WHY DOES MY DOG EAT POOP (excrement) :-
I know this is not a nice subject to talk about for us humans but for some owners and their dogs it can be a problem. The first thing to say is if your dog is eating other animals excrement make sure they are properly and regularly wormed as excrement from other dogs/animals can contain worms. Also if your dog has suddenly started eating excrement then firstly take a trip to the vets to rule out any possible clinical causes like enzyme deficiencies or parasites. For the remainder of this topic I will use the word poop rather than excrement. All of the following is good general advice coming from my own learning and experiences.
There can be a few reasons why a dog might eat it's own, another dogs or indeed another animals poop. Many young dogs will go through a stage of experimenting with food, taste, textures and smells and it can be quite normal behaviour for a dog to do this if more than a little off-putting to us humans. How you yourself handle this if it does happen may well decide whether it persists into adulthood and beyond and becomes a problem, we will cover this later. If poo eating starts later in life then there is most probably a reason for it.
In my experience apart from the above normal experimental behaviour with tastes and textures etc eating poo is most commonly caused by the dog lacking something in it's diet or as a result of attention seeking behaviour.
So firstly we need to try and find out why your dog is eating poop before we try to stop it. The diet one is easy, if your dog is on a bad diet then this should be your first port of call. If your dog is on a good diet but is an attention seeking dog (you will know) and you are giving it attention by disciplining them when it happens then we should start here. If your dog is a puppy or juvenile then it could be normal experimental behaviour and we need to handle this properly so it does not become a problem.
To make life easy I will approach the subject under three separate headings, DIET, ATTENTION SEEKING and BEHAVIOUR.
PLEASE READ THE WHOLE TOPIC TO GET THE BEST OVERALL PICTURE.
In my experience one of the main reasons for poop eating is a poor diet, the dog in question is lacking something in it's diet, mineral/minerals, vitamin/vitamins, but more often protein. A dog is generally fed by it's owner and apart from killing and eating something itself or stealing/begging for food it cannot supplement it's diet itself apart from eating poo when out and about. A dogs nose can smell the nutrients left in another animals poop and will eat it if they are lacking in it. I am not an expert in canine nutrition but have covered nutritional needs in my behaviour training and general research, and know how diet can effect behaviour, sometimes in a big way.
An adult dog needs generally 20-24% of good quality protein in it's diet, if your dog is on a genuine natural meat diet (not canned food) it should be getting the correct protein level. If on canned food the protein level is generally around 10% (far to low) and it will probably be of a low quality. If on a cheap supermarket own brand dry food or similar the protein level may well show the correct amount but it will also be low quality protein labelled animal derivatives or crude protein, you want to be seeing protein coming from a STATED source like chicken, beef, lamb, fish etc. There are some good dry foods out there that have good quality protein in them of the required amount. Many dogs out there are on much higher protein levels and there is much talk about links with agression/hyperactivity and high protein levels, as yet the only real clinical findings is a link between high protein levels and territorial agression (fear based) and not other forms of aggression like dominance, studies continue.
There are of course many dogs out there on a low protein diet that do OK and don’t eat poop but if you do have a problem then this could be the cause.
SO, if your dog is on a bad or low protein diet and is eating poop then the first thing to do is get them on a good diet, it may cost a little more than what you are presently feeding them but if on dry food for instance, a 15kg bag of good food works out little more than buying poor quality food in smaller amounts. Look for a food that firstly (if a dry food) is all one colour as dogs are not supposed to eat colourings and this can cause other problems, look for a protein level of 20-24% (more is required for puppies and juveniles and other added nutrients which should already be found in a good puppy/juvenile food), the protein should be stated as coming from a recognized source (chicken, fish, beef, lamb etc,).
If you decide to feed a raw meat or cooked meat diet (I do) it may be advantageous to add a small part of quality mixer to help keep the teeth clean. There is evidence that dogs do prefer cooked meat as it tastes better. Be careful with leaving meat down in the summer (flys), most dogs will eat their food straight away if you go about it properly (see being in control). Try to steer away from feeding your dog just tinned food, the quality and level of protein is low and water content very high, this sort of food will go quickly through the dog and not much goodness will be absorbed. Many dogs can survive on this and look OK but they may be lacking in things.
If you change a dogs diet it should be done over a good few days, just add a small amount of the new food to their old food for the first day and then gradually increase the amount of the new food over the next 5-7 days so they are on the new food completely after 7 days, this will avoid digestive problems, problems like diarrhoea and in some cases a quick drastic change in behaviour (usually longer though). A change of diet can take up to 4-6weeks to see any change in behaviour, sometimes longer, and sometimes at the start things may get a little worse before they get better. Give it at least six weeks to see if there is any change.
A dog may well eat it's own or another’s poop when out and about in a bid to get attention from it's owner. The dog would have to be a dog that craves attention from it's owner/s and they will have learnt that eating poo when out and about gets it. This attention may take the form of an owner bellowing “NOOO” at the dog and chasing it across a field but to a dog that craves attention it is still attention even though it is negative attention.
So, if you have an attention seeking dog on good food that eats poop and you are interacting with them when it happens then the attention seeking may well be your problem. To sort this out we need a two pronged attack, one that gets you in there before the dog gets it's paws on the smelly stuff and one that looks at your dogs general attention seeking behaviour as the two are intrinsically linked.
