Coprophagia is a very maternal behavior. A bitch with a litter of nursing pups will keep the whelping box clean and free of excrement by eating it. (Share that one with a parent who complains about having to change a dirty diaper.) Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis in their book entitled ‘When Good Dogs Do Bad Things’ state that coprophagia is more commonly seen in hunting, working and herding breeds.
Other Important Factors
There are several other factors that result in coprophagia. It is seen in dogs who are hyper, out of control, and who appear to be immature in nature. These dogs may engage in stool eating simply because they have nothing else to do and they are driven to keeping themselves busy. There is also an environmental component to this behavior. Dogs who have been raised in filthy environments are likely to eat feces simply because they have a need to be rid of the excrement. It becomes a habitual behavior for them. There is a theory that some particularly dominant dogs will eat other dogs’ stoolin order to remove it, and therefore remove other dogs’ presence. This is because excrement is one way in which dogs mark territory.
Don’t Rub His Nose in it!
Coprophagia may also be a learned behavior. People who housetrain incorrectly, by shoving a pup’s nose into a pile of excrement may be teaching their pup to eat stool. The pup is learning that the presence of stool is very bad and he will therefore begin to eat it in order to avoid punishment. Rarely is there ever a medical or nutritional factor to this behavior.
To treat a dog with a fetish for feces, you must always consult your veterinarian first, to ensure that the dog is healthy and that his nutritional needs are being met. As well as approaching it from a medical perspective, your veterinarian may be very helpful in suggesting ways to make the stool taste bad to Rover. (I must admit that I have trouble thinking that stool can be a delicacy but then again, I also don’t understand the whole fuss about sushi).
After consulting the vet, you can begin to use reconditioning to stop the coprophagia. Watch Rover when he goes outside to eliminate. As soon as he has completed his bowel movement, distract him with something positive – call him for a treat, throw a ball, squeak a toy, etc. Get his attention and remove him from the site. Then immediately go back and clean up. Don’t let Rover watch you when you clean. You don’t want to focus on the stool. Also, since dogs are mimics by nature, you don’t want to encourage Rover to mimic your cleaning up behavior.
A Lone Ranger
Dogs who eat stool while alone in the back yard can be corrected when they indulge in this behavior. However, the correction must be given as the dog becomes interested in the excrement. You must have very good timing to ensure that the dog learns that he is being corrected for eating feces and not that he is being punished for eliminating.
For those of you with dominant dogs and/or with dogs who are hyper and immature, you need to do more obedience training. Your dogs are out of control. You also must become much more the leader in your relationship with Rover, so that he will be more motivated to pay attention, and to develop some impulse control. Leadership is also imperative if your dog is motivated to eat stool because he is being very territorial.
As a final note, this behavior, as with most behaviors, will not disappear overnight. It is important that you be patient, consistent, and loving toward your dog. So, when Rover’s breath takes your breath away, get out the
rubber gloves, the toothpaste and toothbrush, and help him to practice dental hygiene. In time, you both will have your just desserts.
Of special note: There is a product on the market called “Forbid.” When mixed in a dog’s food Forbid is tasteless. However, once it is digested and excreted in the stool it is exceptionally foul tasting! The limitation of this product is dogs that eat other dog’s feces. This product and advice on its proper use can only be obtained through a veterinarian.
Article submitted by: © Gail Steinburg - all rights reserved.