Trash Parties

Does your dog get into the garbage?
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2010, Updated June 2021

My sister and brother-in-law had a dog named Kiwi whom I truly adored. A chocolate Newfoundland, she died three years ago and is still missed. Among Kiwi’s many wonderful qualities were intelligence, an easygoing nature, gentleness with my children and all kids and a willingness to endure the high frequency of grooming required to keep any proper Newfie looking and feeling her best.

Was she perfect? Heavens no! But in her list of unfortunate traits, there was really only one that mattered—Kiwi LOVED trash. Combined with her intelligence and height, this passion made it very difficult to prevent her from getting into the garbage. My sister and her husband became resigned to the fact that they would regularly discover that Kiwi had thrown herself what they liked to call a “trash party.”
Now, you’re probably thinking, what about covered and secured trash bins? Cabinet locks? Hauling all trash outside immediately? Keeping trash too high for Kiwi to reach? These are all good ideas, and work on many dogs. But Kiwi was no amateur. With brains, dexterity and size all working to her advantage, Kiwi would not be deterred. She was highly motivated to get to any food. This was a dog who would work for lettuce or even pea pods, so she was pretty serious about getting to the good stuff.
Not all dogs get into the trash. Our dog Bugsy only ever got into the trash if something like a hunk of chicken was in there. He didn’t bother for anything else, and we had an uncovered trashcan that sat out in the kitchen. I tried telling my sister that Bugsy was so good because of the high level of training I gave him, but she wasn’t buying it, and you shouldn’t either. Not all dogs are trash fiends, and for those who are, it’s not a crime. Dogs are scavengers, and those persistent about scavenging are often resourceful, creative and would have a better chance surviving in the wild than dogs who ignore food sources. Of course, I worry that dogs who get into the trash will hurt themselves or choke on something, so it’s no laughing matter, but I don’t think it puts a dark blot on their character either.
Does your dog get into the trash? Have you found a way to stop this behavior, or have you learned to live with it?


Photo courtsey the author

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. Karen 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