Firstly if your dog eats it's own poop then make sure you are on hand to clear it up as soon as it is done, clear it up without any interaction with your dog, quietly and calmly. If eating other dogs or animals poo then we need to look at keeping them away from it. What we need to do is get in there with attention of the right sort before the dog gets it's paws on the horrible stuff. By this I mean watching your dog closely and trying to divert them from the poo before contact is made, if you have a poop eating dog you will probably learn the body language connected with your dog just before he/she carries out the act and this is the time to intervene. Divert them with a high pitched jolly voice or other noise like the squeak of a favourite toy to get their attention and then produce something they love combined with your own jolly enthusiasm to get them to come to you, get them away from the poo and ask for a sit, praise and treat (food, toy, ball etc) and then interact with them. Generally you should interact with them more on a walk.
Carry something (food, squeaky toy, ball etc) with you that will do the job, something special that you will use just and only for these occasions. Through out your walk do the same even when they are not about to eat poo so they get used to doing this with you and every time have a jolly higher pitched voice that they love, even the blokes ha ha, otherwise it won't work.
If you are too slow or missed it and your dog is busy devouring the bad stuff then give a loud argh! just once so they look at you and leave them to it with no further interaction, the loud argh! gets their attention, then no further attention from you let's them know that what they are presently doing (eating poo) gets no further attention from you whatsoever. Give them no attention until they return to you, I know leaving them to it is hard to do but it is required if attention seeking is indeed your problem. Be calm and consistent throughout.
All of the above about attention seeking when eating poop is assuming your dog is off the lead (a healthy, sound, well socialised dog should in a safe place really be of the lead), if you do have them on a lead it may be easier to control things but your dog may lose out on socialisation with other dogs and interaction with the environment, you have to weigh up the seriousness of the problem in your eyes and their ongoing socialisation. If you have a real attention seeking dog and decide to keep them on a lead for a month in the hope of stopping their poop eating it probably won't work if you do not address the general attention seeking behaviour first.
SO let's have a quick look at the general attention seeking, obviously in this topic I can't address all general attention seeking behaviour so I will address the main problem and this is have some good interaction and attention of the right sort with your dog.
Have regular 15 min periods of intense interaction with your dog at least three times a day at home (as well as your walks), start and finish these sessions yourself not when the dog asks, make them intense and fun (fetch, hide and seek, hiding and sniffing out things, agility, interactive toys like tug not over the top though, some training with good rewards, jolly atmosphere throughout). Make walks for your dog interesting with regular attention from yourself along the way, use fetch type toys (not to extremes) if your dog will play with them, for scent hounds employ some scenting/seeking games, for sight/flushing hounds employ such in your walks, tailor some of your walk to your dogs enjoyment and encourage interaction with other friendly dogs and people (under control though). Don’t just walk along with your head down letting your dog please themselves, be an active part of the walk keeping your dog interested.
As I have said earlier it can be normal species-typical behaviour for a puppy/juvenile dog to eat it's own or others poop, in behavioural terms known as coprophagia, a puppy or young dog will experiment with tastes and textures and most will at some time have a go at eating some kind of poop, how you deal with these first instances will influence if this becomes a problem for you. Most dogs on a decent diet will simply grow out of it quite quickly and on their own if you don’t make a huge deal out of it. If you do make a big deal out of it then it could become an attention seeking issue for certain dogs. So don't rage at them if they do it. Give a loud “Argghh or Nooo” and walk off quickly with no further interaction until they come to you.
I would also add here that some dogs if you regularly punish them for inappropriate behaviour will learn the association that eating poop means punishment and will eat it quickly and secretly to get rid of the evidence and avoid the telling of, so fuelling the problem.
I have also come across dogs that started of life in a puppy farm or bad environment being crated and fed on rubbish and had to eat their own poop in an attempt to get some extra nourishment, in this situation with such early learning extinguishing the behaviour would be very hard to do, so get your pup from a good place (see /where-do-i-get-my-dog-from page).
In extreme cases and if the owners are seriously stressed and anxious and unable to implement change then the employment of a muzzle to stop the behaviour (not fix the problem) may be a last resort. Using a muzzle may inhibit the behaviour but more often than not the behaviour will resurface if you stop using it unless other initiatives like all the above are used as well. If you do decide to use a muzzle for this or anything else you should take the time and effort to get your dog used to it before you start using it, do not get one and just bung it straight on the dog, have a bit of a battle and then have a lifelong struggle getting one on your dog every day. The type to use is the Baskerville type (basket type) that allows the dog to easily pant (it's only real way to cool down), drink and take a treat through it, make sure it fits properly. I will be adding a topic on the best way to introduce a muzzle to a dog later. Again, remember to regulary worm your dog, especially if they are poop eaters.
Have a look at my /training-a-dog-to-wear-a-muzzle page
GOOD LUCK !
Why not take a look at my first book - Elmer no ordinary wolf, a realistic novel a bout a wolf called Elmer, his family and their life. My hope is that you will learn much about wolves and mother nature, coming to understand why man first thought to domesticate these amazing social animals to give us our best friend, the dog.
copyright 2013-22 Paul lindley