Ask Ethel: Why Does My Dog Dig Through the Bathroom Trash?

05/11/2010 at 05:19 PM EDT

Ask Ethel: Why Does My Dog Dig Through the Bathroom Trash?
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Dear Ethel,

I'm glad to hear your training with your mom is going so well! Maybe you can help my family out as well. My husband and I have three dogs that we adore. As cute as they can be, and as much joy and laughter as they bring into the house, they still have a lot of work to do in the training department (or should I say we have a lot to do in the training department). Duke, the baby of the puppies, has a great nose and loves to get into the bathroom trash. We'd prefer he didn't drag these things out to give to people when they are visiting! Could you give us any suggestions? Thanks!

–Trash Collector

Dear TC,

I have a confession to make. Hi. My name is Ethel, and I'm a garbage-aholic.

Like Duke, I have a thing for going through the bathroom and kitchen trash in my house. I don't know what it is about that dental floss and other gross refuse – as soon as the lights are out and everyone else is asleep, I'm trotting over to various bins to see what's up. And I'm not even polite enough to put it back when I'm done investigating.

I have no idea why I do it. And since I'm not as self-aware as I'd like to be, I reached out to one of my favorite dog trainers in New York, Andrea Arden of Animal Planet's Underdog to Wonderdog. Thankfully, she assures me that this is normal. Scavenging and being predatory is how we were built to survive in the wild.

"That investigative behavior is prevalent in our pet dogs as well, even if we provide them with a healthy balanced diet," Arden tells PEOPLEPets.com. "More often than not, pet dogs are understimulated."

I need to be more stimulated? I already indulge my mom's insane need to wake me from my 20-hour power nap and walk me multiple times a day. Why do I need more, exactly?

"The dog trying to find an outlet for their mental and physical energy that is not in sync with how we would like them to behave," Arden says.

Okay, fine. So what should you do for Duke? Well, you're probably going to have to put a lid on the garbage can and close the door to the bathroom. That's not going to solve the stimulation problem, though, and Arden suggests feeding Duke with food-stuffable toys. Instead of using a food bowl and allowing him to scarf his meals, play a game of hide-and-seek with him. Take his food, spread it out between a few toys, and have him search for them. It takes the scavenging instinct away from the trash.

"Generally speaking, the average pet dog [is spending] an enormous amount of its time doing absolutely nothing," Arden says. "Put the food into toys, and your dog is super busy for easily an hour. At the end of that hour, the dog has exerted himself physically to some degree, but he's also been mentally activated."

I'll let you know how I do with my trash problem, and hope to hear from you, too.

–Ethel

Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can't figure out? Try Ethel – she'll do her best to help. Send your questions to helin@peoplepets.com. Include your pet's age, breed and sex, and try to give as much context to your problem as possible.

Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: New Kitten Keeps Biting!
Ask Ethel: My Bulldogs Keep Knocking Me Down!

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