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My dog is an approximately 10-year-old, non-neutered male, possible Manchester terrier. He is well-behaved at home, except for behaviors like howling at airplanes, wanting to go out in the night, and not liking to see other male dogs in our house.

I really don't like taking him outside, and when I do, I have to put him on a leash. The reason he is leashed is that he eats most things he sees on the road like bones, fish; even discarded rice.

Why is he doing this and what can I do to break this habit?

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He is doing this because dogs are curious and like eating things that are not dog food.

You can train your dog to avoid that but he'd still have to be very close to you even off-leash for supervision. Some dogs are extremely tempted by food and it's a hard behavior to break especially if your dog isn't trained.

In a controlled environment put small treats on the ground and let your dog off the leash slowly. Every time he approaches a treat on the ground give him a firm "No", when the dog does not eat them or loses interest in them reward him with a bigger treat. Repeat this exercise with bigger treats on the ground and longer distance.

This can take a while and success requires determination.

Report results and let us know :)

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    You can start off by having a treat in your closed hand and reward whenever he looks away from the hand. The graduate to an open hand, then put the treat on the ground with your hand forming a cage over it. Always reward when he looks away from the treat (he'll soon learn to look at your other hand instead, because the treat will come from there). Only when you've got that down would I graduate to leaving the treat by itself on the floor. Whatever you do, make sure you can get to the treat faster than your dog or he will reward "himself" for doing what he's not supposed to. – ThomasH Oct 12 '13 at 20:47
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    I'd probably recommend a separate command like "Leave It", as Skippy recommended above as well, rather than just a general verbal reprimand. – ThomasH Oct 12 '13 at 20:48
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Why is he doing this?

It is hard to prevent a dog from rummaging at food scraps. Most dogs love their food, much of the training advice you'll see around recommends using food treats as rewards. Dog's also love to scavenge, their sense of smell is far superior to our and poking their noses into new places is like sightseeing for us. The problem is one day he may eat something poisonous.

What can I do to break this habit?

Your dog is older, I don't know his breed, but it is always harder to break an older dog of bad habits, particularly in this type of case; as it's not really bad habit, as perfectly natural. A bit like teaching a toddler not to take candy left on the kitchen counter.

So, you've got a battle on your hands.

(1) I really don't like taking my dog out

Trying to train your dog to achieve this will take a great deal of effort and time; including the need for some negative reinforcement, which is not the best thing for a ten year old dog, who is otherwise, basically well behaved. Such training might confuse him, as to why he's suddenly being scolded for something that has been OK for how long? Possibly years. You need to ask yourself; are you up for this?

Given your motivation to stop this behaviour is to enjoy the time spent with your dog, I would be inclined to suggest that training him out of eating (what he consider treats) could be more of a struggle than the one you're having now and the idea is to help you and your dog enjoy your walks. It might be easier to drive and take him to an area where there isn't food scraps, but I understand this may not be possible.

So, this brings us to...

(2) Positive reinforcement

Given you are finding your walks stressful, I strongly recommend you don't correct him for his unwanted behavior, rather just use reward, as it sounds like the situation between you both might be a little tense and it's best to improve the fun between you and your dog. Down the track, some minor scolding using voice control can be used to correct the occasional slip, but from the outset, keep it all positive.

This is going to require finding the treats your dog goes crazy for. You have the competition of fish and rice with all sorts of flavors, so it's got to be treats that your dog really loves.

To begin with just go for short walks, even limit is to 100 metres if your dog's behavior is too severe. It's vital to set your dog up to succeed. As he improves increase your walking distance.

Start by showing him you have a bag of his favorite treats, give him a sample when you put him on the lead. Carry the treats in a bum bag or fanny pack facing your front, make sure he knows where they are. Also carry a treat in your hand. As you give him one replace it with another.

As you go out, you're are going to have to encourage him vocally with happy hey look at this! type voice calls whenever he goes to sniff and show him his treat. Immediately reward him with his favorite treat, with lots of verbal praise, so he associates the treat with verbal praise. Repeat. Use a catchphrase; I wouldn't use the leave command, as I am basing this solely on positive reinforcement. Pick a word you are happy with, even his name and stick to it Rover!, happy and excited..(look at this Rover!)

This process has several benefits, it can become a game, so you and your dog can have fun, and it's serves to distract him, plus the reinforcement.

When your dog has totally grasped the notion that he will receive the treat whenever you call Rover! in this voice, you don't reward with him a treat every time, but it is vital to keep up that verbal praise and replace the treat with a quick pat on the head. I haven't included pats in the previous step, as they are no competition for fish scraps.

This process will take some time, and I would suggest always having some treats on hand when you're out together, as it's important to maintain your dog's good behavior.

This post also gives some details with assistance with leash training.

There are other things you can do to discourage him from taking food from the ground. These techniques are frequently used to train guard dogs to only accept food from certain people, so as to prevent being baited. If these softer methods do not work, we can review the behavior and discuss some more severe training techniques, that will not damage your dogs trust in you or spoil your fun walking.

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There are low cost fabric muzzles you could use to keep him from eating random things on a walk. At a park once you see the area you could remove it.

  • My mom's dog needed this after eating stones on two separate occasions and needing surgery. She snaps up things so quickly it's almost impossible to respond in a way that could train her to stop it. The muzzle is not harmful, she can still smell things and open her mouth, but she can't get anything into it. – Jasmine Dec 19 '14 at 17:46

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