Is your dog eating poop? Well, there’s a scientific name for a dog eating poop — coprophagia. I first noticed something was amiss when Mischief, my youngest dog, didn’t come in after her last potty break of the night. When I called her, she took a couple quick, habitual steps in my direction, then darted back to swallow something in the snow before running in. My suspicions about her out-of-character behavior were confirmed at 3 a.m., when she woke me out of a sound sleep by vomiting up three large puddles of … poop.
I’ll spare you the details of my early morning clean-up, other than to say that I left a window cracked for a couple hours, heating bills be damned. Instead, let’s skip over that awful night and speak of more constructive things. Namely: Is your dog eating poop? Why do dogs eat poop, and how can we stop coprophagia in its tracks?
First, why do dogs eat poop?
Is your dog eating poop? It’s not as weird as you think. While coprophagia is disgusting to us, it is a normal behavior for dogs. Some experts theorize that this behavior is the root of domestication. Wild canids would eat human refuse outside of settlements, and over time these animals came to resemble our domestic dogs more and more. Mother dogs eat their puppies’ excrement until the pups are about four weeks. Dogs like poop, and their digestive systems are designed in such a way that they can often gain nutrition from the waste products of other animals.
All that said, a dog eating poop is not a behavior most of us will tolerate in our companion dogs. There are some health risks to a dog eating poop, such as an increased risk of parasites (some of which are zoonotic, which means that people can get them, too). If your dog has allergies, as one of mine does, the undigested remnants of allergens in the poop of animals fed certain diets can trigger an allergic reaction.
As soon as I realized what Mischief was up to, I sprang into action. There are two important aspects to any treatment plan dealing with a dog eating poop: management and training. Let’s start with management.
How to stop a dog eating poop, or coprophagia
The more your dog practices any behavior, be it a dog eating poop or sitting politely to greet guests, the better the dog gets at that behavior. For a dog eating poop, this means preventing him from “practicing” that poop-eating behavior is of vital importance. There are several ways to do this.
- One of the first things I did was to thoroughly clean my yard. This was difficult, as nearly a foot of freshly fallen snow meant it was difficult for me to find old piles, but easy for Mischief with her talented canine sense of smell. I resolved to pick up each new pile as soon as it happened.
- Since there were still likely to be some dog poop hidden under the fresh snow, I also needed a way to prevent Mischief from gobbling up anything new she found. For this purpose, I conditioned her to happily wear a muzzle.
Management in place, I could get down to training to stop the coprophagia. While there are several food additives on the market that claim to make the dog’s poop unappetizing, these options were not available to me due to Layla’s severe allergies. If you go this route, it’s important to treat every dog in the household, or the offending dog will learn to just keep trying in order to find an unadulterated pile to munch on. These additives are not completely effective, although they can work for some dogs.
Training your dog not to eat poop
Mischief already had a pretty reliable “leave-it” cue, where she would back away from whatever she was interested in when asked. I reviewed it with her, setting out toys and treats, so that I could make sure her self control was where it needed to be. If she couldn’t ignore an open container of hot dogs on the ground while she heeled, how could I expect her to ignore dog poop on the ground when she was running around in the backyard?
We practiced lots of moving leave-its, and she was able to successfully recall and heel past all sorts of distractions. We didn’t bother to practice stationary leave-its (where the dog is sitting or lying down before the distraction appears), since these didn’t have anything to do with the real-life situation she’d be placed in.
I am now going outside with Mischief every time she goes out. She wears her muzzle if she’s going to be off-leash or if I can’t completely supervise her. If she starts to scrounge in the snow, I say “leave it” and reward her compliance with her favorite treats (a little piece of blue cheese or roast beef).
Since my goal is for her to be responsible without my help, I jackpot her with several pieces of this food and lots of praise any time she chooses to pass a pile of poop without my prompting. Over time, I will start allowing her to go out on a long leash while I supervise from the doorway, and then gradually progress to allowing her off-leash freedom again.
