Why is my dog eating poop and how to stop it?

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Romantic pictures of a gorgeous, cuddly creature that you share your time and living space with tend to go down the drain the moment you catch your beloved dog eating poop.

Romantic pictures of a gorgeous, cuddly creature that you share your time and living space with tend to go down the drain the moment you catch your beloved dog eating poop.

Even worse than your dog`s occasional poop eating is poop eating on a regular basis.

Some owners simply give up and never let their dogs off the leash to avoid the possibility of poop eating ever happening, but avoiding risky situations is only a step away from ignoring the problem, and what is even more important – it means that the real cause of the particular behavior is never dealt with.

If the cause is not being dealt with, the manifestation will not stop either and may even evolve into some other unacceptable habit.

Dogs eat their own, their fellow dogs` or completely random feces for various reasons. Sources of this behavior may be health issues related, nutrition related as well as caused by neglecting bad habits and a lack of proper training.

Therefore, dealing with this problem may sometimes take more than a “Bad dog!” lesson and may also require consulting a vet.

The term that refers to this type of behavior is Coprophagia. So, although it sure is easier to keep your dog away from poop, training your dog not to eat it or figuring out why he did it in the first place is certainly the way to get rid of that habit permanently.

From a wild dog to a pet

One explanation of this disgusting habit of dog eating poop originates from our dogs` wild ancestors’ behavior and instincts. Before domesticated, dogs were scavengers, which basically means they would eat whatever they could find, including waste of other animals.

It seems hard to believe that your picky dog which only agrees on eating a particular kind of tasty dog food has anything to do with wild scavengers, but it is true. So, eating poop is the reminiscence of the past that sometimes reappears in the behavior pattern of our pet dogs.

You may notice that a mother sometimes eats feces of her newborn puppies, which is also an instinct that originates from when dogs were wild animals. In order to keep them safe and hide the traces of the newborns from predators, mothers used to eat their puppies feces.

Scent of the feces could lead the predators straight to the puppies who would have been an easy prey.

So now, although the conditions are completely different, some dogs still display those instinct based actions. If your dog`s poop eating is actually caused by these reminiscences of old times, problem can be solved with training.

Coprophagia and health issues

It is important not to panic or give up finding out why it is happening at all. If puppy eats poop once, it is most probably the part of the learning process. Tasting anything that crosses their way is what puppies do to learn about the world that surrounds them.

Showing discontent with what you see at that moment will probably be enough for the little explorer not to do it again. But, if an adult dog keeps repeating the same action over and over again you should consider it to be a red light and a reason to go to the vet`s.

Dogs instinctively try to sort out their health issues – licking wounds is the most obvious example. Here is the more in depth article on dog’s licking.

Eating poop may be a sign that for some reason your dog is unable to absorb enough nutrients from the food that you feed him with, and the poop eating is dog`s instinctive reach out for what`s missing. Be sure to consult your vet, because restricted nutrient absorption may indicate even more serious health issues that you are completely unaware of.

Coprophagia is sometimes caused by the presence of parasites of sort, that may be causing issues with food processing, but it may also be a sign of pancreas malfunction. Therefore, do not hesitate to go to the vet`s – better safe than sorry!

Dog eating other dog`s feces

It is not uncommon when two or more dogs live together, that one of them begins to eat another one`s poop for seemingly no reason at all. The fact that we are unable to see the reason, does not mean that there is no reason.

Relations between dogs may not always be clear to us humans. Sure we may notice which dog is ‘the boss’, but that does not necessarily mean that we fully understand why. Domination of one dog over the other or others, and the means to gain and maintain that position is way more complex than obvious facts such as physical strength or age may suggest.

One of behavioral patterns that displays or demonstrates the submission of one dog to another is eating the poop of the dominant one.

Another reason why one dog may on a regular basis eat his mate`s feces is based on the instinct of wild dogs. This scenario is based on a healthy dog`s instinct to hide the unhealthy one`s feces from predators in order not to put the easy prey on display.

Eating feces as a sign of neglecting and boredom

Some dogs display anxiety and a lack of attention given to them by doing things that will draw your attention. Some do it by chewing, some by barking and others by eating poop.

When sure that no medical condition is causing your dog to eat feces, be honest and explore the possibility that your own behavior may be the real cause of your dog`s unwanted behavioral pattern.

Dogs long for your attention, and if deprived of it, they will do all kinds of crazy stuff to gain it.

