Why do dogs eat poop?
Dogs eat poop for a variety of reasons including –
- Nutritional imbalance – When a dog eats his own poop, it may be because the stool still has undigested minerals and nutrients.
- Stress – A dog may poop because of extreme anxiety (e.g. when left alone), and then eat up his own feces as a displacement behavior.
- Boredom – Lack of activity and interaction may cause a dog to start playing with his stool and sometimes eat it.
- Enjoyment – Many dogs like the taste of leavings from cats or other animals. My dogs also like smelling the stuff and scenting it with their tongue.
- Clean-up – Some dogs may eat poop inside the house to keep their living space clean. Dogs that are physically punished for potty training mistakes, may learn to eat their own poop to avoid our anger or strong discipline.
- Any combination of the above.
Whether eating feces is harmful to our dog will depend on whether it is contaminated with worms, fleas, or other parasites that may carry bacteria and viruses. The consequences of eating contaminated feces will also depend on the immune system and general health of our dog. Young puppies, for example, have developing immune systems, and may be more susceptible to bad stool; especially if they have not been fully vaccinated. To be safe, I only take my puppy out on hikes and neighborhood walks, after he has received all of his vaccination shots.
The most effective method to stop our dog from eating poop, will depend on the reason for his behavior, his temperament, as well as our own preferences.
1. Feed our dog a healthy and balanced diet.
The easiest balanced food to give our dog is dry kibble. Dry kibble is nutritionally balanced and results in less teeth tartar.
Make sure to get a high quality kibble, with good protein sources, and no unhealthy fillers.
Some well reviewed kibble brands include Wellness CORE, Blue Wilderness, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Orijen.
2. Fixed feeding schedule and on-leash supervision.
If we keep our dog on a fixed eating schedule, it will help keep his poop schedule regular and predictable as well.
A fixed schedule makes it easier for us to supervise our dog, and prevent him from eating his own feces or those from our other dogs.
During poop time –
- I put the problem dog on a leash, and walk him out on-leash to do his business first.
- If he tries to eat his own feces, I no-mark him (Ack-ack) and lead him away from it. I get him to do some obedience commands, and then try again. If he does not try to pull towards the bad stuff, I praise him and reward him well.
- I keep sessions short, and end on a positive note.
- I make sure to clean up after him.
- If we have other dogs, only let them out after cleaning up.
- Make sure to keep the problem dog on-leash, so that we may supervise and prevent poop eating when our other dogs are out.
3. Keep our dogs busy and well-exercised.
Bored dogs will frequently develop behavioral issues and cause property damage.
It is important to walk our dog regularly (preferably every day), and to provide structured, interesting activities, to keep his mind sharp and engaged.
My dogs work for all of their food, either by performing dog obedience commands, or through interactive food toys. If we provide a lot of alternative activities for our dog, he will be less likely to find unacceptable entertainment on his own, including eating his own feces.
If we are busy in the short-term, and do not have the time to give our dog the attention that he needs, consider sending him to dog daycare or hiring a pet sitter.
4. Keep our dog’s environment clean.
Scoop up after our dog, as soon as he is done with his business. If we keep things clean, there will be less chance for him to engage in opportunistic poop eating.
During retraining, it is also important to supervise our dog closely, so that he does not practice any bad behavior on his own. We may have to go back to dog potty training basics, to fully stop him from eating his own poop.
5. Help our dog reduce stress.
Identify situations that cause extreme stress in our dog, and try to reduce the number of stressful encounters. In the meantime, practice managed desensitization exercises, to help reduce his stress response.
To desensitize my dog-
- I make sure that I am in control of the training environment. Then, I start by exposing him to very low levels of the stressful stimulus. Low enough that he is able to stay calm and learn.
- I treat and praise him for staying calm.
- I do some simple obedience commands (e.g. Sit), so that he is focused on me, and looks to me for direction while under stress.
- When my dog is comfortable with the low-level stimulus, I very slowly increase its intensity, and repeat the focus and training exercises.
If our dog starts to react badly, then we have moved forward too quickly. I move a few steps back, help my dog to calm down, and then do some simple focus exercises so that I can end on a positive note.
While conducting desensitization exercises, it is important to keep sessions short, fun, and rewarding for our dog. In this way, he will begin to re-associate the bad stimulus with positive experiences.
6. Teach our dog the ‘Leave-it’ command.
- First, I get some yummy treats that my dog likes.
- I put one treat in my hand, and make sure my dog knows it is there.
- I close my hand into a fist, and hold it still.
- My dog will naturally nose all over my hand, while trying to get to the treat. I say Leave-it, and wait for him to briefly stop nosing my hand.
- As soon as he stops, I mark the behavior (Yes), and treat him from my other hand.
As our dog learns the command, we can slowly lengthen the time he has to leave our hand alone, before we mark and treat him.
Once we are comfortable with this exercise, we can practice the Leave-it command with a treat on the floor. Make sure that we are fast, or have our dog on a lead. In this way, we may stop him if he decides to lunge for the treat. If necessary, we can also cover the treat with our hand.
As soon as our dog leaves the treat alone, mark and treat him from our other hand. It is important NOT to give him the treat that is on the floor. This may inadvertently teach him that he gets rewarded with whatever is on the ground, which is often not the case in real-world situations.
Keep practicing this until we have a really solid Leave-it command. Now, we can use it when our dog gets tempted by animal leavings during walks.
Note that independent minded dogs may choose to eat the feces anyway, if they decide that our reward is of lesser value. If this happens, I try upgrading my rewards, and make sure that my dog does not get within striking distance of the bad stuff. In addition, I quickly march my dog home and end the walk, if he manages to sneak in some poop eating. This teaches him that if he eats the stuff, the nice and interesting walk ends. That is usually enough of a deterrent to stop any roadside temptations.
7. Make the dog poop taste bad.
Adding meat tenderizer containing papain, in small quantities to our dog’s food, will sometimes prevent poop eating. Make sure it does not contain other additives such as MSG or salt. Some people also suggest adding pumpkin, pineapple, or stool deterrent supplements as alternatives. Our vet can also give our dog medicine, that will make his stool taste extremely bitter.
Only use one additive at a time, so that our dog’s digestive system does not become overly unbalanced.
Remember to consult with our vet, before using any of these additives. Adding too much, may give our dog digestive issues. Some dogs may also be allergic to the added ingredients.
Instead of adding to our dog’s food, we may also coat our dog’s poop with taste deterrents such as Bitter Apple.
Note that taste deterrents are added to the feces, and *not* to the food.
However, stool deterrents only work when our dog is eating his own feces, or those from other dogs in the house. Results are usually much better and longer lasting, when we correct the source of the poop eating behavior, through the other methods listed above.