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You might love your dog and consider them a fully paid up family member, but that doesn’t mean you don’t think they’re gross sometimes.
From eating that week old sandwich they found on the sidewalk to spending hours of their life licking their own butt, dogs do plenty of things that us humans find disgusting.
But, perhaps one of the leading contenders for grossing out their owners is eating poop, (also known as ‘Coprophagia’). No matter which way you look at it, the eating of feces is plain revolting. Many dogs, however, seem to consider it a fine delicacy!
If your dog likes to chow down on poop at any opportunity, you might be concerned, and understandably so. But, know that’s it’s not all that unusual for dogs to eat feces.
Nobody seems to be 100 percent sure exactly why they do it, but there are plenty of theories. An occasional mouthful here or there shouldn’t be much cause for concern, but if your dog compulsively ingests feces, you’ll need to take action.
The good news is there are ways to discourage your dog from eating poop. The bad news is it can be a tricky habit to break 100 percent.
First, we’ll take a look at the question: Why do dogs eat poop? Then we’ll discuss how to stop them doing so.
Contents & Quick Navigation
What Kinds Of Poop Is It Usual For Dogs To Eat?
While it’s more common for dogs to eat the feces of other species, it’s not unusual for dogs to eat the poop of other dogs or even their own poo.
For some reason, this might seem even more disgusting, but it’s not something to be particularly concerned about.
So, if you’ve seen your pup munching on their own leavings, don’t worry; they’re not an anomaly!
If you live out in the country, you might find poop-eating more of a problem. From rabbit droppings to cow pats to horse manure, there’s just more feces around. This means more temptation for your dog and more likelihood that they make poop a regular snack.
Why do Dogs Eat Poop? Are There Any Medical Reasons?
Now you know eating poop doesn’t make your dog a freak of nature, you might want to know why they’re doing it.
Dogs Naturally suggests a number of medical reasons why dogs consume feces.
Internal parasites, such as worms, leach the nutrients that your dog should be getting from their food. This could make them crave anything that might contain the nutrients they require. Or, more simply, it could make them more hungry and want to eat anything available.
Some experts believe a commercial diet for dogs doesn’t contain the right amount of digestive enzymes they need to absorb all the nutrients from their food.
As such, if a dog eats their own feces, it could be because it contains lots of undigested nutrients. However, not all dogs on a commercial diet eat their own poop, so we’re not sure if this holds much weight.
It’s possible that dogs eat poop, especially that of other species, simply because they’re hungry.
There are all kinds of medical reasons why a dog could have an increased appetite, from thyroid issues to being on prescribed steroids.
Giving your dog a bit of extra breakfast or dinner could discourage your pup from their poop-eating ways. Just make sure you don’t walk your Lab too soon after feeding as this increases the risk of bloat.
A number of malabsorption syndromes, such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, have been known to cause dogs to eat feces. If you’ve also noticed symptoms such as weight loss and diarrhea, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying medical issue.
There are certain deficiencies some experts believe could lead to a propensity to eat stool. Roger DeHaan, DVM, says a hydrochloric acid deficiency could cause poor digestion and ultimately make dogs eat feces. Whereas Joseph Demers, DVM, suggests that a deficiency in trace minerals might lead to poop eating in dogs.
Underfeeding Or A Poor Diet
As mentioned above, your dog might be eating poop because they’re hungry. This could be a result of underfeeding or feeding your dog a poor diet.
Make sure your dog is getting sufficient calories for their age, weight and activity level, and feed a high-quality food containing sufficient nutrients.
Why do Dogs Eat Poop: Possible Behavioral Reasons
Along with the medical reasons listed above, there are all kinds of behavioral reasons why a dog might take a fancy to feces.
Because They’re Natural Scavengers
We’d hazard a guess that this is one of the most common reasons why dogs eat poop.
Dogs are natural scavengers and they look for food wherever they go. As evidenced by some of the things you’ve probably seen your dog attempt to eat over the years, canines play a bit fast and loose with the term “food.”
While we might think feces is gross, many dogs see it as a tasty treat. So, if you come across some poop while out and about, it’s not all that surprising that your dog would try to take a bite.
