Does your puppy like to pick up EVERYTHING outside? Sticks, leaves, dirt, rocks, garbage, bunny poo… the list goes on, I’m sure! Rest assured, you’re not alone!
Today's post will help!
Puppies are notorious for grabbing everything and anything they can get a hold of. But, your puppy comes by this behaviour honestly. They’re not trying to make your life difficult. Dogs, by nature, are scavengers - it’s hard-wired into their DNA. So, it stands to reason that puppies will constantly be on the lookout for things to pick up, chew on, or eat.
The good news is that most puppies will outgrow this desire to a certain extent, but before you get your hopes up too much, it’s important to understand that it will not go away entirely. As your puppy’s leader, it falls on you to keep them safe and to prevent your puppy from chewing on or eating something that could potentially cause them harm.
From a training perspective, there are two things you’ll need to do. Firstly, you’ll need to manage your puppy’s environment to the best of your abilities to prevent your puppy from being in a situation where they can get a hold of something they shouldn’t. Secondly, you’ll need to teach your puppy a reliable response to two commands: “leave it” and “drop it”.
Prevention - setting up for success
- Supervise! When your puppy is outside, you need to be out there with them. If your puppy is just learning the ropes and has a tendency to grab things, you’ll need to keep them on leash so that you’re able to prevent them from picking up something they shouldn’t have.
- Keep the yard tidy. While you won’t be able to clean up “everything”, pick up what you can. Clean up sticks, pick up garbage, rake up the bunny poo (if you can find it!), and pick up the mulch that has made its way out of the garden and onto the lawn, etc. Every little bit that you can pick up will help.
- If there are definite safety concerns and you’re in a situation where you’re unable to manage the environment carefully due to shared spaces (maybe you live in an apartment or condo), you might want to consider using a muzzle outside as a preventative measure. If you would like more information on muzzle training, we have a great blog called “Why nice dogs need muzzles too”.
Teaching “leave it”
“Leave it” means don’t touch! Our goal in training is to teach our puppies that they are to leave something of interest and to move away from it. In order to teach a reliable response to the “leave it” command, you’ll need to set up various training scenarios in which to practice. You can’t successfully “teach” this in the heat of the moment when your puppy is trying to grab the neighbour’s garbage that blew onto your front lawn. Your puppy is going to require lots and lots of repetitions of success in planned training situations where you have complete control and are able to help your puppy learn how to make appropriate choices when faced with different challenges.
Teaching “drop it”
Despite your very best efforts to prevent your puppy from picking up something they shouldn’t have, there will be times when they do manage to get ahold of something. It’s a given! Puppies can be quick! It’s at that time you’ll need to use a “drop it” command so your puppy happily relinquishes the item to you. This is often where things get very challenging. Puppies need LOTS of repetition in order to learn how to reliably drop items on command. We teach this by playing tug games with our puppies so that we have the opportunity to teach them what “drop it” means. We want them to learn that giving things up to us in planned training sessions is worth their while. We don’t want to end up in a situation where they’ve picked up something outside and we have to pry it out of their mouths (which can lead to resource guarding issues) or we have to bribe them with treats to drop the item (which can lead to the puppy going in search of more off-limit items in the hopes of earning more treats).
Remember that there is no magic solution when it comes to dog training. Effective management combined with proper skill training is key. We need to be able to prevent our puppies from rehearsing inappropriate behaviours while teaching solid listening skills. It takes time. But it’s worth the effort!
Hi! I’m Robbie Stevenson and I started training at McCann's as a student in 1995 when I discovered my passion for dog (and human!) training. I then joined the McCann team as a full-time employee in 1997 and taught classes for 14 years. After leaving McCanns when I had to move away, I rejoined the team in 2020. I’m now the Online Program Development Manager for McCann Professional Dog Trainers. I love writing about anything related to dog training as well as online learning after my own personal experiences as an online student studying horsemanship. I currently have 2 Border Collies (Spright and So) who keep me very active and busy with lots of fun activities when I’m not working