Why Labradors eat poop and what you can do about it

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poo-eatingIf your labrador has started to eat poop you are not alone.

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.

“This has to stop or he’ll have to go”

“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!

Modern diets?

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.

Training

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

General training

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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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on October 9, 2014

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue July 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm

My 6 month old pup has just started the revolting habit of eating other dog’s poo. He has sampled horse and cow poo also but dog poo is his all time favourite.
He is fed on kibble and certainly gets enough to eat. His weight is spot on for his age and he has plenty of exercise. He has been trained by reward but his training recall and ‘leave command goes out of his brain every afternoon on his hour long walk, run and play with other dogs. I find it embarrassing and certainly his breath is vile. How to stop this revolting habit apart from restricting his freedom and keeping him on a lead so that he cannot run but can be stopped eating poo, there seems to be no happy medium

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David December 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Sounds familiar, my 1 and half year old yellow lab is the same. Weekdays Millie is walked on the lead around the streets and a local field, weekends we take her to a nearby forest.
She is lead walked until we pass the majority of poop and then let off, almost immediately she is on the trail for poop not interested in sticks or balls to retrieve.
The recall is an obvious route and should work, Millie responds well to recall but not when she has sniffed some choice poop.
When this happens there is nothing I can do to distract from devouring the lot, even despite me calling her name and saying leave.
Today we had one of our worse days when she devoured 8 sets of poop and each time completely ignoring me until after she had her fill.
There is remorse and resentment to being put on the lead as a kind of punishment, but there is no connection between what she has done.
What makes the whole experience such a disappointment is the retching on the way home and at home where the poop eaten doesn’t agree with her.
Recall has been suggested which I favour and eventually I believe will work, but I would like to know what others think about a muzzle and a collar spray.
I am not convinced about the muzzle as some owners I have met say it make the dog just walk close to the owner as they can defend themselves.
The collar spray does boast good results but I am just wondering what the down side might be.
Any further advice would be appreciated.

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Nige October 10, 2014 at 9:38 am

I doubt very much that there is any “remorse & resentment” from your dog for being put on the lead after eating poo. You say yourself your dog doesn’t associate the two acts. This is humanising your dog, they just don’t think like humans. Being put on a lead is never, in my opinion, a “punishment” from the dog’s perspective. It’s just something that “is”.

My rescue cocker spaniel is very interested in sheep & horse poo rather than other dog’s poo. I have worked hard at “leave it” training to good effect.

A muzzle will not redirect your dog’s attention & spray collars may only have a temporary effect if any, depending on the strength of your dog’s poo eating drive!

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vicky June 16, 2014 at 8:06 pm

have to tried a face muzzle it worked well for a friend of mine and ideed I think I may have to do this to.

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Christine August 31, 2012 at 11:55 am

My 2-month old pup has started eating his own poop because i get to leave him during the day because of my job. Would he get sick or something? I’m kinda worried about it.. :(

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Niki September 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm

My worry is that our 1 year old is insistent on eating our cats po! I am guessing that it isn’t going any harm as she is not ill, she eats well (probably to well) but have to now keep mint chews to kill the smelly breath when she has eaten it. She even waits until the cat goes out and follows her. Roll on winter when she hasn’t got such easy access to the garden! (Back door closed)

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Pippa September 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm

So many dogs eat poo (their own, the cat’s, other dog’s) and seem to come to no harm. All we can do is our best and hope they will be ok :) There are some more ideas in this article

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Neal October 8, 2012 at 9:30 pm

This is one of the most useful blogs I have read on this subject. My 18 month old lab, Ruby, has taken a liking to particular types of poo. I have found the best approach is training to ‘leave’ but as you say, it only works when you are nearby. As a novice dog owner it is reassuring that Ruby is not showing unusual behaviour.
Please call by my website http://www.walkingalabrador.com to see how a novice dog owner is coping with raising a Labrador.

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janet March 22, 2013 at 7:54 am

My young collie doesn’t eat his own but he will eat my older dogs, whilst leaving the middle dogs alone (for the mostpart). I wondered if it was a pack thing as the older dog is in charge and the middle one just a plaything. I have tried pineapple, banana, kelp. I even at one point left some in the garden covered in tobasco but he seemed to like that too. I had hoped he might grow out of it but he is now 18 months old so doesn’t look likely.

