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Why Is My Dog Digging in the Trash?

Dogs steal food and get into the trash for a wide range of reasons, including an instinctive impulse.

April 14, 2023 4 min read
Why Is My Dog Digging in the Trash?

Dogs are scavengers by nature so it shouldn’t come as any surprise if you find your pet sneaking a sniff or even a lick of your trash. According to the experts, dogs were domesticated from wolves about 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. Of course, they weren’t being fed nutritionally balanced dog food at that time! Instead, they were forced to scavenge for garbage scraps around local human villages. While instincts play a key role in why dogs dig through trash, there may be other reasons for your dog’s interest in your old leftovers.

Reasons Dogs Dig Through Trash

A dog digging through the trash is common canine behavior and generally nothing to worry about. However, you may be worried about your dog eating something that could be potentially harmful to his health, such as chocolate or spoiled meat. Before attempting to stop your dog’s unwanted behavior, learn why he might be raiding your trash.

  • Hunger: Maybe you were in a hurry to get out the door and forgot to feed your pet - or maybe you’re not feeding your dog enough. When your pet is hungry, he may decide to find food in places rather than his food bowl, such as the trash. Many dogs have big appetites and the smell coming from the trash can be enticing to your pet.
  • Boredom: Some dogs will get into the trash due to sheer boredom. Dogs require stimuli throughout the day to keep their bodies and minds occupied. When dogs don’t get enough exercise or mental stimulation, they may resort to unwanted behaviors, such as digging through the trash. Your dog may also get into the trash to get a reaction or attention from you, despite it being negative attention.
  • Curiosity: Dogs are curious creatures and enjoy seeing, smelling, and tasting new things. The trash is filled with a variety of curious items that may be of interest to your pet. As your pet doesn’t have hands to explore, he’ll use his snout or mouth to root around the trash to see if there’s a yummy treat or something fun to play with.
  • Anxiety: Dogs that feel anxious or depressed may exhibit unwanted behaviors, such as digging in the trash. Anxiety in pets can manifest in a variety of ways. Some dogs may become aggressive, some may spend a lot of time sleeping, and others will become destructive and knock over trash cans. Dogs that only get in the trash when you’re not home may be suffering from separation anxiety.

How to Stop Your Dog from Digging Through Trash

Keeping your dog from digging in the trash may take time and require you to keep a close eye on the situation. Start by ensuring that your dog is always fed on time and served an adequate portion of food based on his age, health, and your vet’s recommendations. 

If your pet seems to be hungry throughout the day, consider increasing the amount you feed him or give your dog several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three larger meals. High-fiber foods will also help keep your pet feeling fuller longer.

If you suspect that your dog is digging through the trash due to boredom, change up your routine to keep your pet more engaged. Go for more walks throughout the day, play fetch in the yard, or try indoor games, such as dog puzzle games. Chew toys can also help keep your pet independently occupied.

Next, reevaluate your trash can situation. Start by purchasing a trash can that has a tight lid or a lid that can be locked in place. If possible, keep the trash can in a closed cupboard or a secure space, such as a pantry. Install a childproof latch on the pantry door or cabinet to prevent your pet from nudging it open. Alternatively, you could use baby gates to restrict your dog’s access to the trash.

Training is also important to stop unwanted behaviors like getting in the trash. Whenever you see your pet attempting to get into the trash can, use a simple command that tells your pet to immediately stop, such as “Off!” To get your dog’s attention, say the command word while also making a loud noise, such as clapping your hands. Avoid scolding your dog when he gets in the trash as he may not understand what he is doing wrong.

Some dogs may continue to get in the trash when you’re not home or paying attention. When this happens, you may want to consider a commercial repellent to keep your dog away. There are many commercial dog repellants on the market that can be sprayed directly on the trash can. Sprinkling baking soda in the trash can have a similar effect.

When to Consult Your Veterinarian

While a dog digging in the trash is usually nothing to worry about, there may be times when your dog’s digging could indicate a more serious problem. If your dog has never gotten into the trash before or is continuously trying to eat from the trash, he may be suffering from a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism. This condition causes the metabolism to operate too fast, causing your dog to always be hungry. If you are concerned about your dog’s behavior, consult with your veterinarian.

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