When dogs are first born, their mothers lick them to stimulate their urge to defecate, then they eat their puppies’ feces. In the wild, this would have been to keep their den clean and avoid attracting predators with the smell. Some dogs may pick up this desire to keep their area clean and eating poop out in the garden could be a form of housekeeping.
Much like children, dogs who are bored, lonely or just wanting some love will sometimes do things to get attention, even if the attention they get is negative.
If in the past, they’ve provoked a reaction from you by eating poop, they might do the same thing again as a type of attention seeking behavior.
To Avoid Punishment
At Labrador Training HQ, we’re fans of positive reinforcement methods and would never advocate punishing your dog. Not only are punishments cruel, they often don’t work. They may have the opposite of the desired effect or cause other behavior problems.
If your dog has been punished in the past for defecating indoors, if they have an accident, they might eat their feces to hide the evidence, as it were. If they start doing this regularly, it could become a habit and they could start eating other poop at other times.
Dogs who are home alone all day can, understandably, get bored. They might find that eating poop is just something to do, and they get a snack out of it, too.
Dogs are pack animals and learn things from their canine companions. If they spend time with another dog that thinks dung is a delicacy, they may simply learn it from them.
They Just Like The Taste
We don’t want to gross you out too much here, but your dog might simply like eating poop.
Dogs have very different ideas from us about what they think is tasty. You only have to take a big whiff of their favorite dog food to figure that one out. So, it might just be that they like the taste of poo, so when they see it, they can’t help themselves.
Is Eating Poop Dangerous For Dogs?
One of the main concerns you may have about your dog eating feces is it’s harmful to them. So, is eating poop dangerous for dogs?
As with most things, the answer isn’t as simple as a straightforward yes or no.
As long as they’ve been wormed and are healthy, there aren’t any concerns about a dog eating their own poop. Other than the fact the idea of it is rather cringe-worthy, that is.
According to Jennifer Coates, DVM, owners shouldn’t be too concerned if their dog eats the occasional bit of cat feces (and this is the same for most other kinds of excrement). However, she does go on to say there are risks your dog could contract a parasite from eating poo. There’s also the chance feces could contain harmful bacteria that could make your pup sick.
Plus, if the animal that did the deed is unwell, there’s a slim chance they could pass their illness on to your dog via their droppings.
In most cases, however, dogs who eat poop never develop any issues from doing so.
If you think your dog has contracted a parasite or other medical issue from eating feces, contact your vet to get them checked out.
How to Stop A Dog From Eating Poop?
How you get your dog to stop eating poop depends on why they do it in the first place. If there’s a medical or dietary issue, addressing it could stop the manure-munching right away. However, if your dog simply likes doing it, you’ve got some serious training to do.
Address Any Potential Medical Reasons
It can be hard to tell whether it’s a medical issue that’s causing your dog to dine on dung.
If you’ve noticed other symptoms — like weight loss, diarrhea or sickness — or their poop-eating ways seem to have started without warning, it could be a health issue causing it. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so see your vet if you think there might be a problem.
Change Their Diet
As mentioned earlier in this post, a poor diet could cause your dog to want to supplement it with a little something extra. While some grocery store brands can provide sufficient nutrition, it wouldn’t hurt to switch to something a bit higher quality.
You also need to make sure your dog is getting enough calories, especially if they’re particularly active.
If in doubt about your pup’s nutritional needs, get advice from their veterinarian.
Remove The Temptation
This might seem obvious, but if there’s no poop around to eat, then your dog can’t eat poop. Make sure you always pick up after your dog as soon as they go. And, if you have cats, keep their litter tray clean at all times.
The main issue comes if your dog likes to eat wild animal feces out on walks. Except if you change your route to somewhere less rural, there isn’t much you can do about droppings you might come into contact with while out and about.
Unless your dog is becoming extremely compulsive in their poop-eating ways, we don’t think it’s worth giving up a good walking route over a little munch of manure.
Teach Your Dog To “Leave It”
This is your ace-in-the-hole when it comes to teaching your dog not to eat poop. If you have a dung-loving dog, you’re never going to stop them from WANTING to eat but you can teach them to leave it alone when you tell them to.
Using positive reinforcement techniques, it shouldn’t take too long before you’ve taught your pup to leave that poop.
