If your Labrador regards much of what he finds on the ground as food, you’ll need to know how to stop a dog from eating everything he sees on walks.
We’ll look at different ways to manage scavenging including dog muzzles and training techniques.
Dogs often do things that humans find disgusting, and scavenging is one of them.
It’s actually quite a natural behavior for a dog, and you can find out more about the origins in Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt.
In this article though, we are going to focus on the solution. Because scavenging isn’t just gross, it can also be dangerous for your dog.
Owning a Labrador that has a passion for consuming everything he finds lying on the ground, can be a real pain.
His favourite menu will often include carrion, human waste, and other delectable substances.
It is no fun at all having to try and wrestle a rotting seagull from the jaws of your pet.
And some dogs seem to be able to find one every time you set foot on the beach.
Devouring the contents of discarded nappies is another canine favourite.
Labradors have an astounding sense of smell.
And until seagulls start dying conveniently out to sea, and all parents start taking their rubbish home, we are probably stuck with it.
How to stop your dog eating everything
You have a couple of options for overcoming or at least managing, this ‘charming’ habit.
- Physical prevention
We’ll look at training in a moment. First let’s examine your options for preventing your dog from eating things off the ground
How to stop a dog from eating everything using a dog muzzle
Physically preventing scavenging usually means either keeping your dog on a short lead, or putting your dog in a muzzle.
Both these have their drawbacks
Unless you are a passionate long distance runner, it is going to be difficult to keep a dog well exercised on a lead.
Which leaves the muzzle.
Now no-one likes to see a dog wearing a muzzle. But using a dog muzzle to stop a dog eating everything in sight is not an unreasonable thing to do.
A lot of people are reluctant to try it. Often because they worry what others will think.
Concerns about dog muzzles
Most people worry that a dog muzzle is uncomfortable, and they also worry that people will think that their dog is aggressive.
However, a well fitting muzzle should be comfortable for your dog. And it doesn’t in all honesty matter what people think.
A dog I know, that treats every grim pile of trash as a ‘buffet’, nearly died from scoffing toadstools last year. A basket muzzle might have prevented her ordeal.
What type of dog muzzle stops a dog from eating?
Many muzzles were originally designed to prevent dogs biting.
Some people have a lot of success with using a basket muzzle like the one above, to prevent dogs eating rubbish.
A few funny looks from strangers is a fair price to pay for your dog’s safety. And a muzzle might just transform your walks.
Dog muzzles don’t work for every dog
Some people do find that a basket muzzle is not the answer for them.
With very sloppy items, the dog just presses his face into the mess until it forces its way through the sides. A basket muzzle tends to be more helpful with solid objects than with gooey messes. (Don’t you just love dogs)
Even with solid objects like stones, some dogs will learn to get at them through a muzzle
Fabric dog muzzles
Some people are tempted to try various fabric types of muzzle. These are designed to prevent biting and often work by preventing the dog from opening his mouth.
They are useful tools for dogs that have aggression issues if they need to be treated by a veterinarian or handled by a stranger for some other reason.
Remember that dogs need to open their mouths fully to pant and cool themselves. So if a muzzle prevents a dog from panting or drinking, it is not appropriate for a dog that is being exercised or left alone.
And if your dog can open his mouth wide enough to pant and drink, his ability to scavenge may not be impaired.
The best answer to scavenging is of course training. And we’ll look at that now.
Training a Labrador to stop eating everything on the ground
People often ask “How can I train my dog not to eat poop, or stones, or sticks”. The best way of training a dog not to scavenge involves teaching your dog to ‘come away’ on command.
You’ll still need to supervise your dog in order to use the command.
It’s also about building new and better habits. With practice, many dogs learn to look to their trainer for tasty snacks, instead of foraging on the ground.
Training takes time
Teaching a dog to recall away from something he regards as delicious takes time. You need to teach the dog a new concept.
The concept of moving away from something he wants in order to get it. Or at least in order to get something of equivalent value.
It is natural for a dog to move towards what he wants.
It is completely unnatural for the dog to move towards you when you are calling him if the thing he wants is in the opposite direction. So you need to teach this concept in stages.
