How to Stop My Dog From Eating Poop

Dogs can be goofy and cute but the minute they chomp on stool, all that cuteness shatters. Eating one’s own faeces or even some other creature’s is seen by us humans as one of the most disgusting acts alive.

Different theories abound as to why dogs do this, and just as many theories are out there on how to stop dogs from doing it. This article attempts to sieve through all that information and give the most reasonably effective solution to frustrated dog owners.

dog is starving
Photo by Daniel Frank from Pexels

Facts on poop eating

The scientific name for this habit is coprophagia. This deplorable habit was listed as one of the top 10 reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters. Although this problem has been annoying dog owners for decades, little conclusive research has been done on the topic. The most recent one published in 2018 was based on a study completed in 2012.

Here is a compilation of facts thus far discovered about coprophagia:

  • 16% (1 in 6) of dogs are classified as “serious” stool eaters, which means that they were caught in the act at least five times
  • 24% of the dogs in the study (1 in 4) were observed eating faeces at least once
  • Coprophagia was more common in multi-dog households
  • Poop eaters are no harder to house-train than any other dogs
  • Females are more likely to eat poop, and unspayed males were least likely
  • 92% of poop eaters want fresh stool of one to two days old
  • 85% of poop eaters will only eat other dogs’ faeces
  • Greedy dogs tend to be poop eaters
  • Dogs will rarely eat soft, poorly formed stools or diarrhea
  • Diet has no influence on the behaviour

Why dogs eat poop

Coprophagia is actually a natural – and even necessary – thing to do among certain animals. Rabbits, for example, regularly eat a few special nuggets a day to retain lost nutrients. If they are prevented from doing so, they become sickly.

However, not enough research has been done on the reasons for this funky issue among dogs. What we do know is that the act is instinctive and is part of the natural behaviour of puppies and nursing dogs.

When puppies eat poop

Very young puppies mimic everything that their mother does. That is how most animals learn about their world. However, when it comes to excrement, most of them will just take a sniff and walk away.

Some may actually eat it.  The assumption is that the pup confuses the mom’s poop-tainted breath with food, and continues to associate the smell of stool with something edible.

Just as how human babies tend to put everything they see in their mouths, puppies learn about their world the same way too. It’s not just their own poop, but they may mouth any other poop or object that they see. This behaviour usually fades before puppies reach 9 months of age.

When mother dogs eat poop

Female dogs which have delivered litters tend to have a higher likelihood of becoming coprophagic. Their natural instinct compels them to lick the puppies’ private parts. This is to stimulate the pups to urinate and defecate. Without doing this, the puppies will have difficulty in eliminating waste.

The act of lapping up puppies’ urine and faeces is also a natural instinct to keep the den clean. The smell of the litter’s waste could attract unwanted predators. This instinct remains strong even though domesticated dogs no longer face such a threat.

When adult dogs eat poop

Eating one’s own stool is called coprophagia but the consumption of other dogs’ or other animals’ stool is called allocoprophagia. Several theories have been presented to explain this phenomenon:

1.  It’s in their DNA

According to a 2012 study by Dr. Benjamin Hart et. al., wolves will wolf down their own stools to keep their dens clean from any possible parasitic infection arising from their faeces. However, there has been no solid evidence to prove this. It was just a hypothesis.

It is a fact that domestic dogs do not usually soil their sleeping or eating quarters. That is why crate training works for house training dogs. The crate is their den.

The hypothesis made by this research contradicts the above fact and does not explain why some dogs eat other animals’ faeces.

2.  It is a survival behaviour

Dogs evolved as scavengers, eating whatever they found on the ground or in the garbage for the sake of survival. Thus, their ideas of what is tasty is somewhat different from ours. That is true. However, this explanation does not support the situation of current pet dogs which are quite well fed.

3.  Not getting enough food

Certain illnesses or health conditions may cause the desire to snack on some unpredictable things. For instance, parasitic infection, malabsorption, deficiency in diet, diabetes, Chushing’s disease and so on.

One study conducted by James Butler on a large population of stray dogs in Zimbabwe showed that human waste (including excrement) and animal carrion formed the main portion of their diets. Faeces (other animals and humans) contributed to 25% of their diet but these dogs did not eat their own stool.

