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Unfortunately, many dogs tend to eat poop. They eat their own poop, they eat other dogs' poop, and other animals' poop. Cat poop and horse manure are particular favorites! This is not only gross and unsanitary, it can have health consequences for your dog and you. Your dog can acquire parasites from ingesting other animals' waste, and some parasites can even be passed on to you or family members. Also, medications administered to other animals can be passed in their feces, which can then be ingested by your dog. This medication can result in poisoning and even death if ingested in large enough quantities, so curbing your dog's poop-eating habit is important to prevent the spread of parasites and possible toxins to your dog.
Why do dogs eat poop? Although it is possible they are trying to supplement their diet because it is missing something, or they are having trouble absorbing certain nutrients and are trying to acquire these nutrients from feces, it is also possible, even likely, that poop just tastes good to dogs. Manure from other animals such as livestock may contain undigested substances that your dog finds appealing, and cat feces is high in protein that your dog may find appetizing. It is not uncommon for puppies to experiment with eating poop, as they are testing out pretty much everything to see what they like. This is often outgrown as your puppy gets older. Sometimes dogs that come from abusive situations or were not provided enough food may eat feces due to malnourishment, and having had nothing else to eat in the past. Even when such dogs are provided with a good quality diet, the habit of eating poop may persist.
If your dog has a feces-eating habit, it is worth taking him to your veterinarian for a complete examination, to ensure he is not suffering from some nutrient deficiency, in which case supplementing their diet may be the easiest way to end poop-eating behavior.
Another method of ending poop eating behavior is to make sure your dog doesn't have access to feces, which means ensuring he does not have access to his own feces, or that of other animals. This will require cleaning up after your dog as soon as he defecates, which is not always convenient, or possible, especially a rural setting.
Therefore, curbing the poop eating habit will involve teaching your dog not to eat their own feces or the feces of other animals. Methods for preventing poop eating behavior include teaching your dog to 'leave it', distracting and providing alternate behaviors, and associating poop eating behavior with negative consequences. Negative consequences are not the same as punishment, which may actually reinforce the behavior if your dog is bored and looking for attention, but associating an immediate negative association with ingesting feces.
To teach the 'leave it' command or alternate behaviors you will need an ample supply of treats. Negative association training may include a foul tasting additive, which can be applied to feces, a loud noise maker, or an electric training collar. If you use an electric collar, be sure to use the minimum setting required to elicit a response, and that you understand how to use the collar effectively and not cause undue stress or injury. You will need to be consistent and ensure your dog does not have access to his own feces or the feces of other animals, except as part of the training regime, during the training period. This will require time and resources to supervise or contain your dog while you break the poop-eating habit.
The Negative Association Method
Purchase a non-toxic deterrent and treat feces in a controlled area, such as your backyard, with the foul-tasting deterrent. Fit your dog with an electric collar, or have a loud noise making device at hand.
Allow your dog access to feces.
Trigger unpleasant taste
When your dog tries to eat the feces treated with the deterrent, she will get a mouthful of foul tasting poop and learn to associate the feces with an unpleasant smell or taste, removing the reward and discouraging behavior.
Add noise or collar stimulus
For most dogs, the bad tasting deterrent is not sufficient and will need to be coupled with an additional negative association. If your dog continues to eat the poop, either engage the electric collar, which will provide a quick, sharp electric shock, or deploy the loud noise making device to frighten her. Do not yell at or otherwise indicate you are precipitating the negative consequence or the negative association will only be associated with you being present, and you what the dog to associate the deterrents with the poop eating behavior, whether you are around or not.
Repeat negative association
Repeat this process multiple times over a few weeks. Your dog will learn that feces does not taste good, and that eating feces is associated with negative, starling consequences, such as a quick shock or an unpleasant loud noise. This should cause the dog to avoid investigating and eating feces in the future.
The Distract and Replace Method
Teach 'look at me'
This is particularly useful if your dog’s poop eating behavior is fueled by boredom and they are looking for attention from you. Teach your dog to 'look at me' by giving the command, and when your dog makes eye contact and locks his attention on you, provide a treat. Gradually move to providing praise for responding to the 'look at me' command.
Teach alternate behavior
After getting your dog to 'look at me', teach her a task, such as 'down-stay', or a game, such as 'find the toy'. Provide a clear command and a reward for compliance. Initiate these tasks, 'look at me' and your alternate task or game, throughout the day and in different places. 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 poop investigating
Supervise your dog closely, and when she approaches any feces, give the command to 'look at me'.
Provide alternate behavior
Having gotten her attention, give your dog the command to perform a task or game. When she engages in the alternate behavior, she is distracted from the poop eating habit. This will help control her behavior and eventually break the habit, as it replaces it with another desirable behavior.
The Leave It Method
Hold a treat in your closed hand and hold it out. When your dog sniffs, licks, or tries to reach the treat in your hand say “leave it” in a firm, calm voice.
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 other occasions, hold the treat out in a closed fist and let your dog investigate and provide the treat without saying “leave it”, to establish it is only when you say “leave it” that she needs to leave the treat alone.
Make more available
Start putting the treat on the floor and giving the 'leave it' command, use a plain piece of kibble or a biscuit. When your dog obeys the 'leave it', reward her with a much better treat, like a piece of hot dog or chicken.
Move the exercise to different parts of the house, then outside, leaving treats in strategic places. When your dog discovers and investigates them, give the 'leave it' command. Reward with a treat when your dog obeys. Gradually start providing praise and attention in place of a treat.
Apply to feces
Once the 'leave it' command is well-established, use it when your dog approaches her feces or other animal feces. Be sure to praise your dog and reward her for leaving the poop alone.
Written by Laurie Haggart
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021