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Many rural dogs, or urban dogs on vacation to an equine hot spot, discover horse manure and develop a horse manure eating habit. Most dog owners find this pretty gross, and this activity can be dangerous to your dog for a couple of reasons. First of all, a dog that constantly goes into the horse pen or pasture to find some tasty horse manure is at risk of being stepped on or kicked by horses who do not appreciate his presence! Also, many dogs experience a toxic reaction to medications given to horses that can be passed in horse manure. The most common cause for concern is the medication ivermectin, which can be fatal to some dogs, and which is commonly used in livestock, such as horses, to control internal parasites. Horse manure containing ivermectin can be fatal if a large dosage is passed through to the dog, or if your dog belongs to one of the breeds that is susceptible to ivermectin toxicity. Keeping your dog from ingesting horse manure not only is a concern from a cleanliness point of view, but also is important to keep your dog safe from harm.
Why dogs love to nosh on horse manure is not entirely understood. Grazing livestock do not always digest all their feed, so if their feed contains tasty grains or molasses, and this passes through in part or whole in manure, this may attract your dog to the manure. If your dog is getting this reward from eating horse manure, you need to implement training to teach him not to eat horse manure and provide a reward for leaving horse manure alone. If your dog has been eating horse manure for an extended period of time, and this habit and reward has become well-established, it will be harder to break than if your dog has just discovered the joys of horse manure! Another complication is that it may be difficult to control your dog’s access to horse manure in a rural settings, so consistency and supervision will be required.
Because of the environment in which dogs have access to and ingest horse manure, diligent effort and supervision will be required to get control of this behavior. Establishing firm control of your dog with voice commands so you can implement 'leave it', 'look at me', and 'down-stay' commands to control horse manure eating behavior will be required. You will need treats to establish these alternate behaviors. You can also use a noise making device, or a training collar to introduce a negative association with the behavior. Electric collars should be used carefully, with only the lowest level of stimulus required to get a reaction from your dog. If you are opting for this option, be sure to read the instructions that come with the product carefully and ensure you understand how to use the collar correctly.
The Leave It Method
Present and command 'leave it'
Hold a treat in your closed hand and hold it out towards your dog. When your dog sniffs your hand, say “leave it”.
Reward leave it
Wait until the dog stops investigating, and trying to reach the treat. Say “yes” and open your hand to offer the treat. On some occasions, hold the treat out in a closed fist, and when your dog investigates, provide the treat without saying “leave it”, to establish it is only when you say “leave it” that she needs to leave the item.
Move to floor
Start putting treats on the floor and giving the 'leave it' command. Use a plain piece of kibble or a biscuit, and when your dog obeys the 'leave it' command, reward her with a much better treat, like a piece of hot dog or chicken.
Move the training exercise around the house or outside, leaving bait in strategic places. When your dog discovers them, give them the 'leave it' command, reward with a treat, then start using just praise and attention to reward.
Apply to horse manure
Use the 'leave it' command when your dog approaches horse manure. Your dog should respond--reinforce this with a treat periodically, until your dog responds without a treat. Continue to offer praise and attention in response to obeying the 'leave it' command.
The Distract and Replace Method
Teach 'look at me'
Teach your dog to 'look at me' by rewarding him for paying attention to you and making eye contact.
Tech alternate behavior
Once 'look at me' is established, teach your dog a task, such as 'down-stay', where your dog lies down and stays, or implement a game such as 'find the toy'. Provide a clear command and a reward for compliance.
Initiate these behaviors, 'look at me' and an alternate task or game such as 'down-stay' or 'find the toy' throughout the day and in different places repeatedly. Be sure to reward and reinforce the behavior, so that responding to your command to initiate the activity becomes automatic, and is expected in various situations.
Apply to horse manure
Supervise your dog closely. When he approaches horse manure, give the command to 'look at me' to get his attention.
Establish alternate behavior
Then give the command to perform a designated task or game. When your dog engages in the alternate behavior or game, they are distracted from eating the horse manure. This will help control their behavior and eventually break the manure eating habit, as it is replaced with another desirable behavior.
The Negative Association Method
Set up negative consequences
Purchase a non-toxic deterrent and treat horse manure in a controlled area with the deterrent. Also, you can fit your dog with a remotely controlled electric collar, or have a loud noise making device at hand. Both are available commercially.
Allow your dog access to horse manure.
Associate bad taste
The horse manure treated with a deterrent will taste bad, creating a negative association, and removing the reward of eating the manure. This alone is often not enough to dissuade your dog if a habit has developed, so you will usually need to employ the following steps in addition to the treated manure.
Associate other consequences
Once your dog has started to eat the manure, engage the electric collar, which will provide a quick, sharp, electric shock, or, deploy the loud noise making device to frighten your dog. Do not yell at or otherwise indicate you are precipitating the negative consequence or the negative association or your dog will only associate the negative consequences with you being present. You want them to stop eating horse manure even when you are not present.
Repeat to estabish
Repeat several times as necessary. Your dog will learn that horse manure does not taste good, and that eating manure is associated with negative, starling consequences such as a quick shock or unpleasant loud noise. This should cause the dog to avoid investigating and eating horse manure in the future.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 11/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021