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jane hamilton June 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I have a 2 year old black neutered male who is obsessed with eating other dog’s poo. He finds it hard to walk past a pile without eating it. The only poo he wont eat is that which is obviously derived from bones and is very white in colour. I have recently taken on a retired guide dog aged 6 and a lab/golden retriever cross. She has spent 6 years not “scavenging” but now eats poo by the bucket load. I can only conclude that it must taste nice which is why the new dog does it. My advice – now being resigned to accepting it is: Worm, treat for parasites and vaccinate regularly. Don’t make a big issue of it – my experience is that if I do, it turns it into a game and it’s very hard for me to win if they are off the lead. I keep my dogs on a lead for the first part of a walk where most of the poo will be. This problem seems to be increasingly common amongst not only the labradors I meet but other gun dogs – particularly, spaniels.

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Heather September 2, 2014 at 10:14 pm

My 3 year old failed guide dog is obsessed! I’ve tried everything. EVERYTHING! Nothing works so I let him get on with it but try to walk in areas where poo is minimal.

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Tanya August 1, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Hi, our 14 week old Labrador puppy eats his own poos when we’re out at work. We both work full time but manage to get back home at 3 hourly intervals. We walk, feed and toilet him before leaving for work, but every time we come home there are wees and poo “smudges” on our kitchen floor. We really hoped to be making some progress with the toilet training by now, our vet thinks it may be a habit that Arnold has got into so we’re trying to mix up the routine a bit to see if that helps. Any tips / advice greatly appreciated. Cheers Tanya & Phil

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Pippa August 2, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Hi Tanya, many 14 week old puppies cannot last 3 hours without a wee or poo. Most small puppies need letting out more often than this. And as your vet has pointed out, a habit has now been established, which can be tricky to break. Crate training is the best answer, to resolving house training problems but it is not very kind to leave a puppy in a crate for three hours in the morning and again in the afternoon. Many puppies will eat their poop if left alone with it for very long.
It sounds as though you need to find someone to help with your puppy during the day, at least until he is house trained, and a little more mature.
Pippa

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Jen August 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I am at a loss for what to do. Our 18 m.o. lab spends all his walk time (off lead) eating other dog’s poo – and there is a lot of it lying around. We try to distract him with toys, and have tried a citronella spray collar, which doesn’t bother him in the least. He also eats other (full)poo bags which have been discarded, and if I’m not quick enough to get him on the lead, will run up to other dog walkers and snatch their poo bags from their hands and eat both bag and poo. This, much more than the general poo scavenging is unacceptable behaviour – how do I stop it?

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Margaret Woolway September 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm

My two 9 yr old labrador bitches both eat as much dog poo as they can find and there is plenty out there that irresponsible dog owners don’t pick up. They are rescue dogs and I have had them nearly two years. One of them has had an ear operation and is completely deaf which makes it even more difficult for me to stop her eating poo. It really spoils our walks as they keep stopping every few yards for a snack! In the end I have to put them on leads otherwise we would never get anywhere. I have always had dogs but have never had this problem before. Any suggestions?

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anne pike September 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm

We have a 10year old chocolate lab who ate her own poo as a puppy but nothing else until she has now obsesive co
mpulsion to eat fox poo. She gets the smell and shes of and no amount of calling will stop her. Any tips?

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Varun September 16, 2013 at 8:45 am

hey Pippa, my 6 m.o. lab is not eating his food. i have tried ma best to make him eat. i have added pedigree’s gravy, biscuits and some other things also. what should i do to make him eat?? and plz also tell that how do i get to know that my lab is havin’ some prblm…

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Pippa September 16, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Hi Varun, I hope you find this article helpful. Also this one on dogs that won’t eat. Best wishes, Pippa

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Barbara Willett October 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm

My 6 month old Choc Lab Bitch takes great delight in eating other dogs and cats poo. She is well fed (Hills Science Plan) well exercised and loved to bits, never left and played with loads. I have tried everything to stop her doing this ghastly habit to no avail. We just have to put up with her bad breath and very smelly wind!!! I am just hoping she will grow out of it.

