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How Do You Deal With Your Dog Getting Into the Trash?

Nothing I do has stopped my Poodle, and anger sometimes gets the best of me. What should I do?

Margot Ahlquist  |  Oct 3rd 2014


I was in my own homemade heaven, soaking in a lavender-oil bath and about to de-stress from a long day at work. I closed my eyes and felt peace. Then suddenly the Zen scene in my bathroom was quickly interrupted by a thud in my kitchen. In a panic, I jumped out of the bath and ran to the kitchen.

I knew what it was: My dog, Toby, was pillaging the trash can. Sure enough, I turned the corner to find this Poodle-turned-piranha chomping on yesterday’s leftovers. I swooped in and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck before he could swallow anything harmful.

Many dog experts say not to scold a dog in this situation for bad behavior. I agree with them and advocate for positive reinforcement. However, on this particular night, my emotions overruled dog-training logic. I yelled at Toby and told him that he was a bad boy. I pointed to the scene of the crime and continued espousing about how wrong it was.

To finish off my scolding, I pleaded with Toby to stop getting into the trash. I asked the dog why he continued to do this. This spur-of-the-moment attempt at training had no effect. All I got in response was a cunning grin from a dog still riding a tasty adrenaline high. I realized I was the one coming unglued in this situation, but couldn’t shake my anger.

Toby loves getting into the trash. It doesn’t matter if he had filet mignon and sweet potatoes for dinner. It doesn’t matter if we went hiking that day. It doesn’t matter if he got to chase bunnies across the yard for hours on end. It doesn’t matter if he got sweet kisses from his girlfriend, Dolce, the Bulldog. It doesn’t matter, because given a chance he will attack the trash can.

I have consulted with vets and trainers alike for advice and tips, and they have recommended that I dog-proof the trash can. I’ve tried, believe me.

On this particular night in Toby’s trash-busting career, he hopped up on the kitchen table without the help of chairs (I had removed them to hinder his access) and using his nose knocked the trash can off of the table, which then splayed open from the force of hitting the ground. Is there a dog-proof gizmo that would survive these antics? I am doubtful.

As I cleaned up the trash, which had sopped into the beige carpet in my rental apartment, the fury continued to boil inside of me. As Toby approached me to cuddle, our typical evening ritual, I shunned him. His sweet face and curly fur was no match for the whirlpool of frustration I was immersed in.

This was the first time I had ever been mad at Toby. Part of me felt guilty, but my anger about the dog’s seemingly endless trash can conquests was in charge.

My mother called shortly thereafter and I recounted the horror of yet another trash job by Toby. She laughed and told me how he reminded her so much of Marty, my childhood dog, who passed away almost 10 years ago. Toby is very Marty-like in his appearance and personality. My mom recalled how many times we would walk through the door only to find Marty had opened the cabinet door where the trash was stashed and tore through the bag like Godzilla. We used think Marty had hidden thumbs because some of his trouble-making feats seemed impossible for a 22-pound Poodle to complete.

My mom urged me to give Toby a break and charged me with the mission to tighten up the trash loophole. I knew she was right, but I was still miffed. The avocado stain on the beige carpet kept calling my attention.

I sat on the couch to watch some bad reality television to forget about my long day. For about an hour, I became engrossed in the drama of house flipping and gossip gone awry amongst a bunch of women in California.

When my TV escape was over, I noticed that my heart hurt. Toby had gone to his man cave — under my bed — when he saw I was really mad. I ran to my bedroom and kneeled down to see his furry face amongst the darkness. He willingly emerged, looking like a bear coming out of winter hibernation. I scooped him up in my arms and hugged him, and we sat on the couch and cuddled. I told Toby I was sorry for being so angry and shunning him.

He kissed my cheek and settled in for cuddles, and my anger began to dissipate. I felt like myself again with my dog lying on my feet.

As the night wore on, it hit me that the evening’s trashgate actually was a bonding experience, because I accepted Toby’s flaw and he tolerated my anger tantrum. Anger is a tricky topic in our society and becomes even more complicated when helpless animals are involved. If the anger were still coursing through my body, then I would be blinded by the facts that this dog is incredibly special to me and that I have to be better as a dog parent.

Now, I have the trash can completely off limits to Toby so he is not tempted to cause havoc. I can finally take lavender baths without anticipating a thud from the kitchen.

Have you dog-proofed your trash can? Tell me how in the comments!

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