Beagles are a popular breed, but many people don’t realise that as well as having charming personalities, they also tend to have some challenging behaviours. First, they are often escape artists who love roaming (and so they need to be carefully enclosed so that they cannot get out). And second, they have a rich sense of smell, and they love exploring the world with their nose, eating anything remotely edible that they come across.
When Flash is taken for walks, she heads off straining at the leash, with her nose pressed to the ground. When she picks up a scent, she follows it with determination: nothing Maureen can do will distract her from it. And if she finds anything interesting while she is sniffing around, she eats it at once, so that Maureen never has time to stop her. She’ll eat food that’s been dropped to the ground, rotten leaves, wildlife carcasses, mushrooms, plants and pieces of wood. She’ll also chew any litter that’s lying around. In fact, Maureen feels that there’s very little that Flash won’t try to eat.
There’s another reason why Maureen is nervous about letting Flash off the leash: she is not good about coming back when called, and she barks at other dogs. In public areas where there are other people and dogs around, it’s too risky to let her run free, but if Maureen finds an empty field, she will let Flash off the leash for a run. There’s another issue when she does this: it’s even more difficult to control Flash’s scavenging when she is running free.
When Flash was younger, these behavioural issues seemed like charming but challenging parts of her personality, but in the past six months, Maureen has discovered that her scavenging habit can be an expensive and life-threatening problem. From time to time, Flash has suffered from bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea after eating something unsavoury. These digestive upsets usually settle down following a simple period of fasting and bland food, but last summer, Flash became worse rather than better. She was dull and dejected, refusing to touch her supper and vomiting repeatedly. Maureen brought her to our clinic, and she was diagnosed with pancreatitis, a severe inflammation of the pancreas that’s often linked with scavenging behaviour. Flash had to be hospitalised, on an intravenous drip and multiple medications for several days. Without this intensive treatment, she could have died, but fortunately, she responded well, and she made a full recovery.
Since that episode, Maureen has done her best to control Flash’s scavenging, but just last week, she fell ill again after scavenging while out on a walk. Maureen now wants to buy a muzzle to prevent Flash from eating anything that might upset her digestive tract. As an extra precaution, I’ve also suggested that she teaches Flash the “Leave It” command. This is done by having the tastiest possible treats in your pocket: when you say leave it, if she immediately drops whatever she has in her mouth, and you give her a treat. It takes time and patience to teach her this, but once she has learned the command, it would at least give Maureen some control over the worst of the scavenging behaviour. Maureen may need the help of a good dog trainer to help Flash learn this command, and at the same time, it would be helpful to teach her to come back reliably when called.
Flash is a lovely, good-natured dog, but if her scavenging and her refusal to come back can be brought under control, she’ll become a pet who fits in far more harmoniously with her human companions.
- Dogs are natural scavengers, enjoying picking up scraps
- This habit often leads to digestive disturbances
- Muzzling and the “leave it” command are two ways of controlling this behaviour