How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Bird Seed?

dog watching birds and approaching bird seed to eat it

Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and their heightened sense of smell makes them more likely to investigate things that we humans normally think of as not really being that interesting. Dogs also tend to explore things with their mouths and will “taste test” things that they’ve come across to see if they are edible or not.

This often leads them to consuming things that might not always be good for them. One of the more common things in many households that a dog may find fun to eat is bird seed, seed balls, and suet blocks. Bird watching and backyard birding is an incredibly popular pastime in many areas, so bird foods of all kinds can potentially be accessible to dogs.

Allowing our dogs to consume food meant for wild birds can be annoying at best and a potential medical concern at worst. But how do we stop our dogs from eating bird seed?

You can stop your dog from eating bird seed by preventing access to it in the first place, and by placing feeders out of reach of larger dogs. Teaching obedience cues like Leave It or Drop It are also good ways to teach your dog not to eat any food left out for the birds.

In the article below, we’ll discuss different ways to stop your pup from eating bird seed and other bird food, with step-by-step instructions on how to teach cues such as “Leave It” and “Drop It”.

We’ll also look at ways to prevent your pup from accessing the bird food in the first place, and potential health concerns for dogs who consume bird seed.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Bird Seed?

To help stop your dog from eating bird food, you might try one of the following solutions.

Keep in mind it might be easier to stop dogs from eating regular bird seed than it is to stop them from eating a seed cake, which is often held together by honey or another sugary substance, or a suet block, which is often held together by animal fats like beef or pork.

1. Prevent Access To The Bird Food

The easiest and best way to get your dog to stop eating bird food is to prevent access to it in the first place.

Keeping loose seed in a sealed container will help keep dogs from munching on it. I also throw my unopened suets and seed cakes in with the loose seed to keep my dogs from getting into them.

Keeping an unopened bag of seed up and out of reach of your pup is a good idea, too, as sometimes a curious pup will want to get a closer sniff and may rip open the bag with their teeth.

Once you’ve put your seed, suets, or seed cakes out for the birds, make sure they are up high enough so that your dog cannot get into them. And don’t underestimate the lengths your pup might go to in their attempts to try and get a taste of that suet block!

Placing feeders on higher branches, bird feeding stations, or other secure areas are all good ways to keep your dog from getting into it but still allows for easy access for the birds. Using feeders with smaller openings, mesh screens (similar to what is used for thistle feed for species of Finch), or coverings that restrict access to everything but a bird are also good ways to keep Fido out of the food.

2. Teach Your Dog A “Leave It” Cue

I’ve discussed this particular technique in a previous article on how to stop your dog from eating lizards, but the same process can be applied to stop your dog from eating bird seed, too. This video can give you a visual example of how to teach this command and I’ll explain it in more depth below:

The “Leave It” cue is an incredibly valuable behavior to teach your dog as it not only discourages them from consuming something they shouldn’t, but it also helps instill general good impulse control and increases the likelihood that your pup will think twice before potentially eating something questionable.

If you’ve put away the bird seed but find that your pup is still trying to get into the feeders, giving them the “Leave It” cue will stop them in their tracks, provided you spent time making sure they properly learn what those words mean.

To teach “Leave It”, you can start by placing a piece of food on the floor and then stand right next to it. As your dog attempts to pick up the piece of food, you can cover it with your foot and say “Leave It”.

After your dog backs away, remove your foot and if they attempt to get the food again, repeat the “Leave It” cue and step over the treat again. As soon as your dog does not attempt to immediately go towards the piece of food on the ground, praise and reward them with a treat from your hand before picking up the piece of food on the ground.

Alternatively, you can also hold a piece of food in the palm of your hand and hold it out to your dog. If your dog attempts to take it from your hand, quickly close your hand and say “Leave It”. Once your dog stops immediately going towards your hand when you open it, praise and reward them with the treat.

Repeat this frequently, gradually ramping up the difficulty of what you are asking your dog to leave alone, and eventually you’ll be able to utilize it in the presence of bird food. If you see your pup making his way towards the bird feeders, you can tell him “Leave It” and then reward him with a tasty, high value treat as soon as he moves away from the bird feeder.

If he continues towards the feeder after giving him the cue, then you’ll probably have to go back to practicing “Leave It” in an easier setting. With practice and patience, you can develop a good “Leave It” with your dog and hopefully get them to understand that the bird food is not for them!