Bear in mind, the following isn’t meant to be achieved all in one go. You might do one stage per day or it might take several days for your dog to get the hang of each stage. It’s hard to give a definite timeframe as all dogs learn at different rates. Keep your training sessions to no more than ten minutes at a go, as your dog will lose focus and you might start getting frustrated.
- To start, hold a treat in your fingers and let only a little bit poke out so your dog can’t get it easily. Using high-value treats can make the lesson sink in that much quicker.
- Extend your treat-holding hand toward your dog. They’re going to have to do some work here to figure out what you want.
- At this point, your dog will probably try to get it from you in various ways; trying to grab it, licking it, nibbling it, trying to give you their paw, and so on. As soon as your dog either stops and move their nose back from the treat or turning their head away, give them the treat and some praise.
- Repeat this several times until they’ve got the hang of it and almost instantly move their head away from the treat as soon as you present it. Remember to give a treat and a good dose of praise every time.
- Once your dog is proficient with the above, start giving the command, “leave it” when they move their head away from the treat. This way your pup will build an association between the action and the command. But don’t say “leave it” BEFORE your dog moves their head.
- Repeat this a few times, continuing to give praise and treats.
- Now, change it up so you’re giving the command before the desired action. As soon as you present your treat-holding hand, say “leave it” and give the treat once they move their head away.
- Your dog should now associate the command with the action so you need to make it harder for them.
- Place a treat in both hands. One in a closed hand, behind your back, and one in a palm opened upwards.
- Move the treat-holding palm toward your dog so they can see it and smell it. Right away, give the “leave it” command.
- Because the treat is fully visible, it might be tougher for your dog to resist. If they try to eat it, say “uh-uh,” close your hand over the treat and put it behind your back for a second or two before trying again.
- Once your dog complies by moving their head away or at least not trying to go for the treat in your open palm, give them the treat you’ve been holding in your other hand behind your back. From this point, you must always give them a reward from elsewhere, not the one that you asked them to leave.
- Repeat this until your dog gets it right the first time, every time.
- Now you need to start making it more like it will be when you’re asking your dog to leave things “in the real world.” You’re not going to be asking your dog to leave things you’re holding in your hand, so you need to practice more or less the same thing as before but with treats on the floor.
- Put a treat down and give the “leave it” command. Have a treat ready in your hand as a reward.
- If your dog leaves the treat on the floor or moves away from it, give them the treat you’re holding and some praise.
- If they go straight for the treat on the floor, don’t yell or try to take it from them. Just go back to the third stage and give them some more practice.
- Once again, practice this stage once your dog is getting it right.
- Since you’re probably not going to want to practice with real poop in your house, this is where you’re going to have to take it out on the road.
- Go to wherever it is that your dog generally eats feces and practice the “leave it” command.
- If you’re not having much luck at first, you might want to try walking your dog past the tempting poop while on the leash to start with. This will give you a bit more control and ensure your dog doesn’t go off ahead and get too far away to listen to your command.
- Make sure you’ve got plenty of treats for when they get it right. You may find, when you’re out and about, you need extremely high-value treats. Otherwise, there’s not an adequate reason for them to leave the tasty “treat” they’ve found on their own. So, grab a handful of your dog’s favorite food and practice, practice, practice.
Once you’ve got the “leave it” command under your belt, there’ll be no dung so delicious that your dog won’t come away from it when you give them the say so.
Let’s face it, this isn’t the most pleasant topic to think about, but if your dog loves nothing better than to munch manure, you may need to do something about it.
We’ve explored the possible reasons why dogs might eat feces, so it’s down to you to figure out what to do next.
If there are medical or dietary reasons behind your pup’s poop-eating, then solving the underlying issue could sort it out for good. Plus, in some situations, it’s as simple as just removing the poop from where your dog is or removing your dog from where the poop is.
Apart from this, the “leave it” command is golden when trying to stop your canine companion from eating excrement. But you do have to be around to tell your dog to leave it.
In the majority of cases, however, your dog eating poop is more disgusting than it is dangerous. So, if your pup manages to chow down on the occasional nugget, you might just have to shrug your shoulders and say, “that’s dogs for you.”
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LabradorTrainingHQ.com assumes no responsibility or liability for the use or misuse of what’s written on this site. Please consult a professional before taking any course of action with any medical, health or behavioral related issue.