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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our beloved four-legged friends are descended from a top predator. It can be hard to imagine that the dogs we know and love today once had to survive by stalking and hunting prey…yes, even the littlest of Chihuahuas!
Many dogs still hunt for prey today, but often alongside their human companions, such as is the case for many spaniels and retrievers. However even our pet dogs still retain some form of predatory instinct, and this instinct often appears in the presence of small, fast-moving prey.
One of the most common “prey” species for our pet dogs is the seemingly insignificant lizard which can be found in the biggest cities and the smallest rural towns.
While our pups may enjoy a good time hunting and eating the lizards, it might not be the best option for them. But how do we stop our dogs from eating lizards?
Eating the occasional lizard will probably not hurt most dogs, but you can stop your dog from eating lizards by teaching them obedience cues like Leave It or Drop It. You can also prevent your dog from encountering lizards in the first place, or work on your pup’s impulse control and predatory instincts.
Below we’ll discuss different ways to stop your dog from eating lizards, 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 coming into contact with lizards in the first place, and why it might be dangerous for your dog to eat a lizard.
5 Ways To Stop Your Dog From Eating Lizards
To help stop your dog from chasing and eating lizards, you might try one of the following solutions.
1. Teach Your Dog A “Leave It” Cue
The “Leave It” cue is one of the most important behaviors you can teach your pup. Dogs are naturally curious, but despite their high intelligence levels they often cannot distinguish what is okay to eat and what is not okay to eat unless we teach them otherwise.
Teaching your dog a “Leave It” cue will help teach them good impulse control and learn when it’s appropriate to eat something or pick something up in their mouths. While we may find those lizards unappetizing, to a dog they might look delicious! With “Leave It”, you can prevent your dog from eating anything nasty (goose poop, anyone?) or dangerous in the first place.
If you are out with your pup in the backyard or out on a walk, it’s important to be paying attention to what your dog is doing as dogs will often give some kind of warning signal prior to putting something in their mouths.
This is often as small and subtle as suddenly stopping in place and dropping their head to the ground, but with lizards, you may have more obvious warning signals where you can quickly utilize your “Leave It” cue to get your dog to leave the lizard alone.
If you notice your dog start to chase after a lizard, or you notice a lizard sunbathing on the sidewalk, you can tell your dog to “Leave It” and, provided you have established a reliable behavior, your dog should stop what they are doing, and you can then give them further instructions or move them away from the lizard.
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 start practicing where lizards are known to hang out.
During the training process, you should always make sure you have a high quality, tasty treat on hand to reward your pup when they leave the lizard alone, or they may decide that going after the lizard is the better choice.
Over time and with repeated practice, your dog will be able to leave those lizards alone with only a verbal reminder from you to “Leave it”!
2. Teach Your Dog A “Drop It” Cue
If your pup has already picked up the lizard and has it in his mouth, then your next course of action would be to get him to spit that lizard out before he swallows it! Just like “leave it”, this cue will work for any and everything your dog may want to eat, and not just lizards!
While we pet parents can sometimes panic if our pups have gotten something into their mouths that they shouldn’t have, we need to pause for a moment and remind ourselves not to panic as this will usually result in our four-legged friends taking off for a “fun” game of chase, or quickly swallowing the lizard.
This is where a good “Drop It” behavior can come in handy. With “Drop It”, you can teach your dog to drop whatever they may have in their mouth, including lizards!
While a “Leave It” cue should be your first response, if you missed your dog picking up the lizard, then the “Drop It” cue can be used to make sure your dog does not eat the lizard and instead spits him 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, and is also a great cue to teach your pup if they have a tendency to destroy and eat their toys. But it can also work for just about anything from lizards to acorns and everything in between.
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.
Once your pup is doing well with his toys, you can also start using drop it for other objects including food, treats, or anything else your dog may like to carry around in his mouth.
Just make sure you reward him with something tasty or another session of play time as soon as he drops what’s in his mouth!
