Sonja Meiburg




(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

Sonja Meiburg



For Damon and Vegas



The contents of this book have been put together with great care by the author and publisher, to the best of their knowledge and belief. We are nevertheless unable to accept responsibility for any harm to people or animals that occurs as a consequence of actions and/or decisions taken on the basis of the information provided.



Copyright © 2017 by Cadmos Publishing Ltd., Richmond Upon Thames, UK
Copyright of original edition © 2016 by Cadmos Verlag GmbH, Schwarzenbek, Germany

Design: r2 | Ravenstein,Verden
Setting: Das Agenturhaus, Munich
Cover photograph: Michele Baldioli
Content photos unless otherwise indicated: Michele Baldioli, Maité Herzog
Translation: Helen McKinnon
Editorial: Dr. Sarah Binns

Conversion: S4Carlisle Publishing Services

All rights reserved: No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.

eISBN: 978-3-8404-6926-8


Instructions, or how get the best from this

What doesn’t work?

Punishing your dog won’t work …

… Neither will punishing the food

Never throw treats on the ground

Hierarchical measures



Remove food?

"Leave" training

Bowl training

Feeding more frequently

Getting used to a muzzle

What works? Preparation

Rewarding: how, why and if at all?

Marker signal

Release signal

What works? The basic exercise "stopping ahead of food"

Aim of the exercise


How it works




(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

What works? The “don't touch this” signal

Baby level

Kindergarten level

Primary-school level

Big school


What about on a walk?

What works? The alerting behaviour "just look, don’t touch!"

Before you begin...

How to begin: stopping ahead of food

Reduce the distance

The actual alerting behaviour

Extending the alerting behaviour

Increasing the distance from your dog


What about on a walk?

Emergency signals

The “gourmet” signal: “yummy”

The “mouth open” signal

For difficult cases

Relaxation training

Pica – a special case


List of rewards

Choosing a dog trainer

Recommended reading

About the author

Instructions, or how to get the best from this book


(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

You’re enjoying a relaxing walk in the park with your four-legged friend when you suddenly let out a primal scream “Uuuuggghhh!!!! That’s disgusting!! Leave it!!”

What happened? Your dog suddenly stuck his nose in the air, then to the ground and, before long, he had something unspeakable in his mouth. He looks delighted with his find and beams at you with his mouth full. You, on the other hand, are not quite so overjoyed. Sound familiar? Then read on... I would like to show you how you can get your dog to leave food lying where it is, on the ground.

The individual exercises have been broken down into very small steps, but that doesn't mean you'll have to spend forever and a day training – quite the opposite. All it does is give you the most detailed plan possible to guide you through your training. If you and your dog find a stage of training particularly easy, you can confidently practise it for just a short while and then move on to the next step. However, you should not leave out any training steps, so that you can keep track of your progress and create a healthy basis to which you can return if you are struggling.

If you and/or your dog are having difficulties with a step, you can go back a step or two in your plan, practise this step more intensively until you have consolidated your training at this level, and then try the tricky step again.

People often ask me how long it takes to train a “vacuum cleaner”. To be honest, it is impossible to generalise. It very much depends on you and your dog, how often you practise, how skilful you are, how long your dog has been used to eating anything he sees on the ground and many other factors. Some owners get 90 percent on top of their vacuum-cleaner problem after just two training sessions. However, I have also known teams who had to practise under instruction for several months before training was really successful. In most of these cases, though, the owner did not have enough time to practise.

You will achieve your goal more quickly if you relax, let go of your expectations, go at your dog’s pace and enjoy the training. The more enthusiastic you and your dog are, the quicker and easier training will be.

Yours, Sonja Meiburg


(Photo: Michele Baldioli)



(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

Long-suffering owners of outdoor vacuum cleaners often wonder why their dog does it when they really do give him enough to eat. The answer is quite simple. He does it because he can and because it’s fun!

Since time began, dogs have been programmed to pick up every edible thing they find. After all, they never know where their next meal is coming from and whether their bowl is really as full this evening as it was the evening before. Dogs are genetically hardwired to eat, which makes sense, because survival is impossible without food.

The behaviour is also extremely self-rewarding. A dog doesn’t need somebody to stand beside him and tell him he’s a good boy for eating a piece of leftover pizza. Rabbit droppings are to our dogs what chocolate is to us, and even when a dog's tummy is full, he can always manage to nibble on something.

Because it is so genetically hard-wired and self-rewarding, there is no point trying your hardest to suppress this behaviour. When it comes to your dog picking up food when you’d rather he didn’t, working against your dog and trying to suppress the behaviour with punishment and being a spoilsport doesn’t help.

Punishing your dog won’t work …

To save you time, I’m going to start by listing the things that you don’t need to try. In most cases, these things will not help or will exacerbate the unwanted behaviour.

I mean, for example, screaming at the dog, shouting “no” or “stop that”, hitting him, jerking on the lead or running after him every time he has something in his mouth, until he finally hands over his prey.

If you punish your dog, he will, like any living being, try to avoid the punishment. However, this will not automatically result in him doing what you want him to do, i.e. leaving that disgusting morsel on the ground.

