Help! My Dog Eats Everything In Sight
How to get your dog to stop munching on everything from socks to your kid’s toys.
Sign up for The Wildest newsletter for updates
Your dog is adorable (obviously). Not so cute? Their appetite for eating more than just food — socks, underwear, your favorite hat, your kid’s stuffed animal (the list goes on). Nobody wants their dog to be a picky eater, but you do want them to be discriminating enough to draw the line at things that are not food, since a) it’s dangerous for dogs to eat socks and other non-food items, and b) it’s a considerable financial strain to have a send-your-vet-to-Europe dog. Here are some suggestions to minimize both the danger and the expense — and to hopefully stop your dog from eating dangerous items like socks.
Keep Inedibles Out of Reach
Helping your dog stay safe (and keeping yourself sane!) will always involve some management. To keep your dog's insides free of items that should remain on the outside, keep their favorite inedibles out of reach. I’m not suggesting that you Marie Kondo your home to the point that visitors think your dog is the only thing that “sparks joy” for you, but known offenders have to be unattainable. This might be a lot easier said than done.
A deterrent such as a citrus or bitter apple spray might work; if it does, feel free to use it (honestly, since they rarely seem to be effective with such eager eaters, I’d be surprised if it did, but would feel irresponsible if I didn’t mention it).
Add Stimulation to Your Dog’s Life
Some dogs develop a habit of swallowing strange things (also known as pica in dogs) out of boredom; a dog looking for something to do often explores with their mouth, and for some, ingestion of the treasure is their next logical step. Adding stimulation to their life can help with this, so try to add more fun and activity to your dog’s days. Consider new activities such as agility or nose work, more walks or outings, short training sessions throughout the day, play sessions, or car rides.
Another option is to feed them via sturdy enrichment toys: They need to be able to chew on things that they can’t swallow or that are digestible if they do eat them. Kong Extreme toys in the largest size are a good choice for many dogs. Stuff one with wet food, freeze it, and then give it to your dog. If your dog is voracious, talk to your veterinarian first and supervise your dog whenever they have such an item.
Use Reinforcement Training
While it’s not a quick fix, positive reinforcement training can also help. Improving your dog’s response to “drop it” and “leave it” is important so that their possessive behavior (you can’t take it away if it’s in my belly!) doesn’t lead to harm. Start using these cues with items that your dog is not very excited about and that are too big to be swallowed. Use the tastiest treats you can find so it’s worth it to them to do the right thing. Trading up (“give me that mediocre item and I will give you this far better one”) is a great way to improve this behavior.
Another training strategy: Since seeing you head toward them prompts your dog to swallow things they shouldn’t, instead of chasing them down, encourage them to move away from items that pose a risk. To do this, toss a handful of treats to another spot in the room so your dog has to get up to get them. Then retrieve the item while they munch away.
Give Your Dog More Exercise
Though it’s not the cure all it is sometimes made out to be, exercise can certainly help. Dogs who are tired and content from a hard effort, preferably off leash, are less likely to get into whatever trouble they are prone to find, and they are more likely to sleep.
I know how hard it can be to keep your dog from eating everything in sight, especially if there are small children at home who leave things out and about; if there were an easier way, I would share it. Paws crossed that some of these tips work for you and your sweet dog enjoys the world in safe ways from here on out!
Karen B. London, PhD
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.