How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Garden Mulch

When you’re caring for your garden the last thing on your mind might be making the space dog friendly. I mean, it probably never occurred to you to worry about your dog eating mulch, because what’s the harm, right?

In reality, mulch can be toxic to dogs, not to mention potentially causing an obstruction or damage to their digestive system. That’s why you need to prevent your dog from eating mulch. But that can be tricky. As we all know, dogs have a mind of their own!

To help you stop your dog from eating mulch in your garden this article will give you a few tips and tricks so your pet can stay healthy and your garden can stay vibrant.

What is Mulch and Is it Bad for Dogs?

how to stop your dog from eating garden mulch

Mulch is typically used to cover the soil and to make it appear more attractive. It’s also used to suppress weeds, add nutrients to the soil, and help the earth retain water. This might be ideal for a human’s need and be good for our plants, but mulch can be toxic to your dog.

Mulch can be made of organic or synthetic material. Most often, it’s made out of wood bark or chips, pine straw, leaves, compost, manure, grass clippings, and other yard waste.

Synthetic mulch is made up of bits of rubber – often recycled tires. These contain a lot of cancer-causing toxins like VOCs and PAHs. It’s no big deal if you’re using the mulch for ornamental plants, but you (or your dog) definitely don’t want to eat these chemicals.

Cocoa bean mulch contains compounds like theobromine and caffeine (both of which are in chocolate). It has an appealing scent that encourages your dog to come and nibble at it. The particular type of mulch is extremely toxic for your pooch. It’s best to avoid this type of mulch on your homestead altogether if you have dogs.

What Happens if My Dog Eats Mulch?

dog in mulch

Depending on the type of mulch your dog eats, the results can range from no big deal to disaster. Lots of dogs eat grass, so if your pup eats your grass mulch, your pup will probably be perfectly fine. A small bite of rubber mulch or leaf mulch probably won’t hurt them one bit, either.

A large piece of wood mulch might get stuck in your dog’s stomach or throat. Or it could cause a blockage in their intestines. Even small pieces of wood can cause perforations. That could mean an expensive vet bill and even death.

Cocoa bean mulch is another matter because it is essentially poison for your pooch. If your dog consumes this type of mulch, you might see:

  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Abdominal pain

It’s common for these signs to appear between 6 to 12 hours after your dog has eaten cocoa bean mulch. Thankfully, if you catch it in time you can rush your dog for treatment from the vet. Death from eating cocoa bean mulch is possible but rare.

Any type of mulch can have mold or chemicals from pesticides or fertilizers in it. If your dog eats enough, she might become ill. In fact, in large amounts, molds and industrial chemicals can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and even death.

But even if your dog is eating mulch that isn’t toxic, that doesn’t mean we want them chowing down on the stuff that we put in place to improve our garden. So how can you stop your dog from eating mulch at all?

Why Do Dogs Chew Wood and Other Inedible Things?

Whether you’ve had your dog a while or you’re new to owning your pet, you might wonder why they’re chewing on wood or other mulch. Although it’s common, there could be concerning reasons behind your dog chewing on wood. Some dogs chew on inedible objects like wood because of the following:

  • Tooth pain
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Natural instinct

It’s hard to tell the cause of why your dog is eating mulch, so if you want to be extra safe, talk to your vet.

Some dogs just like the smell of wood or the taste of grass, and some dogs might see a big piece of wood mulch and think it looks like a great toy. Others like to sample new things in their yard. It’s hard to know what a dog is thinking, which is why talking to a vet can help.

Tips for Stopping Your Dog From Eating Mulch

No one wants their dog to get ill from eating mulch. Plus, we want that mulch to stay where we put it, right? To avoid any unnecessary trips to the local veterinarian and having to replace any mulch that gets eaten up, try the following tips:

fence mulch

1. Block Off the Area

Sometimes the best solution is just to block off the entire area where the mulch is. That way, you can put your mind at ease when your dog is wandering outside in the garden and playing. Plus, you don’t need a lot of material or money for this solution.

You can make a low fence with wire or metal so it’s high enough to block your dog from jumping over it onto the mulch. Another trick for separating the rest of your garden from the mulch is by giving your dog its own playpen.

Nowadays you can find many options for portable fences online or you can make your own.

2. Training

If you can train your dog to sit and roll over then who says you can’t train your pet to avoid mulch?

training dog

Training dogs not to do something they enjoy can be hard, especially if you don’t have experience. You might want to visit your local training school or have a few private lessons with a trainer to get some tips.

Although this might not be the cheapest option to prevent your dog from eating mulch, it could be worthwhile if you have the budget and time available to train your dog. Plus, all that training might come in handy with other situations down the road.

To try to deter your dog yourself, teach them the “leave it” command by telling them to leave the mulch alone and rewarding them when they do with a treat.

3. Distraction

If you’re concerned about your dog eating mulch while on a walk rather than in your own yard, the solution is a bit simpler.

Distraction is the best way to make sure your dog isn’t eating mulch when you’re on your evening or morning walks. For example, you can carry a bag of treats, a small chew toy, or anything else that will keep your pup busy as you pass by that tasty mulch patch.

If the problem is severe, you might start out with a humane muzzle on your walks.

4. Deterrent Sprays

Of course, you can also try a repellent spray. Just remember to buy a spray that is non-toxic so it doesn’t make your dog sick if they consume it. Ideally, a spray like this will cover the scent of the mulch so your pet won’t be tempted to try some.

If you want a natural option you can make at home, a 50:50 mixture of vinegar and water will successfully dull the scent. Another option is water or oil with a citrus scent as this tends to discourage dogs from eating mulch.

5. Exercise

dog playing fetch

Sometimes when dogs start eating mulch (or anything else they shouldn’t) it’s because they’re bored. So, what’s the answer to this boredom? Exercise!

Bored dogs may start snooping around the grass, wood chips, and navigating their way through nature to entertain themselves unless you give them plenty of exercise.

Daily walks, as well as fun games of fetch, are excellent for tiring your pup and making sure they stay away from mulch. If this doesn’t work, you can experiment with the other forms of exercise. Every dog is different so it might take you a while to find something that works for both of you.

Don’t forget mental exercise, as well! Some dogs need some form of mental stimulation to keep them from becoming bored. Puzzles, hide and seek, or tracking can all be mentally challenging.

Alternatives to Mulch


As well as the aesthetic reasons for using mulch it also provides essential nutrients to plants, soil, and can reduce the number of weeds on your property. Mulch is definitely a good addition to the garden, but if you just can’t stop your dog from eating it, you’ll need an alternative.

1. Rocks and Pebbles

Consider rocks and pebbles as an alternative to mulch. This option can limit the weed growth on your land and works effectively for maintaining soil moisture. Rocks and pebbles are also great if you live in a cool climate as they absorb the heat.

The only downside of this alternative is that they don’t provide the same nutrients to your soil. But, you can always use fertilizer for your soil if you’re worried about the health of your plants.

2. Groundcovers

Living plants can be an effective substitute for mulch. In fact, we often call groundcovers “living mulch.” Think of options such as ivy, sweet woodruff, vinca minor, phlox, creeping jenny, creeping juniper, and bunchberry.

3. Newspaper or Cardboard

Newspaper and cardboard are extremely effective at suppressing weeds and keeping moisture in the soil. It certainly isn’t as pretty as some of the more traditional mulch options, but if your dog doesn’t eat it, it’s worth the sacrifice.