Yuck — My Dog Eats Poop!

It’s disgusting, it’s embarrassing, and it completely destroys the idea of a slobbery kiss – poop eating, or coprophagia as it is officially known, is the bane of many dog owners.

Sure there are times when this is “normal” – like when a new mother cleans the den for her puppies or very briefly the puppies themselves – but otherwise?  Some have maintained that poop eating is associated with attention-seeking behavior, lack of stimulation/enrichment, learned behavior from other dogs in the household, self-reinforcing behavior (presumed attractive smell/taste), hunger, play, environmental stress, and anxiety.  Some data suggests that dogs purchased from pet stores are more likely to eat poop than dogs from breeders.  An induced thiamine deficiency has been linked to poop eating. Dogs being fed commercial dog foods are typically on a well-balanced diet – so dietary deficiency is probably not a major cause.  But, frankly, when the list of possible reasons gets this long it probably means that nobody actually knows the real reason.

But even if we don’t know what causes it – what should we do about it?  The first step is a visit to your veterinarian to make sure that there is no medical/physical reason for the behavior.  Collecting some data on both the dog and the behavior is also worth doing so that you and your veterinarian can have a complete conversation.

My Dog Eats Poop — So What Can I Do?

So you do all this and your veterinarian finds nothing wrong and sends you on your way to deal with the gross behavior – so now what?  If you’re like most people, the first thing you’ll do is yell at your dog the minute you see him or her start eating poop or even sniffing poop – which of course simply makes your dog gobble it down even faster.

There are also products that rely on taste aversion which can either be applied to feces (assuming you get there before your dog does) or, if your dog eats his own output, on your dog’s food so his feces have an even more unattractive taste.  Unfortunately these products are often not effective either due to inconsistent application or completely relying on a dog’s sense of smell.  If you have multiple dogs in your house you need to treat all the dogs’ food and none of this helps you when you go to a dog park and your dog gets exposed to untreated poop.

You can also implement a behavioral strategy that includes:

  1. Avoidance
  2. Redirection
  3. Response substitution.

Avoidance simply means eliminating the opportunity for your dog to eat poop by keeping your dog on a leash at dog parks and keeping your backyard poop free.  Redirection means using a toy or a treat to redirect your dog’s attention if he or she is sniffing around some poop.  Response substitution means teaching your dog to do something else when he or she finds poop.  This can include sitting or making eye contact with you and then profusely rewarding the better behavior.

So, while your veterinarian may tell you nothing is wrong and your dog might be trying to tell you not to worry that this is just natural – your gag reflex is still intact and now you at least have some steps you can take to settle your stomach.

Thanks for reading.

Source: Clinicians’ Brief