What to Do When Your Dog Eats Poop

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Question

Our puppy eats our older dog's poop. We tried “forbid” a powdered product that was supposed to have an awful taste. What else can we do?

Karen in BC

Answer

Your puppy eats dog poop? Yuk. How disgusting…. My dog does that too. Or at least my last Australian Cattle Dog did.

You might think that such a foul habit points to a nutritional deficiency or that it means Fido's not getting enough to eat, but actually poop-eating (a.k.a. copraphagia) is a common pastime among dogs. It's quite normal. But still disgusting. In fact female dogs with litters of pups have to lick their pup's rear end to stimulate pooping and the licking doesn't stop once the pup starts pooping.

Most dogs in all-dog households never show a proclivity for poop. In households where dogs and cats coexist, though, owners should take care to check Fido's breath before letting him say hello, because dogs like cat poop the way kids like candy. Once a dog figures out that indoor sand-filled boxes contain tasty morsels of “used cat food,” they frequent these sites in hopes of finding a “kitty roca surprise.”

How is it that a waste product could become a delightful dessert for some dogs? It all started thousands of years ago. Originally domestic dogs descended from hunters, but more recently the descendants have been scavengers. This tendency to scavenge can be seen in the present day “wild” model of the domestic dog—the village dog. While many dogs in the U.S. experience the luxury of a cozy home, free meals, and regular veterinary check-ups, three quarters of the world's dogs are feral dogs, most of whom have chosen to live in villages near people. These motley mutts make their living by preying on stolen tidbits, human leftovers, and feces of all kinds. Those tame enough to hang out close to humans and indiscriminate enough to eat anything with nutritive value survive the best.

Among our coddled domestic dogs, many retain a strong desire to scavenge. They raid trashcans and left out lunch bags. A bias for dung depends on access to the morsels, level of other interesting activities, and personal preference. Luckily for most owners, like humans who never develop a taste for escargot, many dogs never develop a taste for poop.

So what can you do if your dog likes to feast on feces? It doesn't hurt to try some of the over-the-counter products that supposedly make poop taste bad. Or to even lace poop with peppers regularly for several weeks—assuming they don't just learn the smell of chili pepper-laced poop. On the other hand, what could possibly taste worse than poop? A more successful solution is to just deny access to the delicacy by cleaning it up ASAP. And don't waste time punishing Fido for exhibiting the horrible habit in front of you. He'll still snack on it behind your back. Rather, just call him to you before or as soon as you see him heading towards the stinky delicacy. Then reward him for coming when called and sticking with you instead of going after the poop.

A version of this article first appeared in Dr Yin's Pet Tales pet column in The San Francisco Chronicle in 1999.

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3 responses to “What to Do When Your Dog Eats Poop

  1. Dear Dr. Yin,

    We have a 13-year old Vizsla who has been coprophagic (her own) all of her 13 years. We have tried Forbid, cayenne, pineapple, spinach, distraction, positive reinforcement (“leave it” + food reward) to no avail. We have no children, except our dogs, so we can give more attention to their care than many families, but despite our several-times-a-day patrolling of our yard, we occasionally miss but she doesn’t – if you know what I mean! While this is a distasteful habit, the most difficult thing about it is that our Vizsla habitually vomits this poop in the house, and always on the carpet, some time later after ingestion. It always comes out in its original form and smell, along with the smell of the bile, so that is usually how we find out she has eaten her poop. Either substance is gross, but together they are vile. Through the 13 years together with her, at moments of extreme frustration, I have fantasized about “re-homing” her, but she is our beloved family member and we are together for the long haul. As she has aged, this coprophagic behavior has lessened greatly to maybe a dozen times a year, but we are always on alert.

    I am emailing you because my husband and I are planning on bringing a new puppy into our home in mid-October, but we are very concerned that this vile habit could be imprinted upon our new puppy and we would be furthering this coprophagic behavior.

    1 – how do you suggest we handle bringing a new puppy home and avoid imprinting this habit upon the new puppy?

    2 – we have heard that we should never let our dogs see us picking up their poop as this will re-inforce the dog’s coprophagia. Is this true?

    3 – we have refrained from bringing a new puppy home for 2 years because of our fear of passing along this habit. Would you recommend NOT bringing another puppy into our home until our 13-year-old Vizsla passes?

    We have mulled this dilemma over and over and look forward to your professional insight and suggestions.

    Thank you for making this website available for our concerns and questions.

    Rebecca
    650-323-1484
    Palo Alto, CA

  2. Dr. Yin,

    What do you recommend for pups that enjoy “kitty surprise”? I can clean the litterbox morning and night, but if something should appear while I’m away my dog has access to it. I’ve seen top-entry cat boxes, but I know that many cats dislike using them, and don’t want to encourage inappropriate elimination behaviors on top of coprophagia! What would you suggest?

    Thank you,
    Valerie

  3. A wonderful trainer once taught me the mantra “Don’t let them do that!”

    The gastrocolic (stomach/colon) reflex means that pooping occurs shortly (usually 5-30 minutes) after eating. Take advantage of this and walk your poop-eater on lead about a half-hour after she eats. You can even carry a scoop or plastic bag with you and pick up immediately. Having your dog tethered to you with a Buddy Leash gives you two hands free and makes it even easier. You can also use the leash to bring your dog back inside and go clean up afterward. Some dogs may respect a “leave it” command, which would prevent a race to see who gets the poop first without your needing a leash. While this may not eliminate (sorry) the problem entirely, it should reduce poop eating significantly. I’ve also used surveyer’s flags to mark poop piles so I could find them easily later.

    For litter box raiding, put the box in a separate room (like the bathroom) use a chain to prevent the door from opening enough for the dog to enter and use a doorstop or piece of wood to keep the door open enough for your cat to enter. You may need to show the cat where her box is located and that she can gwt through the door.

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