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Help! My Dog Won’t Stay Out Of The Bin!

It is no secret to dog owners that most dogs are obsessed with food, and a good proportion of them are also obsessed with anything smelly, dirty, rank or messy as well; and this can mean that your bins and also if you are particularly unlucky, other people’s bins as well, are a source of endless fascination for many dogs. If you have the dubious privilege of owning a bin-obsessed dog and the problem is getting out of control, don’t worry, we can help! Read on to find out more about dogs and scavenging from bins, and what you can do about it.

Why are some dogs obsessed with bins and detritus?

For some dogs, bins seem to hold the same appeal as catnip does for cats, and seeking out bins, gaining access to them and either rolling around in the contents or eating whatever they can get their paws on is something of an obsession. Digging is natural dog behaviour and one that provides its own rewards in terms of what they can get out of it, both figuratively and literally. Much as we often encourage dogs to entertain themselves with interactive toys and puzzles that provide positive feedback or a treat as a reward, so is digging in the bin its own reward for your dog. Gaining access to the bin itself provides an intellectual challenge that is then swiftly followed up by the enjoyment of digging and burrowing, and also provides a physical reward in the shape of scraps of food and the remains of discarded meals.

The problem with scavenging from bins

It is probably obvious to the dog owner and particularly the owner of a bin-mining dog, but scavenging for rubbish and digging through the bins causes problems for both dog and owner on many different levels. Not only does digging through the bin of course create an almighty mess and potentially cause damage to your property, but it also places your dog at risk from injury from any sharp or pointed objects that may be lurking in the rubbish. Also, many human foods are poisonous or harmful to dogs, and inadvertently eating something unsuitable can lead to a range of health problems. Even if the food your dog finds in the bin is technically safe for dogs, eating supplementary food as well as their regular meals can soon lead to problems with providing balanced nutrition and keeping your dog’s weight under control.

Preventing your dog from getting into the bins or rubbish

While it is important to teach your dog to leave the rubbish alone, both in terms of the bins you have in the house and any that your dog may encounter when out walking, it is also important in the short term to do what you can to minimise your dog’s opportunistic chances of getting into the bins at all. There are various ways that you can attempt to achieve this:

  • Keep your dog firmly closed out of the room you keep the bins in, unless supervised.
  • Ensure that your bins have a firmly fitting lid, with a childproof catch on them if possible, so that the lid will not become dislodged if your dog manages to knock the bin over.
  • Make sure wheelie bins are secured to a wall or fence so that your dog cannot knock them over and dig in, and again, attach a catch to the lid (but remember to remove this on bin day or risk having your bins left behind)!
  • Muzzle your dog if they have a propensity to go after other people’s bins or rubbish they find in the street, and will be let off the lead outside of the home.

Training your dog away from digging through the rubbish

If at all possible, it is best to avoid any problems with bin-mining or nip them in the bud early on.

  • Ensure that there is no ultimate reward for your dog if they do decide to make an attempt to liberate the rubbish, by making the bins difficult to get into and so minimising the chances of them learning through success.
  • Teach your dog the ‘leave it!’ command. This is one of the most important commands that dogs should learn, and can be used for a wide variety of incidences such as when you need to recall them from their food, if they pick up a toy or object that they should not have, and to encourage them to drop a ball for you to throw.
  • Use positive reinforcement to train your dog or back up the reward of not approaching the bin; follow up on the ‘leave it!’ command with a treat or a kind word so that your dog begins to see that the reward comes about from avoiding the bin rather than digging in it.
  • Make sure that your dog is not scavenging because they are hungry or their nutritional requirements are not fully being met. If your dog is lacking an essential nutrient, their body is programmed to direct them to seek out all potential sources of the missing ingredient, and this will mean that your bin, scraps and rubbish outside of the home, faeces and any other nasty things that you can imagine will become fair game.
  • Don’t turn bin-mining into a game; an exaggeratedly horrified reaction, distress, shouting or pulling your dog away from the bins will all give your dog the impression that with the bins comes attention, and reinforce their appeal.
  • If you find yourself faced with a clean-up operation as a result of your dog’s bin-mining, close your dog out of the room while you do this, removing another source of potential reward.
  • Never take the view that “he’s got into the bin now, I might as well let him eat what’s there because I’ll only have to clean it up otherwise” as this of course, provides its own reward.
  • Teach your puppy or young dog that bins are off the menu and part of the collection of things that they are not allowed to touch or play with, in the same way that you might train your dog to stay off the bed, or the good furniture.

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