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Many dogs enjoy snacking on their own waste products, and sometimes those of other dogs.
Labradors are no exception, in fact poop eating may be more common in Labradors than it is in some other breeds of dog.
This won’t do!
Most owners find this extremely upsetting and embarrassing. I hear quite a lot of dog owners issue ultimatums on this one.
“I can’t put up with this, we have children to consider”
The implication being that the dog will no longer be welcome in their home, if this horrible habit cannot be cured.
So this is no ‘minor problem’
It is an issue that can lead to disaster for the dog.
Why do they do it?
So why do dogs indulge in this unpleasant habit?
And what can we do to stop them!
Eating poo seems such a disgusting act to humans, it is difficult for us to understand what motivates this unpleasant behaviour.
Poop eating dogs are often partial to their own poop, as well as that of other dogs.
There are a number of theories as to why dogs eat poo, from boredom, to having been punished for accidents. But none of them are the whole story.
The fact is, that most poo eaters are well fed, well adjusted, kindly treated, well exercised and happy dogs. One thing I have noticed in my fifty plus years of living with dogs, is that poo eating, or coprophagia to give it a formal name, seems to be on the increase!
Perhaps the most likely reason is the most obvious. They do it because it tastes nice (to them). To many dogs another dog’s poo, or their own, is a delicious snack. And the reason for this is probably partly to do with diet.
In times gone by, dogs were fed a largely natural diet of mainly meat, bones and a few scraps, which dogs as carnivorous scavengers could digest almost in its entirety. What came out the other end was fairly boring.
Nowadays most dogs are largely fed on a pelleted cereal-based food known as kibble. This kibble contains all the nutrients a dog needs, but it also contains a number of additives to make the food taste palatable.
After all, no food manufacturer wants your dog to turn his nose up at their product. So tasty is the key. And very tasty they are too.
Flavour and fillers
In addition to strong flavourings, kibble contains quite a lot of ‘fillers’. Substances which bulk up the nutrients and give the food structure.
Much of this ‘filler’ is not needed by the dog, and passes out in its faeces. This is why kibble fed dogs produce larger quantities of faeces than raw fed dogs.
But remember those flavourings we just talked about? Well the faeces of the kibble fed dog are not only bulky, they are also highly flavoured.
Now we can see why, as the popularity of kibble feeding grows, it is possible that more dogs may be turning to poo eating as a means of grabbing that extra snack during the day. Poo is getting tastier. That is my theory anyway!
How many dogs do this?
According to the late Sophia Yin, who reports on a study published in 2012, 16% of dogs are serious poo eaters.
She also points out that the study, based on questioning dog owners, notes that diet did not play a part. However, the vast majority of dogs are fed on kibble, and there is no indication as to what diets were compared or how. The comparison could have been between different types of kibble, or between kibble and household scraps.
Interestingly, the study also notes that ‘spayed bitches’ were the keenest poo eaters, and intact males, the least enthusiastic.
What can you do?
There are lots of things you can try to prevent a dog eating his own poo at home. The first step is to remove the source of poo wherever possible.
This means being scrupulous about picking up after your dog, whenever he has emptied himself. Not always easy when you have a large garden I know, but well worth the effort.
Flavouring his meals
There are a number of theories about substances you can add to your dog’s meals, to counteract the nice flavours and make his poo taste unattractive.
Pineapple is a popular one, pepper powder another. Many people find these kinds of remedies do not work, some find that they only work for a short while. A few seem to have had some success, so it may be worth a try.
Of course, the methods above only work to prevent your dog eating his own poo. If he has developed a taste for other dogs’ poo you have a much harder problem on your hands.
You cannot influence what other people feed their dogs and the issue now becomes one of training your dog to ‘leave’ or to ‘recall’ away from the object of his desires, on command.
A reward-based programme of recall training in which you deliberately seek out dog poo in public places, and recall your dog away from it, to receive a tasty treat from you, will help you to prevent your dog eating other dogs’ poo in your vicinity.
The Magic Word
I have had a lot of success with a ‘Magic Word’ type remedy.
I associate a powerful reward with a special word that I reserve just for the purpose of distracting the dog from poo.
Several times a day, for several days, I will say this ‘magic word’ whilst the dog is in the vicinity, and throw a fabulous reward on the ground for the dog
At some point thereafter, when I see the dog approach a poo with a gleam in her eye, I will use my magic word and chuck the fabulous treat on the ground.
Sometimes, to begin with, the dog will scoff the poo, then come for the reward. You just have to accept this with a good grace. Sometimes she will bring the poo with her. Accept this too.
If your reward is good enough, she will soon abandon all thoughts of poo eating when she hears that word. This really works if you are persistent, and if your Magic Word is kept strong with great rewards and mostly no requirement from the dog in order to get it.
You can find out more about Magic Word training in this article: Your Labrador’s Magic Word
Joining in a training programme for an activity such as ‘agility’ or ‘gundog training‘ will help to provide your dog with exercise and mental stimulation in different locations where poo is not left lying around, and to keep his mind occupied.
These measure might just reduce your dog’s enthusiasm for poo eating generally. But there are no guarantees.
Ultimately you may have to accept that when your dog is out of your sight, or some distance away, there is little that you can do to prevent prevent him from indulging in this distasteful habit.
You will need to manage your poo eater’s free time and supervise him adequately in busy dog walking areas.
You are not alone
You can console yourself with the knowledge that you are not alone, as this behaviour is very common indeed.
It probably won’t make your dog ill, or cause her to pass some illness on to you. As with any dog, it makes sense to ensure that they your poo eater is wormed regularly, and that she is not allowed to lick people’s faces, or share food from their plates.
What about you? Share your tips for preventing or reducing coprophagia below!
If you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook- a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
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