Saturday, 7 February 2009


For a number of months now I have been answering questions on the DForDog web site, as the resident behaviourist come trainer. Below you will find my latest question and the answer.

I have a number of back issues that I'd like to post here for your information. I shall tag them up correctly so you can search for certain behaviours that may match your own query.

[Name] = Robin
[County] = Il.
[Country] = United States

[Training Question] = I have a 1 1/2 year old Shepherd mix, female. Just in the past 6 months she has been eating her poop. We try to pick it up before she turns to it but more often than not we can't get to her fast enough. We have tried pills from the pet store and a powder from our vet that we would put over her food but both did nothing. Is there something else we could try? She is on Science Diet light for large breed dogs. 2 cups a day.


Hi Robin and thank you for your question.

‘Coprophagia’ is the general term for this behaviour, and when a dog eats its own faeces it is know as autocoprophagia.

This sort of behaviour can creep in gradually, and then once you are fully aware as to the extent of it, things can be less than easy to resolve. As the behaviour does carry some health risks, it is wise to spend time and attention on this subject. We of course would find this behaviour repulsive, but to dogs it is a natural behaviour.

I note she is on Science diet light. Why the ‘light’ variety? Is she overweight? Light variety may be less satisfying, and so she may be genuinely hungry? Vets and Hill seem to be very much a team together. This is fine, but it does make the vet recommend Hills all too often where other brands may actually serve the dog better. Try to find a good independent pet food shop, and speak to someone that knows his or her dog nutrition. Seek out a brand that is suitable for the breed and her age. Ensure the brand is free from colourings, flavourings etc. and well respected. Nutro is made in the States and I would consider this.
If the dog is overweight, you can supplement her diet by adding fresh vegetables and wet it with water, as both are nutritious and add bulk.
Another approach may be to investigate the BARF (Bones And Raw Food) diet. This is a big subject, but if you like the idea and it suits your dog then why not.

There are a number of reasons why dogs eat faeces, but in my experience it is mainly down to a lack of supervision (or boredom in the garden) at some point as the dog develops. The easiest way to resolve it is to step in and be present for every toileting event and to guide your dog’s behaviour until it has stopped.

So, when you take your dog to an area to relieve itself, the dog must be on the lead. If the behaviour is serious, and the dog turns to eat it immediately, issue a short and firm ‘Leave it’ command combined with a check on the lead. Not aggressive, just enough to effect the dog’s attention to you.

Sound aversion may also help here, and there are a number of devices that you can use to deter the dog. Things to try are a plastic bottle with half a dozen small stones inside shaken a couple of times firmly. A canister of compressed air squirted away from the dog. The most expensive option would be a remote controlled air collar such as a master plus, or Jet Care Pro. The benefit of a remote collar is that the chances of the dog associating the release of air with your presence is greatly reduced as they will work up to 300m away. This could be very useful later on in public areas. Good timing is essential for the best outcome with a spray collar. Incidentally, if your dog were of a very nervous type, I would not use the spray collar. This is the difficulty I have in giving a plan without being able to assess things for myself firstly.

It’s not too difficult to control events in your garden, so in the beginning attempt to toilet the dog there mostly so you can interrupt and dissuade the dog from the habit. Prevention is the biggest part of the cure in my book, so the dog must not be allowed to indulge from now on. You will need to be very vigilant, and to lift the faeces immediately placing it out of reach from the dog.

When out and about your dog may then be off lead and somewhat beyond your immediate scope of control. To ensure you can prevent the habit, you might need to consider the use of a basket style muzzle that has been gradually introduced to ensure the dog is not stressed by it. The muzzle will prevent the act. Another essential tool will be to resort to the tried and tested long line. I usually recommend a 20-meter line for this, as it is enough in most circumstances to allow the dog free movement, but to give you a much higher degree of control from a distance.

When out in public, I would consider the combination of the long line, a remote spray collar, and the muzzle. Use this system for a month, and then depending on your progress you can drop the muzzle first of all, then the long line, and finally the air collar. The air collar can be used longer term if you are not 100% confident in the dog.

Imagine then that the dog is near the end of the line away from you. You can spot the dog paying attention to what is likely to be it’s own or another dog’s faeces. At this point recall the dog. If she comes back promptly, then offer a food reward for doing so. Keep your food reward high-grade such as a sausage slice or a food that the dog is known to love.
If on the other hand she decides to ignore you, then issue a shot of air via the collar. Ideally she would come dashing back to you for comfort, but if not use the line to bring her head away and then issue your recall again. Ensure your recall is enthusiastic and work on the recall as a standalone exercise in the mean time.

There are a number of other things that you can buy commercially to add to your dog’s food to deter the dog, but I have yet to discover anything that has a substantial impact. I have also heard numerous stories of adding chili sauce and so on to the faeces, only to be told that the dog devoured it anyway!

A longer term and consistent approach as above is most likely to give the result you would hope for. Your dog is still young, so the chances of resolving this are good IF you put the work in.

I wish you luck in your efforts. It can be done, so give it a good go!

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