The final word on a dog eating poop
A dog eating poop is undoubtedly disgusting, but like all other behavior problems, it can be solved. And as anyone who has ever had to clean up a mess of the sort Mischief presented me with the other night can attest, it’s well worth the effort to coprophagia in its tracks.
If you need little extra help solving a tough coprophagia problem with your dog, don’t be afraid to call in an expert. I frequently help families with this issue through private consultations.
You may also want to try these Stool Eating Deterrent Soft Chew Supplement for Dogs by Healthy Solutions for Pets >>
Tell us: Is your dog eating poop? Share your tips and stories about coprophagia in the comments!
This piece was originally published in 2013.
Thumbnail: Photography by WilleeCole Photography / Shutterstock.
59 thoughts on “Is Your Dog Eating Poop? It’s Called Coprophagia and Here’s How to Fix It”
Poop eating in dogs can have many causes, this is a survival instinct needless to say this behavior can easily be corrected.
one of the most common causes could be <a href="https://shihtzuworld.com/separation-anxiety-in-shih-tzus"> Separation Anxiety </a> or excessive hunger
My 20 month old lab only eats poo found in the mark outside our house, never her own. Any suggestions on how I can stop her?
My 15 year old yorkie has been eating dog poop and rocks for years now. It’s so frustrating because we live in a townhouse and have always had to take him on walks and to dog parks. He is so sneaky and fast it drives me crazy. When he is successful he gets very sick and costs a lot of money at the vet. So we have just ordered a muzzle and some shirts for the dog park that shame him lol “I’m not aggressive I just eat poop/rocks” I really hope the muzzle helps manage it and I’m going to be trying the leave it training with him.
My Boston Terrier has eaten his poo and has become very sick,he stopped for a few years and now decided to clean up again,ugh,can’t stand seeing this!??
It’s pretty common behaviour, especially after giving birth the mom will eat what kids leave behind. This continues for months and months unless intervened. Here is my take on it from a different angle… How to Prevent my Shih Tzu eating poo?
My dog has this problem and I feel so powerless! We live in an apartment and any time we are out for a walk or bathroom break it’s a poop finding frenzy. I wish every one would pick up after their dogs!! But its not just poop, he eats seeds and nuts on the ground, and puts pretty much everything in his mouth. He’s about 11 months old and we definitely feed him enough. It’s just so stressful wondering if he’ll get sick from it. I’ve been trying to avoid using a muzzle, but it sounds like its our only option.
I don’t know why they are doing this……. But I stopped the behaviour using
dog muzzle. you can do the similar to stop this.
my 1 year old dachshund doesnt eat his own poop but that of his older housemate Ralph. Ralph is a 6 year old dachshund and rupert is 1 and for some reason Rupert loves Ralphs poop.. he did used to eat his own but has gone off that now. Yes, it saves cleaning up after Ralph but the race to go pick up the poop is very annoyiung especially as dachshunds are very quick once they start running…
We have tried everything to get him to stop and he has got to a stage where we have to not let him out at the same time as Ralph. Mainly for the fact that Ralph starts pooing and Rupert is eating it on its way out! YUCK!!
I feel sick just writing it….
beagle eats any poop he finds and it makes me very disgusrted which translates into angry.
im at a loss he eats well enough (including pure beef and chicken i cook for him and the other dog) and i feed hime several small meals a day w the meat mixed in but he will still eat poop.
im about ready to give him away to a farm or something where he can go do what he wants and i dont have to deal w him.
You wouldn’t think eating poop would be adaptive given the parasites and other pathogens the eater can end up with. Some think this behaviour is inherited from a dog’s wolf ancestors and others from their dog ancestors. Read more about what science has to say about it at https://dogsciencesays.com/why-do-dogs-eat-poop/
I have 4 dogs and 1 of them had this problem. It took a lot of observation and close monitoring to end this behavior.
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