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No More Mulch! A Guide To Prevent Your Puppy Snacking in Your Yard

Puppies love to play and chew on mulch but it is messy and can be a health risk. Luckily with a few steps you can prevent you puppy from falling in love with this backyard staple.

Puppy resting in mulch

Why Mulch?

It is developmentally normal for puppies to pick up items. They explore the world with their noses and mouths. We can’t ask puppies why mulch is so appealing, but it’s probably something about the texture and smell. The mulch has an interesting texture as a puppy bites into it. Puppies also probably like mulch because we try so hard to get it away! 

Risk of Mulch to Puppies

Whether your puppy just wants to pick up and carry mulch, chew it into smaller pieces, or try to swallow it, it isn't ideal! Some mulches may be treated with products that are toxic for dogs or even be made with toxic plants. Eating mulch could result in gastrointestinal problems if they eat too much. How much mulch is an issue will depend on the type of mulch and your dog. 

Eating Mulch on Walks

Most puppies will outgrow this behavior if we do not make a big deal out of it. Avoid taking your puppy near mulch. If you are walking your puppy on a leash, navigate around the flower beds with mulch or carry your puppy past these areas. 

While this sounds like we are avoiding the problem, most puppies outgrow mulch eating after a few months. If we continually let them pick up mulch, it becomes a competition and creates more interest for puppies. 

Eating Mulch in the Backyard

Most puppies will outgrow this behavior too if we do not make a big deal out of it and avoid opportunities for now. If you can, block off the areas with mulch by using temporary fencing. You can use a leash in the yard with your puppy and prevent them from going to places with the mulch.

Engage your puppy in other activities, such as coming when called or playing toy games in the yard. Don’t let them get bored and go off to the mulch. You can scatter their breakfast food in the grass for them to sniff out. 

While we may envision a puppy enjoying their freedom to frolic in a yard or lounge in the sun, most puppies would rather get into mulch, tear apart shrubs, and find other trouble. Puppies typically outgrow these behaviors if we do not let them practice them.  

What to Do If Your Puppy Picks Up Mulch

Our human response is to take the mulch away from a puppy quickly. Unfortunately, this tends to build a puppy’s interest in grabbing the mulch! Some puppies learn to grab it more quickly or to be sneaky so that we don’t notice. Other puppies will learn to grab it while we watch, so this turns into a chase or tug game!  

If your puppy is not going to swallow the mulch immediately, you can run or quickly move away from your puppy. Talk excitedly, and your puppy is likely to follow you. When your puppy arrives, offer a treat or toss the treat on the ground. Feed a few treats in a row while moving your puppy away from the piece of mulch, or calmly step on the mulch while your puppy is not looking. Do not race your puppy for the piece of mulch!

Then, leash your puppy or engage them in other activities. Don’t let them go back to the mulch area. 

If you are more concerned about your puppy immediately swallowing the mulch, trade it for a high-value treat. This is the lowest-risk way of getting it back. They are not yet trained to let go, but we can at least avoid conflict or feelings of being tricked. 

Using "Leave it" or "Drop it"

Most families want to teach “leave it” or “drop it” to handle mulch situations. While this can be helpful, it doesn’t teach the puppy to have no interest in the mulch. In some situations, it can build more desire to interact with mulch.

Learning these skills is absolutely a good idea! But start with a more neutral object, like crumpled paper, then move on to mulch later.

We would not leave a plate of cupcakes on a table with a human toddler. Expecting an average puppy to be responsible with mulch in the yard is unrealistic. “Leave it” might only be effective for a certain period after saying the cue, and you’ll need to repeat it. Instead, we want your puppy not to experience mulch’s joys and have time to develop other outdoor hobbies as he matures.