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Cristina Poças November 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Thank you so much for clearing my mind. I was getting worried….I will be more aware and clean right away every time I can, to give any chance for him to eat this unpleasent snack. Thank you also for this amazing website that gives the most helpful information.

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Joanne Manning February 17, 2014 at 8:22 am

Hi, I am at the end of my tether. I have two springer spaniels, one is 3 the other is 6 months old. The 6 month old is weeing and pooing in the house even when the back door is open, the other day he did it whilst I was in the room but I had my back to him. He is constantly eating poo as well, and will even bring it inside the house. The 3 year old is a dream and very well behaved and we are doing exactly the same with the puppy. I feel like I can go on with this much longer as I have 4 children and its simply unhygienic. Can anybody help?
Thanks.

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Pippa February 17, 2014 at 11:46 am

Hi Joanne, your pup obviously hasn’t really grasped the concept of housetraining yet. He is not too old to learn, but you need to get cracking on a really structured house training programme. You’ll need to start over, just like you would with a new puppy, though it should be easier because your puppy will have much better bladder control. Don’t leave the door open, as you won’t know whether or not he has emptied himself. The key rules are to go out with the puppy, reward any successful toilet outings, and to confine or restrict the pup after any unsuccessful trips to the garden. This means you will need a crate small enough that he won’t sleep at one end and use the other as a toilet. Picking up and even eating poo is very normal puppy behaviour. He will probably grow out of carrying poo around. It is just a game to him. In the meantime, pick up his poops as soon as he has done them, and distract him with food or games if manages to pick one up. Check out the housetraining and crate training articles in the puppies section for more information. Pippa

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Heather March 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I have had the misfortune to walk with someone who both dogs eat each others poop! I found it revolting and sickening.J have had seven dogs over thirty years or so and only one Lab tried it.We trained her out of it and she was fine.None of our other dogs bothered.Some were fed Kibble,some meat and mixer.Our boy now is fed Kibble with a little wet meat mixed in.He is in good health and condition.I think anxiety is a issue and it must be rotten for them to be left all day and if they do have an accident that would be bad for them .They hate poking and weeing in their own space.I am allways angry when people take a dog or puppy and leave them to go to work.What is the point in having a dog if your going to abandon it ..Come on people show a little sense and figure it out!

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lizzie March 15, 2014 at 5:57 pm

we have a 7month choc lab who in the past month has decided to eat his own poo and now on walks eats other dogs hes fed on kibble walked everyday hes neverleft home alone for vast lengths of time what do i do next or will he grow out of it ??

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Pippa March 16, 2014 at 11:49 am

Hi Lizzie, I don’t have any more to add to the article above right now. Good luck with your dog.

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Kirk June 2, 2014 at 10:41 am

I have a 16 week chocolate lab bitch, not left on her own, walked minimum 3 times a day, morning 6:00 afternoon 13:00 and then night 20:30. She will leave poop that she finds when walking no problems there.
But if she poops in the garden inbetween walked she will eat it as fast as it comes out. No time to clean it up ourselves. She it great apart from that she will return on command walks off the lead, and is toilet trained in house. She is fed wainwrights puppy food was thinking on trying all meat instead any advise would be great fully used.

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Larry September 1, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Hi Pippa,

How do we know when our labs are ready to leave the crate for sleeping elsewhere in the house at night? Is there something to look for that will convince us that the house training has worked and she is ready to be on her own at night? Also, how do we train her to tell us that she wants to go out to do her “chores”? If we are in the same room, her uneasiness and going to the door is a good clue. But, what about when she is not with us?

Your help to others has been very useful to us and I hope you have some answers for us on these topics too.

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Christine October 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

Hi Pippa. My elderly springer has always eaten poo (other doge’s). I tried very hard to train this out of her. My word was ‘no’ leave, then treat, which worked for a while. She then began to learn that if she left it, she got a tasty treat from me. I watched her actually look at me, put her head down to eat the poo, but actually wait for my word knowing a treat would come, THEN we would walk on and she would run back for it. She was far to clever! My Labrador gobbles poo down so quickly so there is no time for a command. Actually, I have 5 Gundogs who snack on poo from time to time. I have given up to a point. I try and keep them occupied with hunting or retrieving which is more interesting to them than eating poo!!

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