When a dog eats feces (poop) it is called coprophagia. Dogs will eat their own feces, the feces of other dogs, the feces of other animals such as rabbits, cats, horses and others. It is a natural behavior when bitches eat the feces of their puppies. This keeps the den clean and eliminates smells that may attract predators.
This is a disgusting activity to many dog owners. There has been some research as to why dogs eat feces and research is on ongoing at Wageningen University in the UK. We have no definitive reasons why adult dogs eat feces. Until we know the reasons behind the behavior, methods to stop dogs from eating feces are individual just as changing any dog psychological or dog behavioral problem must be individualized.
We know that it does not necessarily occur because the dog has an inadequate diet. Dogs with adequate nutrition may eat feces too. However inadequate diet can be a contributing factor in some dogs. There is speculation that dogs will eat their own feces, to help protect them from possible predators. Dogs are scavenger by nature, and coprophagia appears to be a scavenger behavior. If you notice your dog is pooping closer to his home, then he may be worried about his environment.
It is thought that the behavior may be learned by some dogs. Some dogs are greedy and gluttonous, and don’t want to share anything. Labs would be an example. Some dogs will repeat what works. If it is attention they are after, then it could be that in some dogs it is an attention seeking behavior. It is known that in some dogs the behavior comes from anxiety or boredom.
The bottom line; you probably won’t know why your dog is eating feces. I also think that this behavior may be learned from puppies watching their owners clean up behind them during house training. Some dogs just like to copy their people. Such dogs will also begin to eat grass and weeds when your are pulling weeds. They tend to be Velcro dogs. They like to follow you around and participate in everything you do. They are the sheriff’s watching the environment to make sure everything is as it should be. This is common in breeds like Bullmastiffs’.
What to do:
What I usually recommend to my clients is to first train the dog to “go potty” or what ever words you want to use, on command. To achieve this, take the dog out on leash shortly after a meal or around the time he usually relives himself, and repeat the command; “go potty” until he starts to squat. Instantly begin praising the dog, continue praising him until he is finished and coming to you to share in the celebration. Give him a treat and finish with one more “good boy go potty”. Bring him right back in the house. This will accomplish a couple of things. Your dog will go on command, urinate or defecate; which is handy if you need to leave or take him in the car. It will also teach him to relieve himself in your presence. Once your have accomplished having your dog go on command add this next step. Just after you have finished the treat and praise for “going potty” take an immediate short run with the dog, across the yard and back and then immediately follow with a couple commands such as sit and down. With some dogs if you use this means of distraction for a couple of months you can break the habit of him eating his own feces. I do believe in these instances, the dog is eating feces out of boredom or attention seeking behavior.
Punishment will not work with this behavior. It is already self rewarding, just like steeling food from the trash. Some people have tried feeding the dog MSG or pumpkin to give the feces a bad taste. You could also spray a product such as Fooey, Bitter Apple or Yuck on the feces of other animals to give it a bad taste. However, dogs are very perceptive and will likely avoid the feces you have tampered with.
The best way to assure he does not eat poop is to pick it up right away. If it isn’t there he can’t eat it. If you think your dog is worried about predators, than be a good pack leader and pick it up for him. You won’t be disgusted and he will have less stress.