Behavioral problems

My Dog Keeps Getting in the Trash

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. January 13, 2021
My Dog Keeps Getting in the Trash

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It may provide a laugh on YouTube videos, but when we come home and see our dog has strewn garbage all over the floor, it can be a real pain. Not only do we have to clean up a mess, but it also leaves us with a worrying doubt. Since the garbage contains spoiled food and inedible objects, we should wonder whether our dog has eaten something they shouldn't have.

My dog keeps getting in the trash - if this is your experience, AnimalWised is here to help you understand why they do it and provides tips to stop this habit.

You may also be interested in: My Dog Keeps Scratching at the Door
  1. Why does my dog go in the trash?
  2. Is getting into the trash dangerous for dogs?
  3. How to stop a dog getting into the trash

Why does my dog go in the trash?

A dog getting into the trash is a common canine behavior. It is not necessarily something you need to be worried about. There are several reasons which relate to their natural instincts, but there are some circumstances which may highlight a problem. This is why we look at the most common reasons for dogs getting into the trash:

  • To eat: even if you provide your dog with the correct diet and amount of food they require, it is possible they will still want more. Maybe it's not fair to say dogs are greedy, but they will often have big appetites. They also have a very acute sense of smell, between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than our own. This means they may smell some food in the garbage, even if we don't notice any strong odors.
  • Curiosity: although we most often associate curiosity with cats, dogs will also devote a lot of time investigating their environment. Since they do not have dexterous hands, using their mouth is a way of interacting with their environment and something they often use when going into a trash can. While they may be interested to see if there is food inside, they will also happily rip paper, use garbage as toys or simply make a mess.

  • Anxiety: when a dog is anxious or depressed it can lead to behavioral problems. These problems can manifest themselves in various ways. Some dogs can become aggressive, others develop pica related problems and some become destructive. In the latter category, this destructiveness can include knocking over trash cans. If a dog gets into the trash when we are not around, it is possible they are specifically suffering from separation anxiety.

  • Boredom: similar to anxiety, dogs getting into the trash may be a sign they are bored. Firstly, if the dog doesn't have enough stimuli in their environment to occupy them, they can go into the trash to find something to do or to play with. This is one of the reasons it is very important to provide environmental enrichment. Also, if we do not stimulate the dog ourselves through play and bonding exercises, the dog might keep getting into the trash because they know it will get a reaction out of us. They might be using it as a way to get our attention.

  • Reinforcing bad behavior: many dog guardians find it funny when a dog gets in the trash. This can lead the dog to do it again if they think it is something we like. Even if we don't, we need to ensure they know it is wrong. Don't scold them, but don't reinforce this bad behavior either.

Is getting into the trash dangerous for dogs?

While dogs generally have a stronger stomach than we humans, it is not true they can eat anything. In fact, there are foods which are healthy for us which are toxic to a dog's digestive system. Since the average trash can can contain infinite types of waste, there is a danger to dogs if they are getting in the trash. These dangers include:

  • Toxic substances: although there are foods such as coffee or chocolate which are toxic to dogs, there are also plants and other organic waste which might cause them harm. Also, if we throw away cleaning products or anything which uses harsh chemicals, this can cause serious problems for the dog. What type of toxic substance and the amount the dog ingests will determine how bad is the reaction.

  • Spoiled food: since we are unlikely to throw away good food, food that has gone off is more likely to be in the garbage. Parasites can grow on this food and enter the dog's body, causing serious gastrointestinal problems.

  • Injury: if there are sharp objects in the garbage, our dog can badly hurt themselves if they try to eat from the trash. Broken glass or sharp plastic can mix in with something they want to eat and cause trauma to their mouth or their insides if ingested.

  • Choking: even if the objects are not necessarily sharp, the dog can get something stuck in their throat and choke on it. This can be life threatening if their airways are obstructed.

  • Bloat: gastric torsion is usually caused by an obstruction in the dog's digestive tract. When this occurs, the dog's belly will usually become hard due to the build up of gas. This threatens to rupture the dog's digestive tract and can also be fatal.

If there are any signs the dog has ingested something they shouldn't, we need to look at any symptoms they present. When dogs eat something mildly toxic, they may vomit or have diarrhea. If this persists for more than 12 hours, it may be acute poisoning and they will need to be taken to the veterinarian. Signs of gastric torsion or other choking hazards will require emergency veterinary medical attention.

My Dog Keeps Getting in the Trash - Is getting into the trash dangerous for dogs?

How to stop a dog getting into the trash

The way to stop a dog getting into the trash will depend on the reasons why they are interested in garbage in the first place. However, we should also note this is a fairly natural behavior. We shouldn't scold them or shout at them. Not only is this unhelpful negative reinforcement, but it can confuse the dog if we scold them some time after they have gone into the trash since they might not relate the scolding to the action.

Here are some more positive ways to stop a dog getting into the trash:

Move the trash can

If your dog is getting into the trash while you are away, you might want to simply take the trash outside when you leave the home. If the dog will get into the trash at any time, you can move the can into a secluded space where they won't see it, somewhere they don't have access or even into a cupboard.

Buy a dog proof trash can

If the moving your can every time you move or putting it somewhere inaccessible is too inconvenient, there are other ways to prevent access. You can purchase certain dog proof trash cans which are completely inaccessible to most dogs. However, some large dogs can still knock over these cans. In these cases, we would suggest affixing it to a wall or a special holder.

Use deterrents

Although we might think the smell of our garbage can is deterrent enough, there may be smells inside which a dog enjoys. For this reason, we can put some smells we know dogs hate, such as pepper or citrus, around the edge of the trash can. This might stop the dog from being interested in going inside.

Training and education

While physical prevention can be useful, we should be able to train a dog not to go into the trash. Some dogs are easier to train than others, but they all should learn basic commands. Tell them ‘no’ firmly and emphatically and give them positive reinforcement when they move away from the trash.

Stimulate them mentally and physically

Whether your dog is bored or anxious, giving them more physical and cognitive stimulation. This will mean they will avoid going in the trash because they have better things to do. While we should be taking them out for regular walks anyway, it is possible they will need to have their exercise increased by playing games or performing more training sessions.

Also, a dog's environment is very important to their well-being. Ensure they have enough toys and games provided for them. These can be used when we are not around. Kong toys are particularly good for separatuion anxiety. When we are at home, make sure we play intelligence games and engage with them to prevent boredom and relieve their anxiety.

Check their diet

If the dog is going into the trash because they are hungry, it is possible we are not providing the correct diet. We need to ensure they have a quality feed which meets their specific requirements. How much a dog will need to eat will depend largely on their age, their size and their health status. If you have any reason to think they are not being given the correct diet, take them to a veterinarian for assessment.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Keeps Getting in the Trash, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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My Dog Keeps Getting in the Trash