Though it may seem gross to humans, eating poop is actually a normal behavior for dogs. Dogs regularly eat their own poop, that of other dogs, and poop from other species. In this article, we’re going to tackle why dogs eat dog poop and save why dogs eat other species’ poop for another day.
Why do dogs eat poop?
Researchers haven’t been able to definitively prove why dogs as a species eat poop. But they do have two main theories on why this behavior could make sense from an evolutionary perspective:
Cleanliness - Eating poop might help keep their living space disease-free. One piece of evidence to support this is that dogs typically eat poop before it is 48 hours old, which is when parasites in the feces would become infectious.
To eat - Poop still has nutrients. Like most animals, dogs don’t perfectly digest their food, so their poop does still have some nutritional value to it. Research suggests that poop eaters tend to also be described as “greedy eaters,” which gives some credence to the theory that poop is part of the normal canine diet.
Plus, female dogs have another reason that they might be instinctively inclined to eat dog poop.
To help puppies eliminate - Before puppies are old enough to pee and poop on their own, mother dogs lick their genitals and anuses to trigger elimination and then eat it to keep their nesting area clean.
Why does my dog eat poop?
Researchers have also struggled to identify the factors that lead certain dogs to eat poop when others don’t. But there are a few patterns in their findings:
- They see another dog doing it. Like many instinctive behaviors, many non-poop eaters will also become poop eaters after seeing another dog eating poop.
- They are around other dogs’ poop. Whether it’s at the dog park or in the yard of a multi-dog household, dogs with more access to other dogs’ poop are more likely to eat it. Typically, once they have success in a spot and realize that there are often poops there, they will search for them every time.
- They are always hungry. Like we mentioned above, dogs who eat poop are more likely to be described as “greedy eaters.” That increased level of hunger might motivate them to be less discriminate in what they eat.
How to deal with a dog who eats poop
It’s always a good idea to check in with your dog’s veterinarian about their poop eating habits. Especially if it’s a new thing for your dog or the quantity of poop they eat or intensity with which they seek it out increases. Contrary to many myths out there, poop eating doesn’t appear linked with nutritional deficiencies, but you should always run behavioral and dietary changes by your vet.
The most important thing to do to reduce poop eating is to manage your dog’s environment to avoid the issue altogether. Keep your yard free of poop and immediately pick up after your dog when they go. If you frequent public spaces like dog parks, try to clean them yourself before letting your dog in.
Punishment has just a 2% success rate in stopping poop eating, which goes to show how delicious dogs find it! So, save yourself and your dog the stress and conflict of punishment.
Training has also been shown to be minimally effective, probably because poop is a better treat than what most people offer. But, it doesn’t come with the same negative impacts to your dog and your relationship, so if you want to give it a shot, go for it. Here are a few tips to maximize your chances of success:
- Rather than focusing on what you don’t want your dog to do, train a “yes” behavior,” like coming when called or targeting your hand to give you dog another rewarding behavior to focus on.
- Go all out on rewards for your “yes” behavior. Use foods like bacon, feta, or steak that your dog will love even more than poop and praise the heck out of them.
- Intervene as early as possible. It’s a lot easier for your dog to turn away from a poop that’s 20 feet away than one that’s 2 inches away.
- If your “yes” behavior works, you should still immediately scoop the poop that your dog was going for, or they will just head back over. As anyone whose office has donuts knows, the longer the temptation is sitting around, the harder it will be for your dog to resist.
- Working with a certified trainer can help you increase your chance of success.