“Warning: Poisoned bait.” Sooner or later, every dog owner hears a scary story about two-legged terrorists hounding four-legged friends with booby-trapped treats.
Social media posts about animals having to be put down after finding sausages with razor blades in them or tasty morsels filled with rat poison are, sadly, all too common.
What should dog owners do? Firstly, don’t panic: Experts say it’s often unclear if stories about poisoned bait are even true, and how often pet owners become needlessly fearful.
“Unfortunately, there is no record anywhere of how often poisoned bait is put out or eaten by dogs,” says Lea Schmitz, of an animal welfare association in Germany, where media reports of poisoned bait are currently rampant.
“I only share confirmed reports,” says dog trainer Franziska Herre, who takes a skeptical approach when she sees viral posts about poisoned dogs on social media. After all, anyone can take a photo, label it “poisoned bait” and post it online along with a warning.
People who do that might be motivated by the desire to keep dogs away from a particular area, and would manage to do so with minimal effort, she says, adding that often, there’s no official confirmation of the reports on social media.
If confirmed, muzzle up
If a case has been confirmed by the authorities, put a muzzle on your dog when you head out for a walk to stop it from eating anything along the way.
Poisoned bait might be pieces of sausage that contain a razor blade, drawing pins or toxic substances such as slug pellets, according to the animal welfare association.
“Sometimes the bait isn’t intended for pets but other creatures like rats or mice,” says Schmitz.
But poisoned bait isn’t the only thing you should watch out for, and it’s worth noting that chocolate, sugar-free chewing gum, household cleaners and certain plants are also toxic for dogs.
Some dog training schools even offer anti-poison bait courses for some time, including Herre. “This kind of training isn’t a 100% insurance that nothing will happen,” she says. “But it does reduce the likelihood that the dog will eat that kind of bait.”
The best time to start training your dog is when it is a puppy. Focus on “impulse control”, say the experts. Young dogs should learn not to react immediately to their impulses but learn to wait, if they see a delicious-looking treat that is within reach.
Experts take several approaches in anti-poison bait training, Herre says. One way is to forbid the dog from eating anything at all unless it has been expressly allowed to do so.
You can teach your dog to avoid rigged bait by holding out some food or dropping it. If your dog goes for the food, you cover it with your hand or foot. “They understand this in two minutes, and then they start to generalise,” says Herre.
Dogs learn in a very location-specific way, so if you stop them from taking food in one particular place, they won’t necessarily understand that this rule applies everywhere.
Treats for ignoring found food
If you want to teach the dog to avoid food everywhere outdoors, make sure you train the dog in several everyday situations in a good number of places.
Don’t make the mistake of letting a “no” become a “yes”, says Herre. That might happen for example if you forbid a dog from taking a treat from your hand, but then give it that treat for being well-behaved.
You can reward your dog’s obedience with different treats from your other hand, says Herre, adding that the dog should never get the food that it wanted as part of the training to avoid food it finds outdoors.
Recall is another way you can train your dog. If you place food in a meadow and your dog runs to it but you call the pet back before they reach it, give the dog a generous reward for obeying. You can also attach a dragline to your dog’s harness so you can stop the dog if it fails to obey the command.
Bartering is also a successful method, where the dog learns that if they give something to you, they get a great reward in exchange.
Start out by exchanging something that your dog is not especially excited about and give the pet something more appealing in exchange.
If you have successfully taught your dog that it is worthwhile giving you something as they are likely to receive something better in exchange, the animal is more likely to pass up on any poisoned bait.
If you do think your dog has swallowed something harmful, do not try to induce vomiting if you don’t know what it is, as caustic poisons may burn the dog’s throat, while razor blades will only cause further injury, say the animal welfare experts from Four Paws.
You’re better off ringing your vet as quickly as possible and describing the dog’s symptoms. Some of the typical symptoms of poisoning include diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, intense salivation, a fast heartbeat and vomiting. – dpa/Sabine Maurer