How Can I Stop My Dog from Eating Poo?
While it may have been too much information, you now know all the potential reasons that your dog eats poo. So naturally you want to know, ‘How do you stop this behaviour?’ ( Miss the last article? Here's the link to the article Why does my Dog Eat Poo? (pawchores.com)
Many dog guardians are desperate to resolve this issue, especially since they worry the behaviour could be harmful to their dog’s health. You will be relieved to know that eating their own faeces should not cause any harm to your dog’s health, however, there is potentially a risk of disease transmission from eating other animal’s faeces. Parvo virus, leptospirosis, intestinal parasites and other diseases can be transmitted via infected faeces, so it's definitely a behaviour you want to prevent, even if your dog is wormed and vaccinated. So what can you do to stop it? Well you need to consider 3 areas; health checks, management and training.
Health & Diet
It’s important to eliminate the possibility that your dog’s behaviour has a medical cause. If you believe your dog’s health or current medication is causing coprophagia, it’s important to consult your vet. Having a health check can determine if there are any health conditions or parasites that could be affecting the micro-biome and triggering the behaviour. If there is a medical cause, hopefully medication will resolve the behaviour.
If you have a multi-dog household, and one of your dogs only eats the poo of your other dog, it's worth taking that particular dog to the vets as they may have a health condition, which is making their poo more appealing.
Many recommend adding certain foods to the diet that make the poo taste unpleasant, such as cottage cheese, yoghurt or pineapple. Unfortunately, this is rarely successful and there is no scientific evidence to support this advice. As gross as it sounds, the odour will still be appealing to your dog, and including these food products in your dog’s diet may also cause digestive upset, which could exacerbate the issue.
Some recommend vitamin supplements such as vitamin B, but this doesn't always resolve the issue as vitamin deficiency is rarely the cause. There are also poo deterrent supplements that you can purchase to make the poo taste bitter, but many don't have success with them. Although considering health is essential, it is rarely the cause of coprophagia.
Since coprophagia is usually due to behavioural issues, management is key in addressing coprophagia successfully. Without management, any training will be pointless. Management in this instance, means preventing access to faeces and preventing any opportunities for your dog to practice the behaviour. How can you do this?
Every time your dog goes for a poo in your garden, make sure to supervise them and be ready to immediately pick it up and dispose of it. If your dog is too quick for you, take them to the toilet on lead and lead them away from the poo with a treat, so you can clean it up. Having them on lead will also prevent them from turning the situation into a game of chase, which we know they love to do. If you have more than one dog, then it is recommended that your dogs take it in turns to go the toilet and immediately dispose of any faeces, before allowing the next dog to go to the toilet. While this may be a hassle, it is worth it in the long run.
Make sure you keep your dog on a lead or long lines on your walks, so you are able to guide them away from any poo they find. Also try to avoid walking in areas where cattle or horses have been. It is not always possible, but avoiding fields used for cattle, will make your life much easier.
If your dog is helping himself to the cat’s litter tray, try and prevent access by putting it in another room with a safety gate or placing it off the ground where your dog can't reach. Sometimes buying the litter trays that are designed to be entered through the top are more effective than the trays with a swinging cat flap.
We know that coprophagia is common in puppies and obviously they don’t have very good bladder or bowel control in the first few months. So, if your puppy is eating their poo in the night, it may be necessary to get up half way through the night to let them out around the time they need the toilet. Most will just let their puppy out before bed and leave a puppy pad in their crate/pen, despite the fact that puppy's struggle to hold their bladder or bowel over 3 hours. This slows down their toilet training significantly and allows opportunities to practice both toileting in the house and coprophagia.
Remember, this isn’t necessarily a behaviour your puppy will grow out of, if they have consistent opportunities to practice the behaviour. So if your puppy is eating their poo, set an alarm for half way through the night and let them out and remember to pick it up straight away.
If they are stilling having accidents in the night, it would be useful to get a dog camera, to alert you when your puppy is awake and then identify if there is a pattern to the times your puppy needs the toilet. Eventually, they should be able to hold themselves for 8 hours once they have reached maturity, but until then, it is worth putting the effort in now while they are young.
In severe cases, a muzzle could be used, particularly if your dog has Pica (compulsion to eat non-food items), however, using a muzzle is not a magic fix. Training should still be used to address the behaviour and you should also desensitise your dog to the muzzle before putting it on.
Training & Enrichment
So what training would be most beneficial to address coprophagia? I would recommend a combination of impulse training, such as leave it, wait, drop, stay and emergency stops. While you wouldn’t necessarily use all these cues for this behaviour, practicing different areas of impulse control, contributes to your dog’s general skills. ‘Leave it’ is actually a different cue to ‘drop’, as ‘leave it’ should be teaching your dog that they never get the thing they leave, but they get something else instead. Whereas, drop would be for things like toys etc that they can eventually have. ‘Leave it’ is also a preventive cue whereas ‘Drop’ is cued after the dog has already picked up the item.
If you mix the cues up, your dog may pause and then anticipate that you are eventually going to give them what you have asked them to leave, which is dangerous if you are asking them to leave something toxic. ‘Leave it’ should be practiced with treats, continually upping the ante. They never get the treat you ask them to leave, but they get a different treat to reward the behaviour. Then this can eventually be moved to practicing around faeces, which you should do with your dog on lead. Remember to ask your dog to ‘leave it’ with your verbal cue and not by yanking them back on the lead.
Teaching a ‘leave it’, doesn’t mean you would tempt your dog by purposefully leaving your dog’s poo in the garden or allowing access to the cat’s litter tray etc. You need to set your dog up for success by still using management alongside your training.
If coprophagia is caused by boredom or a need for attention, add more sensory enrichment, training games and physical exercise to your dog’s routine and make sure they have an activity they can do independently, when you are too busy to interact. Eating poo is very common in dogs that counter surf, as revealed in the previous article, therefore, providing outlets for scavenging behaviours will also help reduce coprophagia.
So there are many ways to address coprophagia, but if you need help, please feel free to contact me to arrange a training session.