Teaching a dog to come away
The training process begins indoors at home.
You can teach your dog to come away from some tempting food that he knows is on a raised surface for example, by taking the dog to the food and giving him a piece after he has obeyed the recall signal.
Make sure you can call him away from ‘high value’ food like warm roast beef or chicken.
This kind of training takes time and patience, but it a really helpful skill.
Stop a dog from eating everything outdoors
Once you can call your dog away from a plate of lovely roast chicken, take your skill outdoors.
You will need to set up ‘fake’ training scenarios in which you ‘plant’ tasty items in an outdoor location and practice your new concept with the dog on a training line.
You can put a stick or some other marker next to your ‘plant’ so that you can judge when the dog is close enough.
As soon as he smells the food and tries to approach, you will need to recall him.
Use the long line to prevent him getting the food, but don’t ‘reel’ him in.
You want him to learn to make that decision for himself, or he won’t be able to do it when he is off lead.
Continue to use the training line until he is recalling really well, away from tasty items that you have left out for training purposes.
How to stop a dog raiding the trash
The dog that raids the trash can at home, or that picks up household items off the floor is a slightly different issue.
Because these are your things rather than just random things found outdoors, many people regard this as stealing.
Keeping your dog amused on walks
Finally, a big part of scavenging is often boredom or lack of mental stimulation.
Labradors are intelligent dogs that enjoy being given tasks to complete. A dog that is busy retrieving a ball, or learning to jump, or to walk to heel, is far less likely to become fascinated with finding the next rock to swallow.
Engage with your dog on your walks and keep him amused. This will reduce a kinds of problem behaviors and help you build a better bond with your four legged friend
How to stop a dog from eating everything – getting help
Sometimes people really struggle with this issue. Don’t be afraid to seek advice. Scavenging is a problem that many people need a little more help to overcome.
So don’t hesitate to contact a qualified pet behaviorist.
If you are already making progress they will encourage and support you. And if you need to look at alternative ways to overcome the problem, they will be able to advise you.
How about you?
Have you found a muzzle helpful for preventing your dog from swallowing horrible items he finds on your walks together? Share your views in the comments box below.
Another particularly nasty habit in Labradors can be eating poop. We take a look at dealing this this issue in our article Eating Poop and what you can do about it.
More information on Labradors
Check out our Labrador Training section for more help and advice on managing a Labrador with grubby habits.
You can find out more about how to keep your Labrador as fit and healthy as possible in the Health section of our website.
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how can you stop a lab eating everything if you cant call him back now due to him now being deaf?
I need help,how can I spot my 12 year old lab picking up small balls and swallowing them. she already cost us £1900 at vet 10 days ago after she swallowed a small sponge ball and had to have it removed. my husband was out with her and picked up another wee ball .help
I just ordered the Outfox Field guard for my 15 month old lab, who has eaten two balls in 7 weeks – surgery both times. Hope it helps ! Not that I care what people think, my dog will look weird but not mean – as with the basket muzzles.
Hi. How did your dog get on with this please? Be good to know if it works before ordering one.
My labrador has been a bottomless pit since he was a puppy. He’s almost 9 now. No matter what I’m feeding him or how much, he insists on eating anything he can scavenge either in the yard or on walks along with rabbit poop, goose poop, cat poop, etc. I have 2 cats and he has to be confined to half of the house so that he can’t get to the cat box. He doesn’t retrieve and no longer really wants to play with other dogs in his older age. All he wants to do is eat and he looks miserable most of the time. He’s on medication for arthritis and pain and has had his thyroid checked. It’s not medical as far as we can tell. It’s frustrating.
Our labrador (aged 15 months) eats ANYTHING if he is off the lead. Doesn’t matter how much he is rebuked, or encouraged with treats after (rare) walks without him scavenging scraps, or policed by keeping him in front of us.
This is our sixth dog and he is the worst. I start to give up now walking him off lead. Muzzling seems the only realistic solution.
Also, it completely takes away the relaxation of walking a dog when your entire time is Scavenger Police Duty.