4.  Environmental stress

  • Isolation: Studies have shown that dogs who are kept alone in kennels or basements are more likely to eat poop than those dogs who live close to their people. This behaviour has been displayed among some zoo animals as well.
  • Restrictive confinement: Spending too much time confined in a small space can cause the problem. It’s not unusual to see coprophagia in dogs rescued from crowded shelters.
  • Not getting enough food: Puppies that are not fed frequently enough or that have intestinal parasites may be prompted to eat anything that seems edible. This applies to dogs as well, especially in a household with many dogs.

5.  Behavioural

  • Attention-seeking: Dogs that are not getting enough attention from their owners may eat their own poop to get a reaction from their humans. Even though the reaction is a negative one, all the dog or puppy knows is that it is getting attention from you. The behaviour is similar to children intentionally misbehaving or doing something they’re not supposed to.
  • Boredom: If a dog is left alone for a long time, it may find relief from boredom by playing with and eating its own stool. 
  • Stress: Stress will often drive puppies and adult dogs to eat their own stool. Source of stress may be from being brought into a new home, or from any number of reasons.
  • Avoiding punishment: Some dogs develop a notion that eliminating the evidence of their boo-boo will save them from being punished. What other way to do it but to swallow it? This then becomes a vicious cycle.
  • Just because: After ruling out all other possible reasons, this may be the most confounding one to us humans. It is simply because the rascals find it fun or they like the taste.   

How to stop dogs from eating poop

Here is a list of methods from the most effective to the least effective.

1.  Active owner participation

Data from studies showed that the most effective treatments for coprophagy require active and consistent action from dog owners. For instance, preventing access to any kind of faeces by keeping the dog on a lead during walks, rewarding positive post-elimination behaviour and distracting the dog from the faeces.

2.  Keep the dog’s living area clean

Living area includes the house compound, so that there will be no stool for him to pick up. Those who have cats should keep litter boxes clean and out of the dog’s reach.

keep the dog's living area clean
Photo by Ellen de Ruiter from Pexels

3.  Training

Work hard on the commandsleave itandno”. Give the dog a food treat immediately after it has done its business then quickly remove the stool. Hopefully it will look forward to the treat instead of its own poo.

4.  Exercise and attention

If attention deficit could be the problem, giving a dog more quality time might just work. Grooming, daily exercise like long walks, playtime, cuddle time and even teaching them new tricks are perceived by dogs as being given attention.

exercise and attention given

5.  Give quality food or supplements

This might work for puppies to prevent any forms of malnutrition which might trigger the foul habit. For adult dogs with existing health issues, vitamins or enzyme supplements have been applied. There is no guarantee of success but at least you can rule malnutrition out if the habit occurs.

6.  Deterrent products

There are a variety of products in the market to deter dogs from poop-eating. These come in the form of tablets and sprays. Hart’s study revealed that effectiveness of such products ranges from 0 to 2% only. Furthermore, some of them are actually not safe for dogs as they contain MSG and garlic.

Another study found that punishing attempts at eating stools with a citronella spray reduced the behaviour by about two‐thirds during the 3‐week trial, but the long‐term success was not reported.

7.  Ignoring the behaviour

The least effective treatment according to studies is ignoring the behaviour in the hope that it will go away.

Conclusion

So far there has been no conclusive, definitive method to instantly stop a dog from coprophagia or allocoprophagia. What a dog owner can do is be persistent in creating an environment where the dog has no opportunity to eat it, by giving consistent training and by keeping the dog active.

SOURCES:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5980124/

https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-dogs-eat-poop/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/vms3.92

http://santamonicadog.org/coprophagia-new-research-and-discussion/

https://www.petmd.com/dog/puppycenter/health/evr_dg_why_do_puppies_eat_poop

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/A-Comparison-of-Common-Treatments-for-Coprophagy-in-Boze/a90a366e14e93a953ef1402188b52b355d820110

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201801/which-dogs-eat-poop-and-why-do-they-do-it

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242146376_Diet_of_free-ranging_domestic_dogs_Canis_familiaris_in_rural_Zimbabwe_implications_for_wild_scavengers_on_the_periphery_of_wildlife_reserves/link/5cd2fadba6fdccc9dd96a3d9/download

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