If you happen to have a dog or puppy who eats their own poo, help is at hand! There are several reasons this could be happening. In my experience addressing them all seems to work well. There are, of course, some dogs who don’t seem to have a reason at all! Here are some ideas to consider that we have found highly successful.
These are my own personal theories that I have formed based on many, many case studies, speaking to countless owners and trainers, my own understanding of canine behaviour and much experimenting. I hope these tips help.
What you feed your dog is a big deal and has a ripple effect on a lot of things. Your dog’s digestive system starts at their mouth and ends at their butt. It makes sense that if there is something wrong at one end, it can be fixed at the other end.
Dogs have been designed very cleverly overly thousands of years to thrive on a raw natural diet full of enzymes and bacteria, which in turn keep and maintain gut health and overall balance in their system. Unfortunately we are often advised to feed our dogs an unnatural diet which is based on, or entirely consists of, cooked, processed dry dog biscuits and /or tinned food. This food is stripped of vital LIFEFORCE energy, with all the magic of nature removed, and we leave their bodies in deficit.
Vitamins and mineral are one thing, and are of course important. But we forget the huge importance of enzymes and bacteria. When a dog smells his own poo, he naturally recognises the enzymes and gut bacteria he needs and feels compelled to eat it to regain some of this. Even healthy dogs will eat fresh herbivore poo when they can as they instinctively know this is good for them. The same reason we eat yoghurt. I have seen many cases simply vanish when the diet is returned to natural and raw foods, as the dog is now getting what they need.
**If the diet is lacking it will often lead to other behavioural issues such as chewing or eating lots of grass and material; even non-food items as the dog attempts to self medicate. I strongly encourage all dog owners, even if your dog is not showing signs of this, to consider switching to a natural raw diet. The B.A.R.F. Diet is a good place to start. You’ll find loads of info and articles on where to buy it or how to make your own.
Too much intense energy around toileting.
This can happen when we focus on the pup in a positive way OR in a negative way. Let’s start with the positive.
Many people are advised by their puppy school to talk in a high pitched baby voice and lavish the pup with praise whenever they eliminate, and although this can work well for some dogs, in many others it can cause anxiety. Intently watching your dog when they go to the toilet and reacting intensely is weird to a dog (certainly not how their own mother would have reacted) and they can link this ‘pressure’ to the poo itself.
Most dogs crave privacy and relaxed energy when they go (don’t you?) and this can really interfere. Take your dog out calmly, look away and try to give your pup adequate space, and pretend you’re not that interested. If you are still in the throes of teaching, make sure you offer a really calm form of praise, such as a calm “good dog” in a normal voice, and/or a calm pat. If you are going to offer a treat, do so calmly. Once the routine is established, phase out the praise and allow the pup to accept this is normal behaviour.
** Dogs are very connected to how you feel in situations. Feeling approval and feeling good when they go in the right place can work wonders, and is often enough.
On the other hand, focusing on your pup with intense negative energy can do the same thing. It’s hard not to “OH NO” or “AHH” when your pup makes a mistake, but our reaction is usually a lot stronger than another dog’s reaction would be. Rushing over to take your dog outside, stressing and rushing to clean up and feeling negative/stressed about it in general can easily create a pup to link this anxiety/your lack of approval to the act of eliminating itself. Rubbing their nose in it etc is not necessary and can backfire in this way also. Be really mindful to calmly deal with accidents and don’t blame your pup.
Basically, you have 3 seconds to link a behaviour to an outcome, and if you don’t catch your pup going, then it is too late. If your toddler is without a nappy and wees on the floor, it is YOUR responsibility. If your pup poos in the house, I would advise gently setting some boundaries and making sure that they are always supervised (eyes on and be present and close) whenever they are inside. Until such time as they have good bladder control and a solid routine. When you aren’t able to supervise, put them in an area where mistakes can’t happen, such as a crate, playpen or outside.
Finally, ask yourself if you are simply being overly obsessed with your dog’s toileting habits. I had a lady phone me the other day with this issue who was stressing because her daughter’s puppy was the same age and had mastered the toileting issue but hers hadn’t. She felt embarrassed and judged and that she was failing as a dog parent. She was desperately trying to get her dog to eliminate in the right place and had become a self confessed puppy stalker! The pup had then started to eat it’s own poo and she felt even worse. We chatted about how this was affecting the pup and when she relaxed, the issue resolved itself with the week.
This seems to be far less common but I have seen a pattern. Much of a mammals behaviour is learned by copying, and this is no different. Mother dogs will clean up after their pups which includes their eliminations. If a pup has been in this situation too long, this can be a learned behaviour. It also is seen after a pup/dog has been in a puppy mill or in a overly small kennel or run and hasn’t had enough clean space between their own food and the area they have to eliminate. This creates stress and they try to deal with the lack of cleanliness.
Boredom and general stress.
Sometimes dogs pick what we think are ‘weird’ things to do when something else is out of balance, such as chase their own tails, lick the air obsessively and spin aimlessly in circles. When there seems to be no explanation, chances are the reason is not related directly at all. For example, if a child refuses to go to bed, it doesn’t mean there is anything scary about his room, he is being ‘defiant’, or that he isn’t tired etc. It may be because he is being bullied at school or is worried about his sick friend and this is where the symptoms are coming out. Check your dog’s overall situation, health, exercise, mental stimulation, social contact etc. If you are still struggling, please get professional advice as often things are very obvious from the outside and issues can be resolved quickly and easily.
Remember this behaviour rarely lasts long, and is not as ‘gross’ to your dog as it seems to us. Try not to overreact or project onto your dog that they should know this is socially unacceptable and that it upsets us. Dogs are animals and we need to remember that even though we may want little Pookie to be clean and fluffy and have minty breath. They need to roll in and eat stinky revolting stuff occasionally and that’s just what dogs do.