I’m right there with you. Our 8 month old puppy ate two rubber gloves last night that she nicked off the sink edge. When I induced vomiting with hydrogen peroxide, a mask also came out – I hadn’t even noticed she’d gotten that and we watch her almost all the time. The result is she spends most of her time in the crate when we can’t watch her – so probably making the problem worse with boredom. Outside it’s rocks or sticks or rabbit poop. She is a v sweet girl but I am getting tired of dealing with it. Looking into the muzzle options.
Have you had any luck resolving this since your post? I’m in the same boat, 18 month old lab and any discarded items he finds on a walk he will eat – gloves, scarves, clothing, masks, tissue, hankies. I’ve racked up vet bills where we felt he has eaten something that is too big to pass. Trying to deter him is so difficult, I’ve managed on a couple of occasions but most of the time he gobbled whatever it is down before I have a chance. Tried various muzzles but none have been very good. Considered a distraction horn but haven’t purchased one yet. It’s getting to the point where he will just have to remain on the lead at all times which I know will drive him mad as he loves his off the lead exercise
I just ordered the outfox field guard, but wondering if anyone has tried the smuZzle. Someone on Etsy makes them and the reviews seem pretty good.
Our 4 month old miniature schnauzer has not prolapsed twice due to a stricture in his colon, that acts as a dam for debris. His first blockage was caused by a carpenters staple and almost required emergency surgery. Today’s incident involved a stick, some toy stuffing, part of a lick mat, and some carpet. He’s so stealthy when it comes to the quick grab and swallow of just about anything. I’ll let you know how the outfox works. He’s having surgery next week to fix the stricture so that should help too.
My miniature schnauzer is having the same problem. I think she eats all the bugs (beetles) in my back yard. Stool sample, blood work, ultrasound all came back clear last week but it happened again vomiting and diarrhea. Even on a leash in my back yard she quickly grabs bugs and swallows whole. A muzzle may do the trick so let me know how it works out for you.
My pit/lab eats paper, wood, Sheetrock, cardboard, plastic, Kleenex, A plastic bag that flew over the fence, rope toys, you name it. I am at wits’ end and really worried about an intestinal blockage.
My Golden Retriever is a dog poop eater. As if that isn’t enough, she was not feeling well so I took her to our vet who ran contrast x-rays on her. Some of the barium was not leaving her stomach and we couldn’t figure out what was in there. Over $2,000.00 dollars later and abdominal surgery to see what was in her stomach, we were rewarded with a pound of pine needles. We were amazed at the amount in there and that her stomach hadn’t perforated. She is healing but now I have to supervise her trips out doors for potty breaks and if I don’t keep my eyes on her she goes right back to eating poop and I’m afraid pine needles. As much as I’d like to use a basket muzzle on her I’ve opted to try retraining her and since I can’t leave her outdoors on her own she is going to have to go every where with me. Oh the things we do for our furry babies.
Racing muzzles for greyhounds are designed sonthey are wider at the nose end. this means the dog ca fully open its jaws to pant ad breath. there is a solid piece across the end so soft stuff cannot be pushed into the mouth. halemar.com is the website for a racing muzzle manufacturer. if enough inquiries cam in they could make a Labrador proportioned muzzle. they did this for Borzois when we started amateur racing. The racing dogs. are muzzled because the squaking lure we use is expensive so we do not want it destroyed at end of race.
Hi. Our Labrador, like all, LOVES ‘food’. We need to be prepared for when the warmer weather starts. She steals from picnics, and even out of peoples hands. And she will not let go. The ‘chase’ is part of her game. She occasionally will get food out of bins too!?! Stealing bread from fishermen is a regular thing.
We bought the recommended Baskerville plastic basket muzzle. First one was too small, (even though we measured her), and now the second one (recommended for Labs), is far too big!
To Amyjo: “Idiot strangers” are not responsible for controlling your dog. You are.
Ha anyone tried the Outfox fieldgurard? It’s a netting that goes around the dog’s head. It doesn’t stop them from opening their mouth, but they can’t eat anything while its on. It has really worked for our beagle. I don’t even use her collar to keep it on, I just slide it over her head. She is rarely able to take it off and it doesn’t seem to bother her very much.
