If unguarded food suddenly goes missing, you might be dealing with a thief named Fido. Your puppy's natural inclination to steal food is handed down from ancestors who scavenged to survive. It's best to put a stop to Fido's scavenging behavior now, so you won't have to deal with it when he's an adult. If your pup eats bones or rotten food, he might suffer serious medical consequences. To avoid such problems, use a variety of methods to convince your little scrounger that crime does not pay.
History of Scavenging
Scavenging is second nature to Fido. The behavior goes back to the days of wild canines, and for many dogs, continues to the present day as a way of life. Fido's wild ancestors had to fend for themselves, and resorted to scavenging the garbage around human settlements. Because they cleaned up unwanted trash, humans allowed them to hang around. Today, scavenging behavior is hard to stop, because when your pup steals food, he eats it, which provides immediate reinforcement of the behavior. Instead of "crime does not pay," stealing provides instant reward.
Dangers of Scavenging
Scavenger behavior in puppies should be corrected, because it's dangerous and can potentially be fatal. Both indoors and out, Fido will encounter tempting but harmful items that he can ingest. Chicken bones can lodge in your pup's throat or damage his gastrointestinal tract. Toxic plants, animal feces and poisonous snakes all are attractive hazards, as are invisible herbicides and pesticides applied to surfaces and plants.
To prevent scavenging, Fido-proof your home. Keep counters free of tempting leftover foods. If needed, use baby gates to block your pup's access to the kitchen and dining room. Avoid feeding him table scraps -- he should only eat from his feeding bowl. When walking your puppy, use a leash and head halter to make it easier to keep his head off the ground so he can't eat harmful items. Allow your puppy to run and play so he burns energy that he might otherwise use to go scavenging.
The 'Leave It!' Command
Teaching your puppy the "leave it!" command is essential, because it can save his life. When your puppy comes across an item that can potentially harm him, use the "leave it!" command to deter him from picking it up and eating it. You can teach the command by tempting your puppy with an off-limits food item and ordering him to leave it alone. Your puppy should never be allowed to succeed in getting the forbidden item, and you should clearly establish yourself as Fido's pack leader. This is where obedience classes come in handy.