To stop a dog from eating mulch, the best thing you can do is keep them away from the mulch in the first place. You can accomplish this by creating a barrier, using a repellent, providing a distraction, or training your dog to stay away.
Some dogs are persistent chewers, no matter how much you try to curb the impulse. This can be especially frustrating if a dog is chewing on things that can be dangerous, such as mulch.
Ways to Keep a Dog Away From Mulch
Although it may feel impossible, if you’re persistent and keep trying new tactics until you find one that works, it’s possible to get your dog to stop eating mulch.
Limit Access to Mulch
Depending on where your dog is getting mulch from, the easiest option may be to simply limit access to it by blocking it off or keeping your dog on a leash.
Of course, this works best if the mulch is contained in a small area or an area that the dog doesn’t typically run free in.
Training (Leave It)
Training your dog to understand the commands “leave it” and “drop it” is useful for more than mulch; these are basic commands that every dog should learn in case she picks up something dangerous.
Keep a close eye on the dog when she’s in areas where mulch is present and use these commands every time she attempts or succeeds in picking up mulch.
Consistency is important. Over time, the dog will learn that it’s not allowed to eat mulch.
If the dog is particularly obsessed with eating mulch, train these commands using less desirable objects first, and build up to the mulch.
In the meantime, use one of the other methods listed or use a loud “no” or shake can any time the dog goes for the mulch. Use positive reinforcements such as praise or treats when she listens.
Provide a Distraction
If the dog is getting a hold of mulch during walks, give her something to carry. This will not only provide a distraction, but makes it impossible for the dog to pick up any mulch if her mouth is already full.
If the problem is happening at home, make sure the dog has plenty of toys and bones to chew on.
If eating mulch is only one of many ways your dog misbehaves, or if she already knows not to eat mulch but does so anyway, make sure the dog is getting enough exercise.
Dogs often misbehave when they’ve got too much energy, so tiring the dog out can solve many behavioral issues.
Because mulch eating is a problem that many dog owners deal with, most pet stores and garden shops sell non-toxic repellent to spray on the mulch. These sprays have a strong, unpleasant taste, discouraging dogs from eating anything it’s sprayed on.
There are also several DIY solutions that you can make at home, using ingredients you already have. Do your research and use only ingredients that will not harm the dog or the plants the mulch is surrounding. Common DIY sprays include:
- Cayenne pepper and water
- Vinegar and Water
Hire a Professional
If you’ve tried everything you can think of and your dog still insists on eating mulch, consult with your vet to make sure there’s not an underlying health issue (like pica) that may cause the behavior. Once the dog is cleared of health issues, it’s time to consult a pet behaviorist.
Why Dogs Chew Mulch
It helps to have an idea of what drives a dog’s behavior in order to decide on the best way to change it.
Puppies are much like human toddlers who explore the world using their mouths. Puppies will often chew mulch to get an idea of what it is and whether it’s edible; this is something they often grow out of on their own, although it’s still a good idea to prevent or discourage it when possible.
Also like toddlers, puppies chew on anything they can sink their teeth into to ease teething discomfort. Make sure to provide puppies with teething toys to distract them from less ideal teething materials.
Some dogs will chew on mulch or other objects just for something to do. If a dog is under-exercised and under-stimulated, she’ll have to make up her own way of entertaining herself or getting rid of excess energy.
Walk your dog regularly to provide exercise and a chance to explore. Include plenty of stimulating toys and playtime at home. Chances are, a dog will stop eating mulch if there are more exciting diversions available.
In addition to teething pain, tooth pain in older dogs can cause them to chew excessively. If your dog isn’t usually a destructive chewer and this changes, schedule a checkup with your vet to make sure there are no dental issues going on.
Dogs chew because it’s what they’re wired to do. It’s enjoyable and keeps their teeth healthy, provided that they’re chewing on the right things.
The Dangers of Mulch and Dogs
In addition to destroying your landscape, a dog that regularly chews mulch can be putting her health in danger.
The Dangers of Mulch
Mulch can be made out of various substances, some of which are toxic to dogs, such as cocoa beans. Dog owners are urged to use dog-safe mulch materials such as pine and cedar, even if the dog doesn’t eat it.
Even dog-safe materials carry their share of risks, such as allergic reactions, resulting in rash and skin irritation.
Dogs that eat mulch are at risk of ingesting chemicals that some mulch companies treat the mulch with, even if the material the mulch is made of is dog-safe.
Make sure any mulch you buy is labeled as dog safe. Pesticides, which may be on or near the mulch, can make a dog sick.
Dental and Digestive Issues
Chewing on mulch is a choking hazard and can cause broken teeth or splinters in the mouth and throat.
If the dog ingests the mulch, GI obstruction is possible. Because of these risks, it’s important to stop your dog from eating mulch as soon as the problem starts, rather than waiting for it to become a habit.
If you’ve tried and failed to get your dog to stop eating mulch, it might be time to invest in a mulch alternative.
The purpose of mulch, other than appearance, is to retain soil moisture and prevent weeds. Countless dog-safe materials can be used in place of mulch, such as hay or straw, pebbles or stones (if you’re sure your dog won’t start chewing them), pine needles, and the practical but less appealing option of cardboard or newspaper.
Although altering your landscaping may seem like a lot of work, it’s worth it if it means keeping your dog safe.
Fortunately, with a combination of training, repellents, distractions, and limiting access, most dogs eventually learn to stop eating mulch, and such drastic measures as redoing your yard won’t be necessary. But if nothing else works, it’s definitely something to consider, unless it’s possible to give the dog an alternate area to roam in.
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