Help! Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?

Why do dogs eat poop? We can't be sure why dogs indulge in doo-doo, or why some dogs do it more than others. But stopping it is more a matter of managing your dog than training him out of this disgusting habit.

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Why do dogs eat poop – especially their own? It’s so gross! There’s nothing worse than when your dog eats a fresh piece of poop and then, in response to your shrieks of horror and dismay, tries to lick you in an appeasement gesture. 

Poop eating – or “coprophagia,” to use the scientific term – isn’t just disgusting to us. Your dog may be ingesting intestinal parasites and/or disease pathogens such as parvovirus, toxoplasmosis, or giardia along with the feces.

Unfortunately for us, coprophagia is common in dogs – a natural, normal behavior. Dogs may eat all kinds of poop – deer, horse, bunny, even human poop. Cat feces seems to be especially delectable.

No one knows for sure, but some theories commonly offered to explain why dogs eat poop:

  • It tastes good (natural/normal behavior).
  • Intestinal parasites, endocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), underfeeding, or poor diet have deprived the dog of needed nutrients, leading to an instinctive urge to eat novel sources of nutrients. 
  • Eating feces can recolonize the gut with a different/healthier microflora; dogs may possess some natural instinct to eat feces to improve their own digestion.
  • Den cleanliness instinct: Mother dogs naturally eat puppies’ poop to clean the den.
  • Some medications can make a dog very hungry.
  • Stress/anxiety, boredom, and attention-seeking can cause/contribute to coprophagia.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR DOG EATS POOP

You must first explore possible medical causes. Talk with your veterinarian and follow her recommendations to diagnose and treat or rule out medical issues. If stress, anxiety, and/or boredom are the cause, reduce stress and add enrichment to your dog’s world. If you need help, consult a qualified force-free dog-training professional.

Once any medical reasons are ruled out, try management: Scoop promptly after your dog(s), put cat litterboxes where he can’t access them, keep him away from the manure pile, and use “Walk Away” or “Leave It” cues to move him away from temptation when walking on trails where horses or other animals may have eliminated. Consider, too, using counter-conditioning and desensitization (CC&D) to teach your dog to love wearing a muzzle, and use it when you and your dog are in locations where feces might be found. 

Alternatively, accept that it’s a natural, normal canine behavior and grin and bear it when your dog dives into a pile of poo on the hiking trail.

By the way, all those products out there you can feed to your dog to make his poop taste bad? I’m sorry to report that they pretty much don’t work. 

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I was advised to feed my dog pumpkin as this was not so pleasant to eat second time round. However my Cavalier Barney didn’t get the memo so management is key, I scoop the poop as soon as.

  2. Hi my name is Darin. My dog of 2 years old loves cat poop. I almost throw up when I catch him eating it. The only thing I suppose keeping me from literally vomiting is I find myself yanking him away (sometimes violently) and scolding him with words I should not repeat. Unfortunately those around me at the time hear those adjectives I call my dog. His second best is human poop, it makes me sick, literally sick when he tries to eat the delicacies the homeless leave. I cannot understand why any living thing would want to eat “shit.” I mean we all eat enough of it living in this mixed-up world. Our walks are anything but pleasant, and he insists on many of them. Someone help us.

  3. We received a dog who was eating his own poop. He was confined to a crate all day while the owners worked. They let him out about 4 or 5 hours in the evening but then back in the crate during the night. The dog wasn’t house trained unfortunately and when he was let out it was on a chain attached to the house.

    The previous owner told us he ate his own poop and wasp. Medication for it. When we got him they also gave us the dog food they we feeding him. It happened to be one of the cheapest foods on the market. When we looked at the “medication “ it was actually vitamins and minerals for dogs.

    When we took him home with us, no more crates for him! First thing I did was house train him and buy some nutritional food. He learned so quick. Within a week he was trained. And now we are feeding both our dogs a home made diet and they are very healthy dogs.

    Our little Pomeranian is such a sweet dog, well behaved and a joy to live with. I think he still remembers we rescued him from a miserable life!

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