3. Prevent Access To The Lizards
One of the most effective ways you can ensure your pup isn’t eating lizards is to prevent them from having access to the lizards in the first place. This is easier said than done, though, since lizards are fairly small, quick, and can be found in most regions and environments.
If you have a backyard, you can block off access to areas of your yard where lizards may be found, such as stonework, standing water, or any other locations that tend to be warmer and a good place for lizards to sunbathe or where they may find food.
When you first let your dog out in the backyard you can do a quick check to make sure no lizards are within the vicinity, or you can also keep an eye on your dog while he is out in the yard.
If you have a larger backyard or one that is unfenced, you may also consider keeping your dog on a long leash to have more control over them and to make sure they are within eyesight at all times.
As a last resort, you can also put a basket muzzle on your pup to prevent them from eating the lizards, though they may still chase and potentially kill the lizard if they step on them or if the lizard somehow gets into the basket of the muzzle.
If you choose to go the muzzle route, make sure you are using a well-fitted basket muzzle (my personal favorite is the Baskerville’s line of basket muzzles) and not one of the fully enclosed nylon muzzles, as those cannot be left on for long periods of time and can impact your dog’s breathing.
4. Provide An Alternative Treat Or Toy
In addition to their natural predatory instincts, dogs will also chase and eat lizards if they are bored and have nothing else to do. Dogs need mental and physical enrichment in order to feel happy and calm.
Providing your pup with a safe treat or toy to occupy them while they are outside is a good way to provide safer enrichment than chasing and eating lizards. Bones, bully sticks, chew toys, puzzle toys, or other things that your dog enjoys playing with are all good options.
Just make sure that anything you give your pup is safe for them to chew on and interact with while not under your supervision, and that there is no risk of choking hazards.
Another option is to provide an interactive toy that your dog can safely chase. There are a variety of robotic and interactive dog toys on the market, and they can potentially provide a safer way for your dog to enjoy their chase games but without any lizard casualties.
5. Take Your Dog To An Obedience Class
While you’ll never be able to completely rid a dog of their natural instinct to chase and kill small prey like lizards, you can help teach them proper impulse control and provide safer outlets for those instincts.
In addition to the “Leave It” and “Drop It” cues discussed above, doing any type of training with your pup will help them learn better impulse control and make it less likely they will engage in those predatory instincts and go after those lizards.
Group obedience classes are great places to start working on impulse control, and you can continue your pup’s education at home by practicing various obedience cues and rewarding them when they show good impulse control.
Is It Bad If My Dog Eats A Lizard?
In most areas, the lizards that are found within your backyard and within more urban environments do not pose much of a risk if your pup happens to catch one and eat it.
In some areas (particularly in some desert and tropical environments), there are lizard species that pose more of a danger to dogs, and if you live in one of the areas where the more dangerous species of lizards are found, you should take extra precautions to prevent your pup from encountering any of those lizards.
While some lizards may not naturally pose any risk to dogs if they ingest it, there is a risk that the lizard walked through something, such as anti-freeze, and which the dog will ingest upon eating the lizard. Some lizards may also carry parasites that could cause harm to your dog.
If your pup has eaten a lizard and begins behaving oddly, it’s best you get them into the vet as soon as possible to get them checked out.
If they did not consume the entire lizard, bringing it into your vet will also help your vet determine if it was the consumption of the lizard that caused the illness, and they will be better able to come up with a more accurate treatment plan.
Outside of being potentially dangerous for your pup, many lizards are also considered threatened or even endangered. They are an important part of our ecosystem, and while your dog just eating one lizard may not impact the local flora and fauna much, over time it could cause permanent damage to the environment and the various species that call the Earth home.
It’s almost impossible to completely remove a dog’s natural predatory instincts, and it is unfair of us to punish them for something that they would do naturally, such as chasing and eating that lizard.
To protect both our dogs and the lizards, as responsible pet parents we can take steps to help stop our dogs from eating lizards.
This could be teaching your dog a “Leave It” cue or perfecting their impulse control when they are around such desirable things as the lizard.
Find what works for you and your pup, and then practice, practice, practice!