Stool eating or Coprophagia
Theories abound as to why dogs ingest feces, whether their own or that of other species, but there is no concrete correlation between the behavior and nutritional deficiency, or being raised in impoverished conditions. (Of course, it’s important that you feed your puppy a high-quality food without added fillers or sugars.) Believe it or not, coprophagia is actually a normal behavior for nursing dog moms, to keep the den clean!
Unfortunately, food additive products probably aren’t going to provide you with a solution, as you’ve experienced (one study found that they only work in 2 percent of dogs). You can try setting up a “poop sting” in your yard, where you season your other dog’s waste with hot sauce or chili pepper, but again, this option might not work with a motivated poop-eater. It’s worth a try, though!Unfortunately, the real solutions require that you supervise your puppy in the yard so that you can stop this burgeoning behavior.
Thankfully, at just 5 months of age, it’s not set in stone yet.You’ll first want to teach your dog a solid “leave it” (meaning, “Please don’t pick up that thing in front of you”) and “drop” (meaning, “Please release that thing in your mouth”) around the house, and then use those cues in the yard when your dog is either poised to dive into a pile, or after he has already begun to chow down.
10 ways to teach your dog
There are many ways to teach “leave it,” but here’s my quickie overview:
- Put a low-value treat (meaning, something dry and sort of boring) in your closed fist and present it to your puppy. He will probably lick and bite at your hand, but don’t move or acknowledge him while he’s doing it.
- The second he backs away from your fist, mark that moving away by saying, “Yup!” or, “Good!” and then open your fist and give him a better treat from your other hand.
- Continue presenting your closed fist in a variety of positions (out to the side of your body, in front of you, with your fist on the floor), until your dog is reliably backing away from it.
- Begin to “name” the backing away behavior by saving “leave it” as he does it.
- Transition to putting the boring treat on the floor, using your body to block your dog so that he can’t reach it, and say “leave it” as he backs away.
- As always, reward with a special greasy treat instead of the dry one on the floor.
- With enough repetitions, you’ll be able to tell your dog to “leave it” and he’ll back away and look to you for payment.
“Drop” is easy to teach:
- When your dog has something in his mouth like a tug toy or a ball, place a tasty treat in front of his nose.
- When he releases the object in order to get the treat, say “drop” (right as he opens his mouth), and then give him the treat.
- Repeat the process frequently, until you can just say “drop” and your dog will willingly release the object in exchange for the goody in your pocket.
Once your dog is reliably performing both behaviors, transition them outside and get him up to speed working on them amid distractions. It would be very helpful to keep your dog on leash for poop trips during the “leave it” and “drop” training process, so that he can’t continue to eat nastiness. Once he’s up to speed on the cues, you can set him free and try them out. Make sure to have extra-good treats ready for him!
You can use the same cues when you’re trail walking, but you can’t use them as effectively if your dog is off leash and disappears out of sight to visit the poop buffet. You might consider keeping your dog on a long line of 15 feet or more, so that you can keep an eye on him. If off-leash hiking is a privilege you just don’t want your dog to lose, consider purchasing a foxtail protection hood. These lightweight mesh hoods are designed to keep dogs from getting snagged by painful foxtails, but they also work for dogs that pick up “trail cookies.”
Using the “drop” or “leave it” will help your dog make better decisions when faced with a tempting pile. Hopefully, once you’ve been able to consistently interrupt your dog’s coprophagic behavior pattern, you’ll end up with a dog that finds waste as distasteful as we do!