Eating plastic bags

Discussion in 'Labrador Training' started by PatG, May 26, 2019.

  1. PatG

    PatG Registered Users

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    Finn is 15 months now and on the whole a lovely, well behaved and calm dog. So calm in fact that a few people have suggested he'd make a good Pets As Therapy dog.

    We do have one problem. If he finds a plastic bag he tries to eat it. A few weeks he succeeded in swallowing one, then spent a day vomiting everything he ate. The vet gave us rehydrating powder and told me to take him in first thing next morning, fasting ready for surgery. Luckily he passed the whole thing just in time.

    I know he thinks it's a great game to have me try to get something from him when he knows I can't catch him. I used to ignore him when he picked up litter and that mostly worked because he got bored and dropped it. But now I'm scared he'll swallow something again. I've tried coaxing him with the best treats - chicken, liver cake, favourite toys - but when he's got a plastic bag he ignores them even if I throw them at his feet.

    We live in a sceanic area where there are lots of tourists so the litter problem is worse in summer. Also most of our walks are on beaches and away from roads and he's usually off lead. The only solution I think might work would be to keep him on a training lead all the time. What do you think? Any other suggestions?
     
  2. Jo Laurens

    Jo Laurens Registered Users

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    I think you need to teach a reliable 'Drop' cue:



    The issue will be that plastic bags frequently smell of food or have smudges of food on them. So you will need to reach the point, with your Drop training, that you can ask the dog to drop a food item - in return for an even more valued food item.

    One way I like to practise dropping food items, is using a ball like this: https://images.app.goo.gl/M4PGXBmsisXj3Hwr6

    And putting a hard piece of food inside that (like a dried fish skin treat or a Yak nugget). The dog cannot eat that or get it out quickly, giving me time to do lots of reps of Drop for a click and a more amazing reinforcer.

    You can only move onto this once you have done all the earlier steps outlined in Chirag's video.

    When you find something a dog really likes and finds it hard to drop, you need to be using the most amazing reinforcer ever. For example: My 12yo loves dead rabbits (in any stage of decay!!) and will leave them - in exchange for a tripe stick. We discovered that her reinforcer needs to be something longer-lasting and smelly, just like a dead rabbit...! So now we go out with a pack of tripe sticks with us, along with regular treats and recall treats - just to be able to reinforce Drops on dead rabbits....
     
  3. PatG

    PatG Registered Users

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    Thank you very much for your detailed reply. Since my original post Finn found and ate another really big plastic bag. The vet had told me last time that if I got him to her quickly enough she could make him be sick, so I rushed him straight there. The plastic bag he vomited was so big the vet thought it very unlikely it would have passed through his gut. I was very glad I took him though he continued to be sick for a good hour and was then exhausted. So for now I'm keeping him on his training lead on all walks unless we are somewhere very remote. We really don't want to have to go through that again!

    The video is good. I'm happy to do the work and Finn would enjoy it, though I can't imagine ever getting to the stage where he would drop a hotdog! But we will make a start and see how it goes. We are already at the stage where he will drop some thing (today it was a dirty nappy he found in some bushes - yuck) because he knows he can't get away with it when on his training lead.
     
  4. AlphaDog

    AlphaDog Registered Users

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    Big problem I'd say. If a plastic bag gets tangled in his stomach you probably looking at at $3K-$4 surgical bill. You need to nix this behavior before it hits your wallet or kills him. You don't want either.
     
  5. 5labs

    5labs Registered Users

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    I would muzzle him until you have taught a reliable retrieve. Everything my dogs find is brought straight to me. Everything gets rewarded no matter how manky it is. The most memorable things i have had brought to me are a chicken burger, a kebab and a box of KFC bones!
     
  6. Michael A Brooks

    Michael A Brooks Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    Be careful though. Some muzzles will still allow the dog to eat a plastic bag. I would keep the dog on a long line, while keeping an eye on the dog all the time from a relatively close distance to the dog, until you have a fool proof leave it cue.
     
  7. Jo Laurens

    Jo Laurens Registered Users

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    I agree that a baskerville muzzle would be a good idea. Introduce one in the right way so the dog loves it - go to YouTube and search for Chirag Patel and muzzle. Follow those steps.

    I don't think he could eat a plastic bag through a muzzle if it were properly fitted, certainly not before you can get to him.

    As an aside: I was once training a gundog class outdoors in a public space and one of my students had their backpack on the ground, with a plastic ziplock bag of treats in it. It was full of hotdogs. This beagle appeared out of no where (no owners around to be seen at this point), ran to the backpack, stole the plastic bag and ate the whole thing and all the hotdogs(!!!!!). I had to go find the owner and explain so they could take the dog to the vet if needed.

    In my eyes though, these kind of things are all about establishing the right relationship with the dog from an early age and ensuring that is one of co-operation and the dog wanting to work with you, and wanting your reinforcers over anything else (because through history and experience they have learnt yours are the best thing to work for) rather than a relationship of conflict or the dog seeing you as a threat to their possession of whatever it is. It is one thing to talk about this as an isolated behavioural problem, but really it's indicative of that 'stuff' behind in the relationship, not being quite right...
     
  8. PatG

    PatG Registered Users

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    Hi Jo Thanks for your comments but there really isn't a problem with my relationship with Finn. Im sorry if my post made it sound that way but we spend all our time together and have a lot of fun. He's so well behaved that people are often surprised to learn that he's only 16 months old. The plastic bag problem has arisen because he's a young, very food motivated Labrador and we live in an area where people often picnic and don't take their rubbish away with them. Finn will happily allow me to handle his food dish whilst he is eating, or to pick up any of his favourite bones or toys.
    At the moment we are doing ok because I keep him on a long training lead when we are anywhere he's likely to find a bag. Now if he finds one he picks it up, looks to me for confirmation and drops it again when I tell him. I'm not confident enough to test this out with no lead yet.
     
  9. 5labs

    5labs Registered Users

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    This!
    So common, but unfortunately, owners in this situation will never be able to see it themselves.
     

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