3. Teach Your Dog A “Drop It” Cue

While it’s best to try and prevent your dog from even getting the bird food in their mouth in the first place, if they do happen to get a hold of some you can rely on a “Drop It” cue to get them to release the food that was in their mouth, hopefully before they swallow any of it.

The “Drop It” cue works best for bird food that is a little more solid like a seed block or a suet brick, but you could still technically use it for loose seed, too (just be prepared for a bit of a mess when your dog spits it out!).

To teach “Drop It”, you can set up the situation by playing with your pup using one of their favorite toys. This works especially well if you are playing Tug of War.

Play with your dog for a few minutes, and then stop tugging or playing, but still keep a hold on the toy. Your pup may try to continue to play, but just stay calm and still.

As soon as your pup relaxes their hold and releases the toy from their mouth, praise and reward them with more play time, or even a treat. Repeat this several times, and once your pup is relaxing their mouth almost as soon as you stop moving, start saying “Drop It” just before they release their grip.

Over time and with repeated practice, your pup will learn that the verbal cue “Drop It” means he needs to let go of whatever he has in his mouth. As you practice with your pup and they are immediately dropping the toy upon hearing the verbal cue, you can move up to using dog treats and dog food with the “Drop It” cue, before eventually trying it with some bird food.

Just make sure you always reward your dog with something even better than what they had in their mouth, or you may find that they would rather keep what they have!

4. Other Management Solutions

If all else fails or you are unable to fully prevent access to the bird food, there are few other options that could provide a potential solution.

If you have a fenced yard, and your property line allows for it, you can place your bird feeders just outside of the fence.

This would prevent your dog from getting into them but depending on your property it might make it much more difficult to fill the feeders, you might not be able to see the birds as well when they visit, and if your property butts up against another property or public space, you may run into issues with neighbors who dispute the property line and the placement of the feeder.

Alternatively, you can move your feeders to your front yard, but you may run into the same issues as above regarding the feeders requiring more effort to fill or not being able to see the birds as well.

Finally, putting a basket muzzle on your pup when they are outside will almost completely prevent them from consuming the bird food unless they are able to knock seed into the openings of the muzzle.

Basket muzzles are safe and effective and can be left on for long periods of time, but training and preventing access to the food should both be attempted first or used in conjunction with the muzzle.

Is It Bad If My Dog Eats Bird Seed?

According to veterinarian Dr. Georgina Ushi Phillips, “Bird seed on its own isn’t toxic but if too much is ingested it can cause gastroenteritis”, which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Bird seed can also contain harmful toxins, molds, or other types of fungus, and the presence of bird seed can also attract rodents which can create additional headaches for dog owners.

Consuming large amounts of seed may also cause constipation or bloody stool if the seeds are very hard and sharp and cause micro tears in your dog’s system as they work their way through. And while dogs can handle some nuts and seeds, too much can cause digestive upset or even pose a choking hazard (like when a dog eats too many acorns!).

Seed bricks and suet blocks can cause additional issues due to the higher sugar content and the rendered animal fat that’s often found within them.

The rendered animal fat found within wild bird products is not held to the same standards as rendered meat made specifically for human or pet consumption, so there’s a possibility it could make your dog sick.

The increased sugar in the seed bricks can also cause metabolic issues in certain dogs. If your pup gets into a large quantity of bird seed at once, or they start displaying signs of stress or illness after consuming a seed brick or suet block, it’s best to reach out to your veterinarian to see if you need to bring your dog in for a medical evaluation.

Sanitizing your bird feeders and keeping them clean (as well as keeping the area around them clean of any spilled seed) will help reduce the chances of moldy or bad seed that your dog could potentially consume, as well as decrease the chances of any possible rodent infestations or unwanted pests who could carry potential diseases that could spread to your pup.

Being more mindful about the seasons in which you feed the birds can also help reduce the opportunities your pup has to eat the bird seed, too.

Closing Thoughts

Many dog lovers are also wild bird lovers, and one of the unfortunate things that come along with that is the occasional access a dog may get to bird seed and other wild bird food.

While your dog ingesting small amounts here and there probably won’t cause any issues, if you suspect your pup has consumed a large quantity all at once, or they are displaying other signs of illness, it’s best to get them to the vet.

But for the most part just keeping the seed out of reach of your pup is the best way to keep your dog from eating the bird seed, and allows you to continue to enjoy your bird watching without any risk to you four legged friend!

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