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There is any number of bad habits that dogs can pick up over time including things like aggression, noisy barking, nipping too hard, or rolling in unpleasant smells. One of the worst habits that puppies can develop early on is the act of eating feces. Called “coprophagia”, this happens with many puppies for several months and when left alone, can continue to be a behavior that progresses into adulthood.
Eating feces is a natural behavior exhibited by mothers of litters as they clean up after a puppy’s waste. Puppies can mimic this behavior early on. Other reasons why your puppy may be consuming waste are a vitamin deficiency, underfeeding, or outright boredom. No matter what the reason, the behavior is usually not at all appealing and it’s understandable to want to put a stop to it as soon as possible. After all, it might make for some awkward conversation when you’re visiting a dog park and Fido is a few yards away enjoying a bit of “canine cuisine” left over from someone else.
While catching your puppy eating fecal matter may be incredibly frustrating, it doesn’t have to be a behavior that persists. There are a few tactics to getting him to understand that it’s not acceptable. Be aware, however, that natural behaviors like coprophagia can be a little more difficult to wean your puppy off of if he’s particularly stubborn.
Still, it’s important to begin your intervention as soon as you notice the behavior. Waiting too long may mean that it takes him longer to learn your expectations and may also lead to illness if your puppy is particularly fond of eating what other strange animals leave behind. The sooner, the better. Set aside one to three weeks to really let your training take hold and be persistent with it. With enough time and effort, your pup can be quite content to just leave waste alone in the grass where it belongs.
Before anything else, take your puppy to the vet to have him checked for any health issues. There are some illnesses or other conditions which may make him more prone to consuming feces, so it’s good to rule those out. Once you’ve done that, consider your approach and gather up treats for positive reinforcement, cleaning supplies to remove any mess before your puppy can get to it, and the different ingredients you’ll need if you choose to tamper with your puppy’s waste to make it unappealing. Have these items on hand whenever you know a bathroom break is coming up. Preparation is important.
The Behavior Method
Cut down on down time
Puppies that are bored will sometimes turn to eating feces to occupy time. Make sure your puppy has an adequate schedule to keep from too much time alone.
Work on recall
Teaching your puppy to come when called is an important tool to keeping him from eating waste. Make the treats you offer as a reward much more appealing than whatever may be in the stool.
Work on ‘leave it’
On a similar vein to recall, teaching your puppy to leave something alone can translate well during bathroom breaks. Start teaching this with a toy and then work on the outdoor aspect.
During your puppy’s down time, offer things to keep him busy. Puzzle toys, toys stuffed with treats, or chew toys can all provide better enrichment for a growing puppy.
Work on obedience every day if possible. Building his focus on you will help make it easier to get his attention when he is tempted to eat his waste.
The Access Method
Keep the area clean
Whether outdoors or indoors, make sure the area your puppy is in is cleaned and cleaned often. The less time she spends around feces, the less likely she will be to consume them.
Catch it before your puppy can
Use a scoop or a bag to scoop up your puppy’s waste before she has a chance to get to it. Throw it away immediately after.
Put litter boxes out of reach
If she has a particular taste for cat droppings, consider placing the litter box in a higher place where your cat has access but your puppy does not.
If eating feces when out on a walk is an issue, wait until your puppy is done eliminating and then immediately walk away. Entice her with a treat if necessary.
Use sound to interrupt
Clap your hands or shake a can of noisy items like pebbles or pennies to interrupt any poor behavior. Interrupting the act of eating the waste can help her then shift into focusing on you instead.
The Tamper Method
Consider changing food
Your puppy’s food may not be providing what he needs to stay healthy and happy. Look over the ingredients in his food and think about changing it if necessary.
Check for vitamin deficiency
Your puppy may be missing a crucial part of his diet. Deficiencies of Vitamin B are common. Ask your vet about whether or not he is getting everything he needs from his food.
Use an additive
Add a bit of canned pumpkin into your puppy’s diet to make the waste taste unappealing to him. Pumpkin tastes good going in, but not so great coming out.
Check for parasites
Intestinal parasites may cause your puppy to eat his feces to regain nutrients that are lost. Check his waste every now and again to be sure it is free of worms or other parasites which may be affecting his habits.
Set a trap
Pour a bit of hot sauce or lemon juice on an already existing stool sample to deter your puppy from eating it. He may assume that all waste tastes this way and decide not to take the risk.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021