Why Does My Dog... Dig in the Trash Can?

Dog sticking nose in trash

Why do dogs love to dig through our trash? The answer may lie far back in our shared history.

According to most experts, dogs were domesticated from wolves by humans several thousand years ago. The speculation is that wolves may initially have been captured as puppies or tamed due to living in proximity to human villages. Why would these wolves live close to human villages? To scavenge our trash for food, of course!

In the wild, wolves may go several days without eating. They are not always successful in hunting big game every day. We may consider the food we throw out to be garbage, but to some dogs, it is merely food — stinky, ripe, aromatic food! It is a bouquet of scents that are interesting and exciting to them.

Some dogs have developed a game of digging through the trash. Sometimes they find good stuff to eat or fun things to chew on. When they are so engaged in sniffing out an interesting scent, they may scatter the refuse all through the house. The garbage may be akin to a doggie version of a Cracker Jack box— they know there's a prize inside.

Other dogs have learned that digging in the trash is a good way of getting an owner’s attention, so it becomes attention-seeking behavior. Your dog may have formed the association that, “Every time I drag a tissue out of the trash, my mom or dad suddenly starts talking to me and tries to take my new toy away.” What fun it is for them to play keep-away and have their owners chase them around the house! Whereas if the dog did not get an item out of the trash, the owners may not have paid the dog as much attention.

Stopping Doggie Dumpster Diving

There are several things you can do to help keep your dog out of the trash.

1. Hide the can. This is the best and easiest method. Do not leave temptation out. Put the trash can in a cupboard or pantry. If your dog has learned to open cupboards, use a child lock.

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