If he tries to avoid punishment, it only means that he will choose another strategy to achieve his aim. This is nothing personal and it also does not mean that your dog doesn’t take you seriously. He is only doing what he has learned and what nature tells him to do.

If you have already tried punishing your dog, you will have noticed that success tends to look like this:

• Strategy 1: Your dog very quickly picks upeverything he finds and tries to swallow it. When you try to see what he has in his mouth, he gives you this "what do you mean? I haven’t got anything in my mouth!” look and swallows the piece of horse dung as fast as possible.

• Strategy 2: Your dog grabs whatever is on the ground and cleverly tries to keep a safe distance of at least 30 metres between you and him. This can turn into a nice game of “tag” for you and your dog. Believe me, the dog will win!

• Strategy 3: The third and very unpleasant variation is that your dog suddenly begins to growl or snap at your hand when you try to take something away from him. Most dogs are sociable types who are not looking for a serious conflict and tend to try quickly to move their prey to a safe place, i.e. their stomach. However, now and then there are those who clearly show that they would really rather not be disturbed when eating a chicken leg. Dogs who do this don’t mean you any harm. It is just normal dog behaviour that can be changed with appropriate training.


No matter how understandable your anger is, punishment doesn’t help.
(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

Dogs that display one of the three variations above have learned that if they have something in their mouth and their owner comes along, it will be unpleasant! They have not learned that they are not allowed to eat from the ground. These are rather unfavourable conditions for successfully disputing the dog’s right to his prey, are they not?

… Neither will punishing the food

Yep, you read it correctly. On the internet, where anything is possible, people sometimes recommend that you beat up the disgusting thing on the ground. This is supposed to teach the dog not to eat it.

I have a rather unpleasant image of me taking my lead, shouting and angrily beating up some fox poo while splattering it in all directions. Yes, you are, of course, “actually” supposed beat up the ground next to it, but in the heat of the moment, how can you be sure that you won’t hit it?

The result of the beating is usually as follows. Polite dogs leave the poo and take the next pile. Dogs of a slightly more robust nature will stand back, wait until their owner finishes their performance and then gather up the remains. So this strategy doesn’t work either.


Only feeding him from a bowl will not prevent your dog from picking up food when you don’t want him to.
(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

Never throw treats on the ground

It all seems so simple. Always feed your dog from your hand or from his bowl and never throw treats or food on the floor. Your dog will then get used to never taking food from the ground... or not.

Let’s be honest. Imagine that you have been hand-feeding your dog for months, never dropping any treats on the floor and making sure that you never throw anything to your dog, because he could miss. Now there’s an old bit of pizza in front of you on the ground and your hand-fed, bowl-fed dog is standing next to you. Do you really think he’s going to say “no” to this snack? I think you know the answer.


Feeding only by hand isn’t a solution, either.
(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

Hierarchical measures

In obedience problems of all kinds, we very commonly hear people say “your dog doesn’t take you seriously and thinks that he’s the boss! You just have to show him that you are above him in the pack”, followed by advice such as “go through the door before him!” or “you have to eat before he gets his food” or, also very popular, “the dog shouldn’t be allowed on the sofa anymore”.

I’ll save you a long-winded lecture about how the business of canine pack hierarchy is rather old hat, and how it looks completely different from how dog owners have always pictured it and has long since been modified by newer findings from behavioural research. I will refer you to the relevant specialist literature in the appendix.

If you are still having doubts, I would encourage you to play the same intellectual game as described under “Never throw treats on the ground”. Imagine that you, like a good owner, have been going through the door before your dog for months on end. It goes without saying that you have also banned him from the sofa and only cuddled him on the hard floor for many weeks. You have eaten one or more biscuits each time before giving him his food. Now a few pounds heavier, you are walking your dog in the forest when you come across the now familiar pizza.

The rest is clear. How is your dog supposed to know that “I go through the door before you” means the same as “don’t touch the pizza!”? The best thing you can do is forget all about pack hierarchy, punishment and hand- and bowl-feeding. There is something that works much better: good training!


All muzzle training does is buy you a little time, nothing more. How much time depends on the type of muzzle. Nylon muzzles are completely unsuitable. The muzzle would have to be really tight to prevent your dog from picking up anything edible, but then your dog wouldn’t be able to pant, which would put his life at risk! These muzzles have no purpose for dogs, other than for “outdoor vacuum cleaner” training.

Real “basket” muzzles made from plastic, leather or metal, with plastic being the lightest, are much more suitable. These muzzles still allow the dog to pant, drink and move his mouth. Muzzles are available with a device to prevent your dog from picking up food from the ground through the front of the muzzle. However, they do not prevent the dog from dunking his head in soft “food” and sucking it in through the sides of the muzzle.



(Photo: Michele Baldioli)

At our dog-training school, we regularly hold training sessions on the topic of “leave”. This is for a good reason, because, even at the tender age of puppyhood, we can already see how “leave” has been trained so far and can, if necessary, correct behaviour in good time. Familiarise yourself with the most important rules now.

The most important tips for prevention

• Don’t just take away the bowl, toy or prey

• Pleasant “leave” training is the method of choice

• As is, of course, bowl training

• It is better to feed more frequently throughout the day

• Don’t forget muzzle training