Eating feces rather than eating food

Braking down the carbohydrates, fats and proteins is based on dog’s body’s production of specific mix of enzymes. Some dogs, even some more sensitive breeds, are having hard time adjusting to the modern days’ diet that contains less animal proteins.

In order to replenish the enzymes needed to process the food that is based more on carbohydrates and plant proteins, some dogs eat poop on a regular basis.

The other common cause of coprophagia is obesity. Dogs being overfed on a regular basis lose the ability to absorb nutrients from food, and tend to ‘recycle’ their own stool in order to re-process what was left unprocessed.

Lack of vitamin B is also said to be the common cause for your dog eating his own poop on a regular basis.

How to prevent your dog from eating poop?

Eating poop is definitely the most disgusting of all the weird things dogs do. Yet, before you prepare your strategy to put an end to this, make sure that you have figured out what causes this type of behavior.

As mentioned before, reasons for this type of behavior vary. Based on this, you do not want to end up training the dog when you should ask for the vet`s assistance, and more importantly – the wrong approach will not solve the problem.

Poop eating puppy

Puppy’s feces eating should not worry you, though it does call for light training. Puppies need to taste things in order to determine what they are and that way gain certain experience – good or bad. After tasting the poop for the first time, most puppies will not experiment with feces anymore.

Yet, the more curious ones will most certainly attempt several times. In both cases apply the same approach. When you catch him doing it, apply certain form of punishment and express your discontent loudly.

The experience of you being loud, unpleasant experience of washing the mouth with water combined with ignoring the puppy afterwards as a form of punishment should be more than enough to establish the association: eating poop – bad things happen.

Adult dog eating poop

As we have mentioned earlier there is a wide variety of reasons for dogs to eat feces.

The non-health related reasons some adult dogs eat feces have much to do with the socialization process. Dogs with a lack of social skills tend to eat other dogs’ feces in order to demonstrate submission as the only possible way to fit into the “dog society”.

The answer to this problem needs to take two courses simultaneously. This situation requires you to begin the socialization training along with the training course aimed at putting an end to a particular behavior pattern, in this case poop eating.

Training your dog not to eat feces without considering the wider context of WHY that is happening, would be pretty much like treating symptoms while ignoring the disease that caused them.

The other cause of adult dogs` coprophagia that is not health related is also an issue of socialization, but on a different level. Demonstration of submissiveness to the alpha dog in the house may sometimes be the cause of poop eating.

Approach this situation as a training task, the same way we explained how to deal with it in case of puppies. Yet, not to end up treating the symptoms, pay closer attention to your dogs` interaction, and if you notice any form of bullying – consider retraining the bully!

Health related poop eating

If none of the above seems to fit possible reasons why your dog eats poop, the reason may have something to do with health issues your dog might be having without you even knowing.

In that case – do not hesitate to ask for a vet`s opinion on that matter.

Eating poop in this case is obviously not a problem of behavior, and therefore no training will stop it until the health or nutrition related issue that caused it is solved.

Lack of attention poop eating

Poop eating caused by a lack of attention given to the dog is surely a training task, but not for your dog. It is a training task for you. The fact that your dog does this knowing that it will drag negative attention is a sure sign of negligence. Be sure that your dog did this last trick only after all the other less radical options were exhausted.

That basically means that the two of you, apart from the poop eating problem have trouble communicating. If between negative attention and no attention your dog tends to choose the first one that means that your dog is bored to death and that he is reaching out for you desperately.

If you react to this problem simply by punishing a certain behavior while leaving the cause untreated, you may seemingly solve one problem – but at what cost? Your dog may give up eating poop, but will probably end up replacing one bad habit with another. And be sure that there are even worse things dogs can do out of boredom and anxiety than eat poop.

Solving this problem is based on spending more quality time with your dog. No one says that this issue occurs necessarily out of bad intentions, laziness or lack of love. It may simply be caused by long working hours combined with too much of your dog`s unspent energy.

The key lies in the quality time. You should use the time together not only to simply exercise your dog by, for example, letting him run, but by actually playing together. By playing with toys, as time goes by, your dog will develop the ability to play with the toys by himself.

That way, the boredom causing your dog to eat the poop to gain your attention will become less boring. This should by no means lead you to the conclusion that simply by providing your dog with toys the problem will vanish by itself.

Your dog needs your attention and toys are just a tool to make boredom less boring, but they sure cannot replace you.