A question we are asked regularly, why do dogs eat poop - or - what is coprophagia in dogs, tends to suggest there are many dog owners who want to understand why dogs eat poop and also discover a solution to the problem (and yes, it IS a problem).
A dog eating the faeces or another animal is not healthy. Do they do it because it tastes good or as a result of nutritional deficiencies? Is eating poop natural behaviour for dogs?
The answer to these questions are incidental to the fact that eating poop leads to intestinal parasites and a host of other medical problems. It's undesirable behaviour and if your dog is a stool scoffer then learning how to stop your dog eating poop using positive reinforcement is critically important.
In this guide we'll explain why dogs eat poop and how to cure it.
The most common reasons why dogs eat poop
There are many reasons for which dogs eat their poop. Below we outline the most common reasons for canine coprophagia.
- Because they're very greedy and eat just about anything that smells strongly
- Because they are products of their genetics and wolf ancestry
- Because nobody has told them not to
- Because they're (bizarrely) trying to keep their living area clean
- Because they learned the behaviour as a puppy
Do dogs eat poop in the wild?
A puppy's mother will naturally eat the faeces of the pups until they are old enough to come out of the den. This is to protect the puppies from predators, disguising their smell and keeping their living environment clean.
It's nature's way of keeping a species alive during their most vulnerable months.
The logical origin of why dogs eat poop
Scientists have long suspected that poop eating by the mother of puppies is as a trait inherited from wolves, as a way to keep the den area free of parasites that live, or more to the point, develop in the poop.
A further theory then expands to suggest that dogs have evolved to eat fresh faeces deposited around their own den area, which would initially be free of infective parasites, as a way to keep their home clean.
Dogs haven't yet developed the ability to harness the power of viaducts, sewage filtration systems or even a basic flushing toilet, so they do their housekeeping the old-fashioned way. See poop, eat poop, poop is gone.
Why do modern, domesticated dogs eat poop?
Some domesticated dogs of juvenile to adult ages will eat their own poop, other dog's poop, fox poop, cat poop, cow poop - in fact poop of just about any other animal, but why?
It's far more likely to be a behavioural compulsion rather than a specific nutritional issue.
In fact, in a study conducted in an attempt to conclusively answer the question of why do dogs eat poop, the findings showed that
- There was no link between dogs who eat poop and the age of the dog
- There was no nutritional deficiencies in any of the dogs
- The dogs in the study were house trained and showed normal, healthy signs of aversion to having poop in their living space
However, there were some extremely revealing traits that united the dogs who ate poop.
The two most compelling reasons dogs eat poop
- Specific dogs are greedy eaters
- The poop the dogs chose to eat was fresh
This is fascinating information in-so-much as it reveals that dog owners who are worried their dog is eating poop as a result of some missing nutritional element in their diet can rest easy.
Dogs eat poop because
a) They're inclined toward greed (eat what they can, when they can, as fast as they can)
b) The poop they focus on is fresh, smelly and correlates with an inherited trait from their wolf ancestors who would eat fresh poop around their dens.
How to stop dogs eating poop
Now we know (or strongly) suspect why dogs eat poop, we can put in a simple intervention plan to modify their behaviour and cure this unwanted trait.
Knowing that dogs are generally not eating poop because of some nutritional or medical issue, means it's a manifestation of two key behavioural elements
- Scavenging and food frenzy
- Inherited compulsion
Scavenging is innate in dogs. That's not news. But not all dogs are as greedy as each other. Dogs who really scoff their food are more likely to eat poop, so if you're worried why do dogs eat poop even if they're not hungry, it's all explainable by the fact that dogs will often eat as much as they can, as fast as they can because that's just their nature.
Inherited compulsion is something that explains why most Labradors like to retrieve, most Terriers like investigating holes and why Collies like to herd.
Not all inherited traits are as strong from dog to dog. Some Labradors live for the chance to pick things up, others are less driven. So it is with the poop eating trait that some dogs have inherited from wolves.
A note on parasites in dogs who eat poop
Dogs with parasites / worms tend to have a voracious appetite. Parasites deprive dogs of the nutrients they consume, so a dog with with worms can quickly be transformed from a normal eater to a very greedy, ravenous eater.
This then places the dog in the category of a greedy eater (more likely to eat poop) as a result of an internal parasite (an external source that affects the dog's normal behaviour).
A simple way to deal with this is to ensure you worm your dog at least four times per year. Parasites that are already present in a dog are not good. If those parasites then lead the dog to eat other animal poop, the situation gets worse for the dog and his / her owner.
Modifying behaviour of dogs who eat poop
To cure poop eating in dogs we apply the same behavioural intervention techniques we would use to adjust any other unwanted canine behaviour. You first understand why do dogs eat poop if they're neither hungry or ill, then move on to a solution for the problem.
3 simple techniques to stop dogs eating poop
- Clear poop up as fast as you can. Denying the dog access to carry out unwanted behaviour is the simplest, most practical way to cure the poop eating dog. Remember, dogs are much more likely to eat fresh poop. This one situation where prevention is as good as, if not better than cure.
- Say 'no'. The way you would teach any dog to stop doing something you don't want them to do. It's really that simple. Intervene. Don't permit the behaviour. It's unhealthy and if you allow it, they'll do it again. Teach your dog the 'leave it' command. It's easy to do.
- Ask your vet to examine your dog and check for parasites. Regular worming and flea treatment is important, but particularly relevant in a dog prone to eating poop.
Teach your dog not to eat poop with the 'leave it command'
In this short video you can learn a really simple, effective way to teach your dog how to understand 'leave it'. This is the command to using when training a dog not to eat poop. It works.
Are there any products that can stop a dog eating poop?
Yes. In fact there are quite a few. But if you're here having asked the question, why do dogs eat poop - because your dog is a poop eater, a word of warning on products that claim to cure poop eating in dogs.
Studies carried out by researchers have suggested these anti-poop eating products don't tend to work very well.
Behavioural modification is a much more effective way to stop a dog eating poop than some magic-bullet in a product form.
In short, if you want a dog to stop eating poop you need to teach them.