Randy, first thing’s first. My dog Danger is a trash eater, too, but when he does get in there, it only means that two other things have gone wrong.
1. He’s roaming and not lying on his dog bed. No good can come from a dog that roams the house. He’ll never clean up after me, and more likely will just make messes himself. Your dog should be conditioned through repetitive training to either stay on his dog bed or lie at your feet. If he’s there, he’s not in the trash. If he does get up and wander over to the trash, start with a calm "Leave it."
2. If you’ve got a trash dog, he shouldn’t be left in the house unattended. That’s asking for trouble. I’ve got a friend who stacks kitchen chairs up on her couches and rubberbands the cabinets shut when she leaves, just so the dogs won’t get into trouble. Instead of trying to dog-proof your house, just leave the dog in a fenced area when you’re gone.
If all else fails, here’s a trickier technique. (Note: Attempt this one at your own risk, and definitely don’t try it with young, small, or sensitive dogs—only large, thick-skinned, repeat offenders. This means you, 80-pound Labs. Triggering a shock reflex in a dog is a risky proposition. If the dog associates the pain with you, say if you’re standing right next to him when the trap goes off, he may never trust you again. It could also lead to a fight rather than flight reflex and get you seriously hurt. You’ve been warned.)
There’s a branch of dog training called respondent conditioning. That’s a fancy way of saying that you’re using the dog’s natural reflexes to your advantage. Think of a dog that’s gun shy or scared of thunder, snakes, vacuum cleaners, or hair driers. It only takes one gunshot or snake bite for a dog to know he doesn’t want any part of guns or snakes.
To fix my problem, then, I taped an unbaited Victor mousetrap to the trash can with the bar down so it would snap up under Danger’s chin, rather than down onto his nose. The next day: Snap! Yelp! No more trash. Now, if there’s some place I don’t want Danger to be, like under the coffee table, I just leave an unset trap there and can be reasonably sure he’ll give it a six-foot berth.
More notes of warning: Definitely don’t use a rat trap. (You do know the difference, right?) Those could do real damage. And if you’re desperate enough to think this is a good idea, pad the bar of the mouse trap with something soft like a few wraps of duct tape.
This article originally appeared on Outside K9, the former dog blog of Outside magazine, on April 10, 2009.