Do walks with your young dog feel like a constant struggle to stop them from picking things up off the ground? Or perhaps you even have to physically remove stuff like rocks, wood chips or cigarette butts. Fortunately, most dogs outgrow this behaviour with time. However, it is possible to make things worse depending on how you deal with it. Either way, it’s not much fun for you or your dog while it’s going on.

It is vital to rule out a health issue to start with, especially if your dog is consuming the items. For example, dietary deficiencies or conditions that cause stomach upset can lead to pica (the ingestion of non-edible items), as the dog is trying to make themselves feel better. No amount of behaviour modification will provide lasting results if you don’t deal with the medical condition causing the behaviour as your first step.

Find out why

If your dog has a clean bill of health, then you can consider some of the other reasons your dog is grabbing stuff off the ground. Being opportunistic scavengers, it is not surprising that dogs will often investigate items they come upon. There are several reasons why picking up stuff can become a habit.

Now you may be thinking you don’t need to waste time figuring out WHY. You just want to STOP the annoying behaviour. Well, fair enough. Unfortunately, just squashing behaviour as a solution isn’t usually effective in the long run. And it certainly isn’t much fun for you or your dog, having to repeat “Leave it!” or “Drop!” continually throughout the walk.

So let’s get back to those reasons…


It may seem a bit odd, but dogs often pick up habits (pun intended!) because they find outings a bit dull. Unfortunately, most dog parents have been conditioned to think that A-B walks are all their dogs need. This often leads to dogs coming up with their own ideas of how to entertain themselves. And we know how that usually goes!

Without enough guidance and structure, a young dog can quickly start doing things we would rather they not. A combination of fun training exercises, playtime together, exploration and socialization to the environment will help fill your walks and your puppy’s head with enriching activities.

See What’s Missing in Great Leash Training for Dogs for ways to make your walks more enjoyable for your dog

They don’t know what else to do

If your dog is living in a behavioural vacuum on walks, then they will most likely fill in that emptiness. They might not be bored, but the outcome will usually be the same. The solution is the same, either way. Provide a variety of enriching activities to keep your dog amused and prevent them from getting into a rut.

You’ve reinforced it

We often are responsible for encouraging our pups to get into a habit we don’t like without knowing it. You might have found it cute when they were tiny and tried to pick up or carry things they found.

Perhaps the first time they picked up a particular item, you laughed or responded in a way that left an impression on your dog. First impressions are huge! And they stick.

Moral of the story? Things that get reinforced keep happening. So make sure you don’t add more value to the behaviour by the way you respond.

They are looking for attention

A dog may continue grabbing things off the ground because of what we discussed above. The attention initially elicited can then turn the behaviour into an attention-getting tactic in the future.

To prevent your dog from using this tactic, be sure to give your dog attention when they aren’t picking up stuff.

  • Walking quietly along, not picking up stuff?
  • Sniffing, not hoovering?
  • Looking your way?

All great times to praise your dog, throw a treat their way, or invite them to you for some play.

The behaviour becomes repetitive due to anxiety

If your dog finds a specific environment stressful or they tend to be anxious in general, picking up objects can be self-soothing. Not addressing the anxiety can cause the behaviour to become compulsive over time as a coping mechanism. Get help from an experienced, fear-free professional trained to help with behavioural issues.

Addressing the cause

So once you have identified the underlying causes, you can begin addressing them. But old habits usually die hard, don’t they? So what do you do while you are working through the transition phase? Harness the magic of using good management! Management will allow you to change habits with less fuss and stress, and make it easier to build new behaviour.

In extreme cases, a properly conditioned muzzle may be the best solution for the short term. This removes risk, especially if your dog picks up and ingests dangerous items.

In general, managing the environment is an adequate choice for most dogs. Choose locations where the items your dog is fixated on are not present. If you come across the things just in specific spots on your walk, avoid these spots or distract your dog to get through them. For example, you can lure them with a treat, partake in some fun training or play a favourite game, such as tug.

I hope you have found this information helpful. And that it has given you some useful tips and strategies to get your dog over their pickup habit! Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to check out What’s Missing in Great Leash Training for Dogs

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