YUCK! I just can’t stop my Dog from eating Poo!



Lots of dogs love faeces – whether its from the kitty litter, horse, cow, chooks or even their own. Its disgusting to us, but why do dogs love it so much? This article will explain what you need to know about the behaviour behind coprophagy.

The History Behind Poop-Snacks

There are many ideas, suggestion and theories about why dogs eat different varieties of poo and for different reasons. Some level of coprophagy is completely normal (most people believe a dog will eat poo due to a nutritional deficiency).

The common belief is that dogs evolved from wolves… or at least those few wolves who were less afraid of humans in early settlements.* They would hang around the colonies and feed from the garbage and yep, you guessed it… excrement.

Eventually, there evolved an animal similar to the wolf but smaller, who learned to hang around the people and would prefer to scavenge instead of hunt – one who found it normal to eat whatever was left laying around that could possess some nutritional value (including poo)… welcome the Domestic Dog.
Why Oh Why Does Fido Fetch From The Kitty Litter?

From clients who ask me about poo eating, their number one complaint usually involves the Litter Tray.

A cat’s diet is higher in fat and protein than Dog Food and consequently their poo is too. Dogs are most likely attracted to this little delicious Fatty Protein Bar as an afternoon snack for this reason.

When it comes to scrounging around the chook house, or diving into a fresh cow pat – your guess is really as good as mine! Think about your dog’s favourite things? Are you likely to roll face-first into a dead bird on the side walk? Didn’t think so – my guess is that dogs just like the taste (or more so the luring scent) of faeces.
But If He’s Eating Poo Then He Must Be Sick?

So, while I have said that generally coprophagy is normal and for the most part harmless, this is not always the case.
If your Dog suffers from digestive disorders (‘malabsorption syndromes’) such as pancreatitis, he may be more likely to eat stool, including his own. Most likely these dogs are recovering the nutrients that their bodies are unable to absorb through the normal digestive process.

Recently I have read a few research papers published about some unthinkable nutritional studies that have occurred on dogs and cats (articles that I won’t elaborate on here) and it is accepted that coprophagy can develop in a dog with a history of severe nutritional deficiency.* Having said that, I couldn’t imagine these dogs were being fed any kind of commercial dog food, be it super premium or a cut-price supermarket variety.

Which prompts me to recall that throughout the years and in different “Doggie” Social Circles, I have often heard “You must be feeding him a low quality diet”. My thoughts, if your perky little pooch is a poop connoisseur either of his own or other dog’s poo and you are habitually buying the biggest, cheapest possible bag of Dog Kibble at the local warehouse outlet, then I would strongly suggest purchasing a brand with better nutritional value be your number one step to extinguishing this behaviour.

So what really makes Poo so exciting for your Dog?
Have you ever bounced a ball right next to an obsessed Kelpie and told him he can’t have it?
What about chasing your little Terrier around the house, yelling and screaming because he has snatched your brand new Louis Vuitton?

These little outbursts teach your Dog how highly you value some things. An innocent sniff, maybe even a small taste test of that little pile will soon increase in value and desire when your reaction is to scream and bark, pull him away and snatch up his little pile of curiosity into a baggie and stash it away out of reach.

What does he learn? “Hmm… there must be something great about that! I need to get in quick next time and beat you to the prize!

Likewise, as with most behaviours around the house, ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’ always plays a factor in the multiple dog household. If Fido dashes for the kitty little tray when he gets a whiff of something fresh, soon Fifi will notice the desire Fido has and sample the goods for herself, thus a new habit is formed.
Dinner For One?

Various studies have been published and without a doubt, surely hundreds of animal professionals have conducted their own research into coprophagy resulting in a number of widely accepted behavioural explanations for dogs who eat their own poo.

