Keep Dogs at Bay with This Surprising Smell

Introducing the Topic

There are many reasons why homeowners may want to keep dogs away from certain areas. Dogs can cause damage by digging up lawns and gardens, leaving feces on the property, and urinating on plants, grass, and outdoor furniture. In some cases, dogs may even exhibit aggressive behavior and threaten people or other pets. While most dogs are friendly and well-behaved when supervised, it’s understandable that homeowners want to protect their property and avoid issues when dogs are unsupervised.

Repellent smells offer a humane way to discourage dogs from entering or using specific areas of a property. By identifying smells that dogs strongly dislike, homeowners can create temporary barriers or boundaries. This allows them to keep unwanted dogs away without using cruel or dangerous methods. The goal is to find inexpensive, safe, and effective scent repellents that will cause most dogs to avoid the area but will not harm them.

Smells Dogs Dislike

There are certain smells that dogs tend to dislike or even hate. Some of the most commonly disliked scents include citrus fruits, vinegar, ammonia, and pepper spray.

Citrus oils from fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit contain limonene and other compounds that give them their fresh, zesty aroma. However, most dogs find citrus smells unpleasant. The strong citric acid smell seems to be irritating or offensive to a dog’s sensitive nose.

most dogs strongly dislike the smell of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.

One study found that dogs were averse to the smell of oranges and lemons. The researchers theorized this could be an evolutionary adaption since citrus peels and rinds contain compounds that are toxic to dogs if ingested in large quantities.

Due to the strong dislike, citrus scents are commonly used as dog repellents. Spraying or rubbing citrus peels, juices or oils around objects and areas you want dogs to avoid can help deter them. However, it’s important not to overuse citrus on your own dog.

Citrus Oils

Citrus oils such as lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit contain powerful scents that dogs find unpleasant. When concentrated into essential oils, these scents become even stronger. According to HowStuffWorks, mixing a few tablespoons of distilled white vinegar with 20 drops of citrus essential oils like lemon or orange in a spray bottle creates an effective homemade dog repellent. The oils provide a long-lasting and powerful citrusy scent that dogs dislike.

citrus essential oils create long-lasting scents that repel dogs.

Nature’s Mace explains that citrus oils like lime, lemon and orange can be combined in water to create a dog urine repellent spray. The strong citrusy scent helps deter dogs from urinating in a particular area. Just a few drops of concentrated citrus essential oils in water can produce a lasting unpleasant odor for dogs.


Vinegar contains acetic acid, which produces a strong, pungent odor that dogs find unpleasant and overwhelming to their senses. According to HowStuffWorks, the high acidity of vinegar can irritate a dog’s olfactory system, making them want to avoid areas where it’s applied.

However, vinegar’s effects are not long-lasting and will need to be reapplied frequently. The spicy smell tends to dissipate quickly, so vinegar-based repellents may need to be sprayed or sprinkled multiple times per day for continued effectiveness. Using full-strength vinegar is recommended, rather than diluting it, for maximum potency against dogs.

Vinegar should not be applied directly onto plants, as the high acid content can damage vegetation. Focus applications along the perimeter of the yard or problem areas instead. And always spot test on a small area first to ensure vinegar will not harm the lawn or garden.


Ammonia is another strong smell that dogs do not like. The pungent odor of urine is irritating and offensive to a dog’s sensitive nose. Diluted household ammonia mimics this smell and can act as an effective repellent. Some tips when using ammonia:

– Opt for a cleaning ammonia that is 10% diluted for outdoor use. Using ammonia that is too concentrated increases the risk of toxic fumes.

– Never spray ammonia directly on plants or grass as it can kill vegetation. Apply it around the perimeter instead.

– Avoid getting ammonia on your skin or inhaling fumes as it can cause irritation. Wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.

– Ammonia should be reapplied frequently, especially after rain, as the smell will not last.

The powerful smell of ammonia is irritating for dogs and can keep them away from yards and gardens when used properly. However, care should be taken to avoid any harmful effects from the fumes.


Mothballs contain the chemical naphthalene, which gives off a strong smell that many dogs dislike. The scent of mothballs may act as a deterrent to keep some dogs away from yards, gardens, or other areas where they are not wanted. However, mothballs can be toxic to dogs if ingested, so they must be used with caution.

