Coprophagia (Stool eating)

The Greek word Coprophagia, literally means, “Dung eating.”
Most dog owners have been disgusted when they see their dog eating the fresh manure they dug into the flower garden, or see him dig in the cat litter box or even eat his own pooh. This is not a sign of illness or depravity. Dogs are carnivores and in the wild would kill and eat the whole prey including the faecal matter in the entrails which are a rich source of essential enzymes and micro-organisms which in fact aid their digestive processes. Some dogs eat soil for the same reason. Coprophagia is actually a normal behaviour for nursing dog moms, to keep the den clean!

A dog smelling another dog’s feces.

Theories abound as to why dogs ingest faeces, whether their own or that of other species, but there is no concrete correlation between the behaviour 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.
Although we are not sure why domestic dogs continue to do it, we do know once they have started, it can be difficult to stop. It could well be because they are now fed on artificial diets. It has been reported that dogs fed on a natural diet rarely eat their own droppings.
Eating the wastes of other animals or their own could well indicate a search for nutrients not found in their own diet, severe worm infestation, mineral/vitamin deficiencies or it could simply be plain boredom or they may even like the taste? Cats never do it, but most dogs occasionally do. Although it appears not to be a serious health risk, parasites may be picked up. Consult with your vet because this condition can result in chronic digestive problems.

What you can do to stop this behaviour:

Ensure that the dog gets all the nutrients he requires by adding a multivitamin recommended by your vet. Giving your dog yoghurt, cottage cheese and eggs is a better way to provide the enzymes and probiotics he needs.

Remove the temptation. Place the cat box where the dog can’t get at it or cover it by placing an identical tray over it. A hook on the door or a cat flap can keep the dog out.

Leave him plenty of toys and chews such as hooves or raw bones before you go away.

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.

There are many ways to teach “leave it,”

  • 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. Say “Leave it” and repeat as necessary.
  • The second he backs away from your fist, mark that moving away by saying, “Yes!” 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, until your dog is reliably backing away from 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.

Exercise him regularly and go for long leash walks to get him to be suitably tired to sleep while you are away.

Rub your hands all over him so that the scent will remind him of you while you are away.

Train your dog to eliminate on command in an area that can be isolated until you can have it cleaned.

Sprinkle tobacco dust or cayenne pepper over waste. Crushed mothballs can keep him from smelling in the area.

Unfortunately, the real solutions require that you supervise your puppy in the yard so that you can stop this burgeoning behaviour. Spy on him and shout, “Leave it” while you apply a good squirt of water with a water pistol or hose as soon as he shows interest in the pooh.

Keep the area clean otherwise the dog may want to clean it up.

Rolling in animal droppings and fowl smelling substances are also offensive to us. We reject them because we think the dog is dirty and needs a good wash. In the dog world, however, the stronger and more pungent he smells the more superior he is to other dogs. That is why he will often want to get rid of the human shampoo smell and go straight back and roll in the dirt again.

In spite of the fact that the dog has been domesticated for thousands of years, the desire to revert back to earlier behaviour is still very strong.