Pet store puppies are seen to eat their own poo more than the average dog and this is for the same reason that Crate Training Puppies is so successful – Dogs are naturally clean and will avoid where possible defecating where they eat and sleep. Pet store puppies don’t have the luxury of being taken out for toilet breaks so, they will naturally try to keep their environment clean. Let this happen just a few times and viola, a new habit is formed. This habit has also been seen in Bitches who have whelped a litter of puppies and become obsessed over ensuring their environment is clean.

Finally, eating faeces (be it their own, or that of another animal) may also succeed in getting Fido some attention when he is lonely or bored.

But, Is It Safe?

As cringe-worthy as it is, coprophagy seems to do no harm to dogs who are healthy and vaccinated* with the occasional upset tummy or perhaps an odd parasite*. But like all treats, moderation is key (I have read an article published in the US about a Pug who developed pancreatitis after overloading on the butt-buffet provided by his Labrador and Bassett Buddies!*)
I’d Rather Minty-Fresh Kisses Though

So, we’ve established a little poo indulgence won’t harm your dog, but lets face it – its not a pretty sight so let’s establish some methods of prevention.

First and foremost – you can’t control every environment that your dog enters and he will eventually have access to faeces of some variety at one time or another.

Poop Prevention
If your dog is off lead at the local park or dog beach then your best tool at hand is a solid recall or command (such as “Leave It”). But, your dog will be far better at sniffing out a few samples here and there before you even notice or intervene. If you live on property or go camping frequently, chances are you won’t be able to control the availability of horse, cow, kangaroo or bird droppings around.

Around the house though is much easier to begin extinguishing that disgusting habit. Tidy the yard diligently to eliminate access to any faeces. If like some breeds, your dog just can’t quite get his head around fast enough for that steaming fresh one, keep your dog on a lead until his business is done then lure him away (either with a treat, toy or just using the lead) to distract him and allow you time to clean up.

Limiting Litter Boxes
Keep your Kitty’s letterbox clean and if possible out of reach of your dog. I understand this is not always possible as it may conflict with your Cat’s needs or she may not like the confinement of a covered litter tray.

Training yourself to the sound of Kitty scratching around as your cue to scoop the poop as soon as she is done will outsmart even the sneakiest snacker.

People have used muzzles to prevent coprophagy and quite frankly, the only benefit I see in this is a poop covered muzzle. You should never leave a muzzled dog unattended so quite frankly, if you are there to watch the dog, you are there to clean up the environment.

Generally, if the your dog’s poo eating hasn’t developed into a well established habit, it can very well just die out on its own – provided you limit his opportunities at the same time. Many puppies will go through a phase of eating poo and again in most cases, grow out of this habit as they mature.

If however, your cute little fluff ball isn’t one of those then all I can say is Prevent, Prevent, Prevent and start teaching him those commands (Recall & “Leave It”)

Can I Use A Commercial or Household Deterrent?

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard them all – Chilli Powder or Sauce, Bitter Apple, Lemon Juice, Vinegar, Aerosol Deodorant (?!?!)… Honestly, I can’t see the point.
Commercially available taste deterrents from your local pet store have no effect on environmental faeces, just your dog’s own and I’ve witnessed many dogs who love the taste of chilli, vinegar or Tabasco sauce. But ultimately, even if your dog doesn’t like the taste of vinegar spiced poop, he will soon enough find an untreated pile. And again, if you are going to wander the yard seasoning poop-piles, why not just pick them up instead?

The reinforcement that a dog gets from coprophagy is on what trainer’s call a “Variable Intermittent Schedule” this is what all good trainers will use to develop an extremely reliable and durable behaviour – just what you need to encourage the faeces feasting right?
The final say

So, there is nothing quite like poo eating that clearly defines the difference between us and them. Its stomach-churning to us, not so to them. Its an extreme health hazard to us, not so much for them.
My three best tips to summarise this article?

  1. Prevent access as much as you can
  2. Train your dog – ensure he has a great Recall and a strong “Leave It” command.
  3. Remember, dogs will be dogs – Shrug it off and avoid those slobbery welcome home kisses at all cost.


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