How do I stop my puppy from scavenging?
(Q) My nine-month-old puppy scavenges wood, stones, mud — you name it! How do I stop this behaviour?
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: You don't mention what breed your dog is — this may make her inclination to search more intense. At nine months old she is still very much in an exploratory stage and it will take a lot of input from you to redirect her.
First make sure she is in good health since obsessive consumption of non-food items may indicate a problem. The next thing to consider is how responsive she is to you in general. Have you done much training with her? This will be important so that she has an understanding of how to listen to you and what you want her to do. You may find a good training class helpful. Look at The Animal Behaviour and Training Council website (see right) for a list of appropriately trained professionals.
While outside your dog must be constantly supervised and on a lead so you have control over her actions. Until you have an excellent recall and training response from her the lead will have to be short, but this can be lengthened as she learns. You must also be prepared with her favourite food and toys for every correct response.
Teach her to ‘Leave it’ so that she will come away from any item you try her with, first in the home, then in your garden, then on a walk.
You need to manage her very closely at first so that she cannot rehearse this behaviour and it has a chance to fade.
It is often helpful to train a dog to perform an alternative activity to replace an unwanted one. You could start to teach her a ‘Find’ command at home so that you can direct her focus into searching for something that she has learned will bring a brilliant reward — perhaps a ball or another toy.