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He's an 8-year-old beagle. I am his secondary owner of 6 months - his primary owner has owned him since puppyhood. Apparently there have been failed attempts to give him some basic training in the past, most notably enrollment in doggy discipline school. (They gave a refund and expressed that he was not welcome back after the first day of training.)

I have started to read up on books and resources for training dogs as I feel he does need some basic training and I have come to understand that he has been unwittingly trained to lunge at garbage, put it in his mouth and swallow it as quickly as possible. He eats other animals' poop, any and all food he finds on the ground, sticks his snout into garbage and plastic bags at the slightest opportunity.

He has had very little training and little if any understanding of command words. I want to get started right away on correcting the garbage eating behavior as I am concerned he will eventually eat something that does something horrible to him. It is difficult to avoid garbage on the ground as we live in a city area that is extremely littered. (Even the parks have food garbage lying around from picnics.) I don't want to stop taking him on walks while I study basic training principles and canine communication - we are currently living in an apartment building and he has the run of the veranda, but that's not enough space for him is it?

Is it possible to start training him to stop eating everything he can reach in these circumstances? How might I go about it?

  • When you walk him, you use a leash right? And just a leash, no special training leash or harness? – Spidercat Jul 17 '14 at 3:30
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    I highly suggest first getting a harness, such as the Easy Walk or Sensation harness. Then finding a private trainer that's a fan of positive enforcement and doesn't like Caesar Milan. It's going to be hard - partly because of the breed and partly because of the age. A professional trainer is honestly your best option. – jeremy Jul 17 '14 at 4:53
  • I use an ordinary leash. I would like to consult with or hire a professional - unfortunately money is tight and going to be that way for at least a year, which is why I'm trying to do things myself. I do like the idea of positive enforcement based training, I've gathered that most unruly dog behavior is due to inabilities on the part of humans to understand and communicate. I'm not much familiar with Caesar Milan, what is the objection to his methodology? – Hamshine Jul 17 '14 at 15:06
  • What's an "ordinary leash"? I've found a 6-foot-long leather/braided/fabric leash to be most effective. Never use those horrible automatic cord leashes, you get terrible control over the dog with those. Your local PetSmart may hold basic behavior training classes for new dog owners. – JoshDM Jul 17 '14 at 15:22
  • It's about 6-feet long, made of some sort of fabric, not retractable or automatic in any way. Resources are a bit difficult to consult at the moment in terms of both money and language as we are currently living in Asia. Will try to find out if there are any available at reasonable prices. – Hamshine Jul 17 '14 at 15:50
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This is a perfect application of the "It's Yer Choice" game, coined by Susan Garrett. Since the garbage is a really big reward, I recommend starting with something less exciting (like a handful of food) so he can understand the game first.

Here's a YouTube video I found demonstrating the game being taught including a dog walking past multiple treat containers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipT5k1gaXhc

Phase 1

While your dog is in a low-distraction environment and on lead, take a handful of treats or food and show them to your dog so he knows you have them. Then close your fist around them and wait for him to sit. Do not move your hand away, don't say anything, just wait. Naturally, we will try to get at the treats. He may lick, bite, paw, whatever, and that's OK! If he gets aggressive or bites really hard, you may want to use something other than your hand to hold the treats, but it needs to be something solid you can open and close quickly.

The instant he backs off, open your hand. This is reinforcing to him (because now he sees how to get to the food) and he will probably come to get it. Close your hand to prevent access. Wait him out again until he backs up and open your hand again.

At this point the leash is to prevent him from just wandering off. When he sits calmly, begin to give him a treat, but only give it to him if he stays sitting. If he moves to help get the treat, put it back in your hand.

Depending on the dog, it may take a while, but eventually you'll be able to feed treats to a calm sitting dog.

You can apply the game to any situation and there are too many details to list them here, but the basic mechanics are always the same. Allow the dog the opportunity to get something inappropriately, restrict access to that thing if he tries, and give it to him when he's patient. Do not restrict access by pulling them back with the leash. Pulling on the leash creates what's called opposition reflex and actually makes him want the thing more.

Application

So how does not stealing treats out of your hand apply to not stealing garbage on the street? Set up the game in the same way using a garbage in a controlled environment inside the house. Use your foot and step on the garbage to prevent him from getting to it. You might want to start with something less exciting first. Once he's mastered it inside, try outside on your driveway.

Keep working at this with different environments. Use different kinds of trash in different environments. Dogs are bad at generalizing to try all kinds of goofy stuff. You want him to fail sometimes so he understands there are consequences. For now though, try to stay away from the trash as much as you can. You can even pick him up to pass it, but you don't want him pulling on the leash. This just creates opposition reflex and will make the problem worse.

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  • Oh dear. I'm afraid pulling on the leash to keep him away from garbage is exactly what's been going on all this time. The prospect of undoing years of this is fairly daunting. Interaction is further complicated by my allergic reaction to his saliva and complete inexperience in the field of pet ownership. Thank you for the advice. Hopefully I will be able to put it to good use without making further mistakes. – Hamshine Jul 17 '14 at 15:18
  • Dogs are smart, so I'm sure he'll get it. Pulling a dog back from something is a common mistake, but you can use that same "mistake" for something great. Restrained recalls use the same principle, but instead of your dog pulling on the lead to get to trash, he's pulling to get to you! Happy training! – jeffaudio Jul 17 '14 at 15:53

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