Help! My dog has the most disgusting habit: eating feces! She’ll eat her own, that of other dogs, cat poop, you name it. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t take her off leash at the park; she spend her whole time trying to find some to eat, and scarfing it down greedily when she sees me running to stop her. What is UP with this?
I’d really like to feed my Bouviers a diet of meat, however, several already have the really gross habit of eating fecal material. I know that if they were on a mostly meat diet, the problem would be even worse. I’ve tried all the home remedies suggested by other dog owners without success. The manufactured remedies sold through the catalogs worked, but are very costly if you have more than one large dog. What do you suggest?
We directed this question to Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and dog trainer residing in Berkeley, CA. A native of England, Dr. Dunbar is the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the creator of the K9 Games, and is well-known for his renowned Sirius Puppy Training program, which he describes in his popular books and instructional videos.
Funny how the people who wrote in with this problem withheld their names! I’ve heard many, many discussions about whether this problem is related to a vitamin or mineral deficiency, and whether it indicates a health problem with the dog. I’ve never seen this to be the case; most dogs who eat stool are as healthy as the next dog.
I prefer to deal with this horrible habit as a training issue. I like to demonstrate my answer to this question when I do lectures. I take a bunch of money out of my wallet, and put it down on a table. I say to a person sitting 20 feet away, “If you grab this money, you can have it, and it’s yummy. Then I pick it up, put it in my pocket and walk away. I say, “OK, go ahead, get the money.” And they say, “But it’s not there.” And I say, “Precisely, I picked it up. And that is what you should do when your dog poops, for a number of reasons.” First, it’s a great idea to look at your dog’s poop every day. Feces that is runny, bloody, gelatinous, or full of worms is the first sign that your dog is off-color. This can give you a big head start in treating what ails him. Second, picking up the poop is the easiest way to prevent coprophagia (the proper term for eating poop). I suggest that every person go out with his or her dog when the dog goes to the bathroom. You should always reward your dog when he goes; it helps maintain his housetraining. You can’t reward your dog if you are not there, so, as much as possible, go out with your dog. When he eliminates, pick up the feces, and reward the dog.
What about the dog that runs to find and eat poop that he finds when he goes out on walks? I had a dog who would try to eat any feces we came across in our walks, and I solved the problem by having her carry something in her mouth on walks. The deal was, if she dropped the object, I’d immediately say “Home,” and the walk would end. She learned very quickly not to drop the item.
What about the dog who tries to eat every poop at the dog park? Again, I see this as a training issue. Any time that your dog is off the leash, you should be able to control his behavior, just by telling him to sit. Simply train the dog to do that one thing.
If you can teach the dog to perform this behavior very reliably, you will be able to eliminate 99 percent of its potential behavior problems. If your dog is sitting down, he can’t eat poop or trash, chase a cat, chase a child, knock over elderly people, run out the front door, dash out of the car, or jump up!
And if you can’t get your dog to sit on cue, then what the heck are you doing with your dog off leash? One day you will find that it is not dog poop that interrupts your dog’s good behavior, it will be a car or truck. I am a great believer in making sure that you can control your dog at all times. And a simple “Sit” prevents about any behavior problem that you can think of.