"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

"Ask the Dog Guy" with John Wade

Puppy and Obedience Training Without Food or Fear

Poopsicles – Eating Poop

– Posted in: Columns

John,

We have the best little Pomeranian but with one gross and embarrassing 4-year-old problem. She is a feces eater, hers or her sister dog, she is not fussy. We acquired her at three years old from a kennel where she was supposed to be a breeding dog.  We watch her closely but she is very quick and persistent, even with scolding. -Paris
Hi Paris,

I’ve read all sorts of theories as to why dogs might do this. Most of the dogs I hear complaints about eat good food and are healthy so it’s doubtful but check with your vet to check if there is some dietary issue.  Alternative theories are that it might be an attention seeking behaviour, “Look at me, I’m eating my own poop!” Another is allelomimetic, that the dog is simply copying it’s owner. You’d think, a dog that observant might also note that the poop is going into a baggy and I assume not being scarfed down.

The act of eating poop is called auto coprophagia when it’s eating its own stool, and interspecific coprophagia when it’s not so fussy and anything goes. The latter is more common; with cat poop being a popular aperitif and aged horse plops a close second. Often dog owners are encouraged to buy a special food additive, even stool “sprinkles” that supposedly turn what comes out into something awful which makes one wonder, “How bad does it have to get?” I’ve never encountered a case where it worked.

I’ve found that the primary reason for this is a dirty and/or unstimulating start early in life especially common in dogs bought from pet stores and lazy breeders. In an tedious environment puppies look for things to play with. As is so often the case with the very young, one thing leads to another and the next thing you know, ‘now you see it now you don’t’. It can also be a result of a dog’s owner leaving their puppy in the yard to amuse itself when it’s too young. Most of the time the poop eating has been going on for a while and the owner doesn’t realize until the pup plants a big one on their kisser.

I know that for some dog trainers and behaviorists, this is old-fashioned and politically incorrect but I’ve found the the most successful way of solving stool eating is to discipline the dog in a way that it clearly receives the message “Are you nuts!” In this new age I’m told that this may actually lead to more coprophagia as the dog learns that it gets attention (being scolded) if it eats its faeces. Nonsense, that would tell me that the trainer’s idea of discipline is the dog’s idea of negotiation. Such a dog owner needs to find a trainer that believes in being firm but fair and how to balance the negative with a positive.

Here’s what I would do. First rule; until 3 months after you think this problem is solved, all rules still apply. Rule 2;  never put the dog in the position where it can get to the poop before you can get to the dog. Rule 3; See Rule 2. Rule 4; leave the dog’s leash on in order to accomplish rules 2 and 3. You don’t need to hang on to it just make sure you follow Rule 5; which guess what, is never put the dog in the position where it can get to the poop before you can get to the dog. Rule 6; the moment the dog gets a glint in its eye about a snack, get the dog’s attention with the leash and lay a little tone and body language on her. If in doubt how to do this get that trainer. The second the dog backs off, you do so as well and lead the dog right back into your trap. In other words, don’t pick it up until the dog gets a chance to attempt multiple snacks and finally looks at you as if to say, “Are you nuts?” and then of course reward the dog. If after 3 temptations, no more then 6, the dog isn’t getting it, you’re negotiating not disciplining.

John Wade

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