Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 9:55 pm | Fair 57º


Inquisitive Canine: Tomato Temptation Leads to Trouble

Tips to break the habit of foraging through the garden and counter-surfing

Hi, Joan:

We have had a yellow lab/golden retriever rescue dog for four-plus years. He has a terrible habit of eating the tomatoes off of our plants when they are about ready to pick. We have tried many things to stop this, including a wire fence and cayenne pepper.

He also likes to eat things off of our kitchen counters when not attended, including bread in the plastic bags — and the tomatoes. He doesn’t touch the bananas.

Can you give us suggestions on ways to stop this behavior? We want to eat our tomatoes.

— Kim Keheley Frye

Dear Kim:

I love how you don’t have an issue of getting your dog to eat his veggies (I know, tomatoes are technically a fruit), but I’m sure it can be annoying — especially when you’re unable to feed your own cravings when you come home. As a certified professional dog trainer, I can offer a few ideas to help you save some of these tasty tomato morsels for yourself.

The first and all-important note, according to the ASPCA Web site, tomato plants are known to be toxic to dogs — horses and cats, too — so keeping your pooch away from these delicacies is critical. The tomatoes themselves are obviously fine for him to eat, but not the plants (leaves, etc.). However, it’s a good idea to double-check all of this info with your dog’s veterinarian, just to be sure.

One way to resolve this issue is to simply get rid of the plants and hit the farmers market. But I’m sure that 1) you have probably thought about that already, 2) you may prefer your own fabulous homegrown tomatoes, and 3) your dog might find an alternate behavior that fulfills this one, but with something that could cause more harm to himself — or more damage to your yard.

Let’s talk about your situation and the steps you’ve taken so far:

» You have a dog living with you, and a retriever no less. This means he is hardwired to hunt and scavenge and put anything in his mouth that he can. Plus, if it tastes good, why wouldn’t he eat it? However, it seems he doesn’t like everything, since he is leaving the bananas alone.

» Your environment: Your dog has free rein in a lovely garden with enticing edible items, as well as access to a kitchen where the sport of canine counter-surfing pays off. For a few tips on how to deal with this activity, please visit Poncho’s dog blog, where he offers dog training tips from a canine perspective.

» What you’ve tried: You already have implemented a few management techniques within your environment, and kicked it up a notch with the seasoning — although that might not have been your intention.

Now, let’s narrow it down to the issues at hand.

» What are the current undesired behaviors? Your dog eats all of the tomatoes in the yard and goes counter-surfing in the kitchen.

» What are the desired behaviors? For your dog to be able to perform alternate behaviors in the garden while also refraining from eating the tomatoes off the plants, and for him to be in the kitchen, behaving nicely, ignoring tempting items left out on the counter.

OK, let’s start with an overall management plan since inanimate objects are easier to change than behavior of animals — human and canine. Then I’ll follow it up with a few training tips that could very well get you on the road to success.

» The great outdoors: You mention you tried wire fencing. You might want to revisit options for the yard. If you’re able to plant in a different location that is either out of your dog’s reach of investigation, or that can have a larger, sturdier fence or barricade built around the selected tomato/veggie garden, then that might be the ticket to your happy ending.

» Simple dog training tip: Reward your dog with petting, praise and food treats every time he is in the garden ignoring the tomatoes.

» As for him being allowed to eat tomatoes, why not use them to your advantage — unless you’re keeping them all for yourself. Try mashing them with some of his regular dog food and stuffing it into a food toy. That way your pooch gets the tomatoes, but in a way that keeps him busy, out of the garden and away from the kitchen counters.

» The great indoors: I’m sure this seems obvious, but a gentle reminder to keep any items you don’t want your dog to get his paws or mouth on need to be put away. Another option is to limit his access to the kitchen. Baby gates and/or closing doors can help.

» Simple dog training tip: Reward your dog for any and all desired behaviors he performs when in the kitchen, especially ignoring items that you inadvertently left out on the counter. Secondly, teaching your dog to perform a down-stay on a bed or mat within the kitchen area gives him something productive to do while still being able to hang out in the kitchen area. Oh, and you can use the food toy that’s been stuffed with his tomato-kibble combo as his enrichment to keep him stimulated while on his mat in the kitchen. For more on enrichment activities that can keep your dog entertained and out of trouble, please check out my dog training tips blog.

A little planning while switching rewards around so they work to your advantage can offer a nice solution to your issues. You get to eat your tomatoes while still sharing them with your dog — when you feel like it — and at the same time giving him “legal access” to the kitchen in a way that he will still enjoy himself.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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