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Why Do Dogs Eat Toilet Paper and Paper Products?

Preston post-toilet paper eating escapade
Preston post-toilet paper eating escapade

I am often asked why dogs eat toilet paper.  I would estimate that in every group dog training class I teach, it’s asked at least once during the course. And during that inquiry, more than one person’s dog eats toilet paper or paper towels, paper, paper plates, you get the picture.

So, just why do dogs eat paper products? At this point, I’m not sure there is one definitive answer, but I believe there are many reasons. Here are my top 5 reasons why a dog might enjoy a roll of toilet paper now and again.

  1. Boredom – A dog often finds himself “in trouble” when he has too much time on his paws. Dogs are very active and intelligent creatures that must both physical and mental activity throughout their day. When a dog is bored, he will find something to entertain himself with.  If this activity is not acceptable to the humans in the house, he is often “in trouble.”
  2. Attention Seeking – This ties in with boredom. Once again, if a dog is not receiving the attention he needs, he may find ways to get attention. If by grabbing a paper towel, napkin, or other product you get up, chase him down the house, he just found a great way to play chase.
  3. Loads of Fun – Why, yes. Taking an end off toilet paper and running through the house with it is so much fun! And the spinning action of the toilet paper holder itself is a treat to watch. One of the reasons we love dogs so much is their carefree enthusiasm over the simple things in life.
  4. Tastes Great – Napkins and paper towels often are extra tasty since they may be used and offer tastes of your lunch or dinner. Even without the extra bonus of your lunch, a lot of paper products are made from tree pulp, and we all know how much dogs love wood and sticks!
  5. Medical Reasons – Cases of toilet paper eating are not usually behavioral.  However, if your dog seems obsessive about eating paper and possibly other eating habits, a vet visit may be in order. Your veterinarian will likely want to run blood work and talk about potential nutritional deficiencies.
Kaden after a raid of the recycling bin.
Kaden after a raid of the recycling bin.

What can you do to prevent the destruction of your valuable toilet paper or important papers? First, increase your management skills. If your dog has the opportunity to perform the task you are trying to stop, he will likely continue to do it. Shut the bathroom door, clean up the house, lock up garbage baskets. It is much easier to change a behavior if you have a great management program in place. I often think about babies and toddlers.  As a parent, you certainly have a good management protocol in place, our your baby would be injured on a regular basis, this management priority should hold true for dogs too.

If you think your dog is bored, it’s time to up the ante on exercise, play, and mental activities. Even if you feel you are providing enough, your dog seems to think otherwise. If this is the case, it’s time to toss away the dog food bowls, and use his food for games.  Stuff those hollow toys then hide them. Change the toy around, find new hiding places, he needs fresh and new games. Enroll in a tricks dog training class, or hit the internet and teach him some new tricks and behaviors.  Your training sessions don’t need to be long, 1-10 minutes at various times throughout the day is plenty to teach new tricks.

If your dog is asking for attention, he has likely learned this is the way to get you to pay attention to him.  If on the other hand, you ignore the attention seeking behavior, he will learn this doesn’t work. If you increased his activities as suggested above, your dog is less likely to engage in attention seeking behaviors, making it easier for you to ignore those few times he still tries his old habit.

What’s The Harm? If your dog is ingesting large amounts of paper products, there is the potential the may clog up his intestines or choke.  The other concern is if the product has dyes or artificial scents on them. I had a client with a golden retriever who ripped open a piece of mail that had a fishing fly inside.  He had to have major surgery to remove the hook.  Luckily for him, he survived the ordeal.

Dexter after an interactive game of paper shredding.
Dexter after an interactive game of paper shredding.

That said, I typically don’t have a problem with a dog parent using a paper product as a reward if they have good management in the home.  What? Rewarding a dog and keeping those rewards interesting and engaging can be challenging.  If a dog enjoys the game of chasing paper, shredding it up, tugging on it, I think you can use that to your advantage as a reward. For example, when Dexter was a puppy, I did an impromptu come when called training lesson.  When I called out his name and he came running to me, out came a full paper towel roll!  I held onto the end piece as I tossed the roll in his line of running and the roll went unwinding and his eyes got so big with delight.  As he grabbed a piece, I joined him.  I was tossing, he was fetching and shredding.  We played for about 1 minute and then I collected up the pieces and tossed them in the garbage.  Boy, what an impact that reward made on his come when called lesson. I also have been known to use and recommend paper shredding with dogs that don’t know how to play.  Tissue tends to be pretty exciting for even the most reserved dogs.

Caught In The Act – If you catch your dog shredding up a piece of paper or tissue, calming grab a tasty treat, walk over to him, give him the treat and remove the paper product.  Make it a non-event. What you don’t want to do is yell, grab or make a big deal about it.  By replacing the valuable paper with a treat, you will decrease the chance that your dog will want to guard the stolen item in the future.  However, you will want to increase your management, so that you are less likely to run into this situation in the future.

So, there you have it.  Some possible reasons on why your dog may be fascinated with eating paper or toilet paper. Remember, dogs are creative in their game playing, get out there and engage them!

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