basic obedience commands like “Drop It” and “Leave It” can make all the difference.
To teach “Drop It,” focus on teaching your dog that they can trade the item you want to remove for something more desirable. This begins by training your dog to trade a low-value toy for something more exciting at home. Give your dog the toy, allow them to play for a few moments, then offer a high-value treat in exchange. When your dog drops the toy to take the treat, mark and reward this decision. Eventually, you can add the verbal command. Increase difficulty by starting with a higher-value item.
While “Drop It” teaches your dog to give up something they have already picked up, “Leave It” focuses on stopping them before they take the item of concern. This is especially important if your dog comes across litter on your walk that could be toxic or dangerous.
To begin, place a treat on the floor and place your hand on it. Allow your dog to sniff your hand and try to get at the treat. Each time they turn away or stop trying, mark and reward. This teaches your dog that ignoring the item of interest will result in something better. Introduce the “Leave It” command when you can see that your dog is starting to understand what is expected of them in these moments. To increase the difficulty, try removing your hand or walking your dog past a treat on the ground before giving the command.
One of the most effective approaches to unwanted behaviors is to use a process known as counterconditioning. This refers to teaching your dog a different response to a specific stimulus. For example, if your dog responds to seeing litter on the ground by picking it up every time, you can condition them instead to ignore the trash and walk right past it.
This can be a long process and requires consistent effort on your part. To do this, make sure to bring high-value treats on your walks. If you notice litter on the ground, walk past with your dog taking notice of when they see the litter. When they notice the debris on the ground, offer the treats as you walk past, leaving it on the ground. In time, this will create a positive association with ignoring garbage, decreasing your dog’s desire to eat it.
The explanation above is a very simplified overview of the counterconditioning process. If you are interested in this approach, I recommend speaking with a trainer with experience in counterconditioning. They will be able to walk you through the process in detail, demonstrating how you should respond in various situations.
Learn to Recognize Signs of Hunger
Some dogs struggle to resist the temptation if their stomachs are empty. Our boy Indiana is incredibly food driven, and he’s much more likely to eat random items he discovers if he is hungry. Learn your dog’s communication style and body language. More specifically, learn to tell when they are looking for or asking for food. If you address your dog’s hunger by offering a positive choice, like kibble or some healthy vegetables, you can reduce the risk that they will try to satiate their hunger by eating something randomly off the ground.
Provide Additional Mental Enrichment
If your dog is picking up or eating litter out of boredom, the best solution is to offer a positive outlet for your dog’s energy. You can introduce mental enrichment into your dog’s daily routine in many ways. The first, and arguably easiest, is to include an extra 15 or 20 minutes of training. Take this opportunity to work on your dog’s obedience (like teaching “Drop It” and “Leave It”) or introduce a fun trick. Training requires them to use their brains, figure out what you are asking of them, and determine how to respond to earn the reward.
Another great option that we use in our house with three high-energy dogs is to turn our mealtimes into enrichment opportunities. None of our dogs are fed in basic dog dishes any longer.
Here are a few other ways to feed your dog while incorporating mental enrichment:
- Feed their meal on a snuffle mat
- Use a food puzzle like the Outward Hound/Nina Ottosson Dog Twister
- Fill a KONG or interactive dog toy with your dog’s kibble and freeze it
- Place loose kibble in a treat toy like the Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Lil’ Snoop
- Serve your dog’s meal in a slow-feeder dish
- Try hand feeding and asking for basic obedience commands in exchange for kibble
Consider Muzzle Training
Have you tried all the options above with no luck? Sometimes habits are so deeply ingrained that breaking them can be incredibly difficult. If you need a “quick fix” solution to prevent a dangerous situation, a muzzle may be the best approach.
Muzzles are often viewed negatively, but they can be a valuable tool when properly fit and introduced to your dog correctly. The conditioning process will take time, effort, and consistency. But doing this creates a positive association with the muzzle, meaning that your dog will wear it happily without being bothered by it. Select a muzzle that will allow your dog to pant fully while on your walk but prevents them from being able to pick up random objects off the ground.
Final Thoughts: Addressing Unusual Eating Habits and Behaviors
It can be frustrating or even disgusting to see your dog eating a random item off the sidewalk on your walk, but these unwanted behaviors can have serious side effects. It can even be life-threatening if your dog ingests something toxic or eats a non-edible item that causes a gastrointestinal blockage. While the solutions outlined in this article will all take time and effort, they are essential for your dog’s safety and well-being.
Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.
More by Britt