It's not very pleasant to see when your dog starts to eat stool enthusiastically (and with gusto!). Yet it is a natural behaviour that occurs in the nest. The mother will eat the faeces and urine of the puppies to keep the nest clean. It does become a problem though when your dog begins to do this regularly as an adult.
What are possible causes of coprophagy?
• Insufficiently digested food
First and foremost, it is important to know the difference between a complete food and a food that cannot be digested sufficiently. Almost every commercial dog food is a complete food nowadays. This means that real nutritional deficiencies in dogs that eat commercial dog food rarely occur and this is therefore almost never the cause of coprophagy.
What can be a cause is that the food (even if it is complete) is not easily digestible. Too many undigested food residues remain in the large intestine where they can ferment. This is not pleasant for us, because your dog will be very windy and the faeces will smell bad (to us). For your dog, this is different, he can actually like the smell and eat it with gusto. Thus, a first step in solving coprophagy is giving easily digestible food.
• Not enough food
A hungry dog will soon want to eat things off the street! Therefore give your dog enough food. If your dog is very hungry, he will continuously be looking for other food during your walk. This can be rubbish he finds on the street but also faeces of dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, cows! Eating horse droppings is not always harmless, for example, if the horses received certain medication such as a deworming treatment.
• Learned behavior
Coprophagy is often also a behaviour that has developed in your dog. He once started with it, you gave him attention (negative attention is also attention to a dog) and your dog has continued to repeat the behaviour. Your dog also rewards himself with eating stools. He, of course, remembers that he likes the taste of stool and will eat it again next time.
How can you stop this behaviour?
There are several steps to keep in mind when teaching your dog to stop this behaviour.
- Focus your dog's attention on something else. As soon as you see a stool during you walk, get your dog's attention. You can do this with your enthusiastic voice, with a nice snack or with a toy. If your dog continues to look at you (and thus not at the stool), you will reward him exuberantly!
- You catch your dog RIGHT at the moment he wants to take a bite of the stool? Then act firmly and reprovingly at that moment.
- You're just too late and your dog has already taken a big bite from a pile he has found? The best thing you can do now is to IGNORE the behaviour. Keep in mind that negative attention is also attention. Dogs that seek extra attention from their owner in this way are thus rewarded for their behaviour.
Putting a stop to coprophagy is not done overnight but requires patience, training and perseverance! Consult your dog school, veterinarian or behaviour specialist if the problem persists.