I would prefer something that wasn’t so bulky. My beagle doesn’t bite at all, but she will eat anything and then will throw up when we get home! I was thinking of trying a basket muzzle, but this Outfox fieldguard really is terrific.
My 2 year old cavalier eats everything he can poo . Dirt , bread anything he finds on his walk he eats even peoples sick , he can be trained at home but when I take him off his lead he darts off and goes in search of anything he can find on his field walk , it’s only been happening the last few months , thinking of getting him a muzzle as I don’t know what else to do , if I try and take anything off him he growls then bites ,
Have you tried the Outfox fieldgurard? It’s a netting that goes around the dog’s head. It doesn’t stop them from opening their mouth, but they can’t eat anything while its on. It has really worked for our beagle. I don’t even use her collar to keep it on, I just slide it over her head. She is rarely able to take it off and it doesn’t seem to bother her very much.
I am a scavenging Labrador owner now on my 8th dog over a period of years. I have never been able to to solve this eating problem with training or muzzles.
I was wondering if a bit attached to the collar would deter them from trying to swallow. Like a horse bit.
What do you think or has anyone tried this. I would like to know.
Lucy’s desperate Mum !!
Hi Rae, I’m afraid I don’t think that would be a good solution, however if you are looking for more ideas you might like to consider posting your question up on our friendly forum here. They are full of good advice for these pesky problems 🙂
Our rescue lab. Ben eats what he sees .We are looking for a wire muzzle as the plastic ones only last about ten days each. He finds a stretch of road or path then runs along with his face down until the plastic is worn away and then feasts . Next pet will be a pig .
If you don’t want a dog digging, rooting or such, don’t get a pig!! Although they are super smart and trainable, they will ALL eventually root up your yard!!! Wayyyyyy more than a dog will!
Tried lots of muzzles. Important they are the right size. But my dog pawed all of them off in a couple of minutes after practice! Even a scratched nose didn’t deter him. His complete disregard of me for the sake of some vile pile made me realise he can’t help himself. He is protective of me but some higher authority dictates this over riding need to eat dead things. With shoots going on it is a real problem every season. I take chicken bits when I can hoping my treat overrides his treat.
Our baby boy eats EVERYTHING!. His favorite item? — a bag of treats dangling from the hands of an unsuspecting stranger in the dog park! (Why on earth these fools walk around a dog park dangling a bag of dog treats is beyond me – and why they are outraged when it gets taken is beyond stupid). Nonetheless, my dog knows what’s in these baggies and he knows once he grabs it, the stranger (or me) will try to wrestle it away from him. SO, he runs away and eats the entire baggie as quickly as he can, swalling it whole sometimes. Now this happens more than once a week, probably a few times a week. He usually passes it with no problem, but sometimes he gets sick. We have tried several trainers, distraction techniques, throwing higher value treats, muzzles, etc. (but like the article states, it is almost impossible to exercise the dog with a muzzle). Apart from this problem, he is an angel. BUT this is a huge problem, not so much the outraged strangers dangling treats at dog eye level (idiots), but more so the potential intestinal blockage. The problem with training against this behavior is that it is a very self-rewarding activity. Each time he does it, he wins a whole baggie of treats!!! (which makes his “time out” after pretty much worth it). Any ideas for a food crazy lab lover!?
This is exactly like our 18 month. My worry is that he will snatch from a child which could cause some serious repercussions. Have you had any success since you have posted this.
ours recently discovered mice, has great fun sniffing them out under grass tuffs and can not be draged away. She has eaten live young mice, and dead ones left in the nest, even chews on the rotting nest. What health dangers are there? Can stop her from most other stuff, should we muzzle her?
I am currently researching basket muzzles right now for my lab mix. The problem with him is when he’s off leash on group walks with other dogs during the day while we’re at work. He just loves to ingest sticks and other rubbish on the ground – things that have sent us to the emergency vet once already in his short life thus far. Luckily, this habit only seems to be a problem for us when he’s outside. Inside the house, he doesn’t do anything of the sort – he’s not even a chewer. But everything on the ground outside is fair game!