According to the ASPCA, mothballs contain naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. When ingested by dogs, mothballs can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and damage to the kidneys, liver, and brain [1]. The strong scent may deter dogs, but mothballs should not be left anywhere a dog can access them.

If using mothballs as a dog repellent, they should be placed out of a dog’s reach, such as on high shelves, under porches, or secured inside mesh bags. Avoid scattering mothballs loosely in soil or mulch, as dogs may dig them up and ingest them. Mothballs should be used sparingly and checked frequently to be sure dogs cannot access them [2].

While mothballs may repel some dogs, they are not a guaranteed solution. Their toxicity makes them risky to use around pets. Trying alternative repellents first and supervising dogs around mothballs is advised.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray contains capsaicin which irritates dogs’ sensitive noses. This natural ingredient comes from hot peppers and can deter dogs without long-lasting effects.

pepper spray irritates dogs' noses but should be used carefully.

Pepper spray designed specifically for dogs is available as a dog repellent spray. Products such as SABRE Protector Dog Spray contain high concentrations of capsaicin to irritate a dog’s nose and respiratory tract if sprayed in the face.

When using pepper spray on dogs, it’s important to take proper precautions. Only spray as a last resort in an aggressive situation, and avoid spraying near the eyes which can cause more serious injuries. Also be aware of wind direction to avoid blowback. Pepper spray requires careful use, but can provide a strong yet humane dog deterrent.

Other Smelly Repellents

In addition to citrus, vinegar, ammonia, and mothballs, there are some other smelly substances that can help repel dogs, including:

Predator urine like coyotes and foxes contains strong, unfamiliar smells that will startle most dogs. The scents mark a predator’s territory, warning dogs to stay away. However, effectiveness can vary between individual dogs.

Certain essential oils like eucalyptus and tea tree have strong aromas that dogs dislike. Diffusing these oils or applying diluted oil to cotton balls and placing them around an area may deter dogs.

Pungent spices like garlic, chili pepper, and cayenne can turn dogs away when smelled. However, they must be used cautiously as consumption can be harmful to dogs if ingested.

Training Over Smells

While repellents like smells can provide temporary effects to keep dogs away, experts generally recommend positive reinforcement training as a better long-term solution. This involves rewarding dogs for avoiding certain areas and redirecting them to appropriate spots instead. As the dog training experts at The Labrador Site explain, “Reinforcing desired behaviors makes it more likely that your dog will repeat them. Punishing undesired behaviors might suppress them temporarily, but does not teach an alternative.”

experts recommend training over smelly repellents for long-term solutions.

Training allows the dog to learn what areas are off-limits. The Dogster article advises, “Rather than just trying to keep your dog out of a space, teach her she belongs elsewhere. Set up dog beds in acceptable locations, reward her for laying there, and praise calm behavior.” With persistence, treats, and praise, owners can shape their dog’s behavior.

While smelly repellents offer a quick fix, training provides lasting results. As Hollywood Feed says, teaching dogs which spaces to avoid is better for forming good habits long-term. With time and positive reinforcement, dogs can learn where unwanted areas are and stay away.


When to Use Smelly Repellents

Smelly repellents can be useful for deterring dogs from inappropriate elimination or chewing behaviors, but should be used properly and as part of a larger training plan. Some of the best uses for smelly dog repellents include:

  • Spraying items dogs are prone to chewing like furniture, shoes, or household objects
  • Applying along the perimeter of a yard or garden to deter dogs from entering
  • Spritzing areas on walks where a dog has eliminated before to curb the behavior

It’s important to take precautions when using smelly repellents. Only apply to inanimate objects, never directly on a dog. Test a small area first in case of irritation. Monitor the dog’s reaction and discontinue use if the dog shows signs of distress. Avoid contact with eyes, nose, and mouth.

Repellent sprays should be used in moderation as part of a larger training plan, not the sole solution. Positive reinforcement, restriction of access, and creating designated elimination areas are also important. Physical barriers like fencing often work better than scents alone. Consult a trainer or veterinarian for additional guidance on curbing unwanted behaviors.

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