A very common but embarrassing problem that I see with my dogs and most of my clients’ dogs is stool eating (coprophagia).
Dogs just seem to be extremely interested in these little, uh, treats. Although the behavior is so common — I almost pass it as “normal” — it’s uncomfortable for the owner to see their dog doing something that is perceived as revolting in our culture.
Why Would a Dog Eat Poo?
Before we begin to treat the problem, we have to understand the underlying issue. Dogs engage in stool eating for a number of reasons.
Some common reasons dogs eat their poo (or other animals’ feces) are:
- Underfed: The dog could not be eating enough and is still hungry.
- Malnutrition: If the dog is being fed a poor-quality diet, he may go searching for other food items to fill that nutritional need. If the dog is being fed too many treats, he may not finish his meal and may not be getting the nutrients required.
- Boredom: If the dog is bored, he may investigate his own feces, begin to play with it or eat it.
- Claustrophobia: The dog could eat his own poop if he is being kept in an enclosure that is too small. Also possible, if the owner is not cleaning out the enclosed space where the dog defecates, like a run, this can be very stressful for the dog and he could be “cleaning it up.”
What Can You Do to Stop It?
As with any behavior problem that needs to be addressed, there are four components that need to be implemented to control the issue. If you think any of these issues are causing your dog’s coprophagia, implement the treatment plan while treating the underlying problem.
1. Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors: At the first indication of interest in the stool, interrupt your dog’s behavior and ask for a known obedience cue. If the dog is eating his own poo, you need to be present every time he defecates.
I suggest feeding the exact same amount at the exact same time of day for about two weeks until you know your dog’s schedule. Most dogs will defecate once each time they are fed, plus an additional time. So if you are feeding two times a day, he should defecate three times.
2. Management and Setting Up for Success: To set your pet up to succeed, you need to address the underlying cause. If nutritional needs are not being met, I suggest switching to a higher-quality dog food. When it comes to dog food, you really do get what you pay for.
Most store brands are going to have a high grain and corn content and lower protein content. Just take a look at the back of the bag; you want to avoid grains like rice and oats in the first two ingredients as well as protein by-products. Shoot for grain-free with a named protein source in the beginning of the ingredients panel.
My personal all-time favorites are Nature’s Variety Instinct or Natural Balance L.I.D.
3. Consequences for the Behavior Problem: To provide a consequence for stool eating, you need to make the stool less palatable. Since dogs appear to enjoy the taste of feces, there are many products that are sold that can help with this. Animal Behavior College suggests a product called For-bid (affiliate link), which you put in the dog’s food to make the stool less desirable. You can also put a meat tenderizer on the food like A1 Steak Sauce and let it sit for 15 minutes before feeding. This will increase protein digestion and make it less palatable.
If your dog is eating cat poo from a litter box, you can spray a taste deterrent on the feces like Bitter Apple. For die-hard stool eaters, you may need to interrupt the behavior with something that will help create a negative association to stool eating. You can use the “Pet-Corrector,” a soda can with pennies in it, or a spray bottle with two parts water and one part vinegar to interrupt the behavior.
4. Consistency: Possibly the most important component of the treatment plan is being consistent with your practices. Since coprophagia is a self-rewarding behavior, the dog will probably not miss an opportunity to engage in this behavior.
Make Sure Everyone’s On Board
When addressing any behavior problem, it is important that all members of the household have the same expectations of the dog. This is critical because if there is an inconsistency, the dog will have a difficult time determining when a behavior is appropriate. He will begin to discriminate between family members and will offer the desired behavior inconsistently. All components of the treatment plan must be implemented at the same time.