Coprophagia: Coprophagia (Eating Poo)

There isn’t any one particular reason for a dog to eat the poo of other animals (coprophagia), however, it is important to remember that it is fairly common and isn’t an abnormal behaviour – many predatory species will do this basically because poo is an easily digestible source of protein or vegetation, depending on who or what has done it of course! Understandably, we humans find it very unpleasant.

Puppies may go through a short phase of eating poo and mother dogs will consume the poo of their puppies. If an adult dog is eating his own poo then you will need time and patience to train him our of the habit.

Could any of these be the reason for your dog’s habit?

  • Curiosity – he may find it interesting and just want to see what it tastes like.
  • Not enough variety in the diet – is your dog’s food boring (perhaps it is just a complete dry diet)? If so, you could gradually change it to something more interesting (not too quickly as he may get an upset stomach), or add other things for variety. Give him plenty of items to chew as well.
  • Is your dog hungry? Increase the number of his feeds (but not the daily amount) and try feeding him 45 minutes before walks.
  • Does your dog have enough exercise and mental stimulation? (Download our Beating Boredom factsheet).
  • Sometimes it can be a sign of a more serious problem – speak with your vet for more information.
  • Does he like the taste? Some dogs are put off eating their own poo if you feed a small amount of pineapple or grated courgette with their meals.
  • It could also be because the first time he tried eating poo, someone made such a big deal out of it that he now thinks it must be a really important and valuable resource and so always tries to get it before you can clean it up. Any further punishment given or attempts to make him give it up after this is likely to continue to make the problem worse.
  • If you have told your dog off before for pooing in the wrong place, he may have learnt that being around poo means that a telling off will happen, so he may try to eat the poo (his own and that of other animals) in an attempt to ‘hide’ it from you to avoid the punishments.
  • Sometimes breeders will house puppies in fairly barren environments and if a pup is kennelled without his mother or siblings, his poo may be the most interesting thing to play with and eat. This can continue into later life.
  • Some puppies may copy the natural cleaning behaviour of the mother.
  • Some bitches may get over-enthusiastic about cleaning and continue this in her environment even after her pups have gone.

Try the following to train him to leave the poo alone:

  • First of all you’ll need to do some really good recall training with him in an area with few distractions (i.e. no poo). You will need to use really high value treats – something that he likes more than the poo! Choose a new word for the command, something like ‘treat’; don’t just use his name.
  • Once you have cracked the recall, try to follow him around on the walk and look out for him finding any poo.
  • As he goes to get it, immediately use the command to get his attention and give him a really delicious treat. Be very positive, using a happy voice with him to entice him from the poo and do not use negative words or verbal punishment to force him away. If necessary leave a long line attached to him, to stop him reaching the poo, until he gets the idea that coming to you for a treat is the best thing to do.
  • You’ll need to continue to distract him as you get past the poo, so that he’ll hopefully forget it was there.
  • • If your dog eats his own poo in the garden then you have to be with him at all times to supervise. As soon as he has deposited his poo tell him he’s a wonderful dog and toss a tasty treat away from the poo for him to go and pick up – while you pick up the poo and dispose if it. You may need to use a long line or training lead in the initial stages of this training.
  • Hopefully in time, he’ll learn that the best treats come from you and poo should become a lot less important.
  • If your dog is eating your cat's litter indoors then put something in the way which your dog can not get through or jump over but that your cat can still go through to reach its litter tray.

Unfortunately for some dogs, eating poo is so rewarding that you may not be able to train them out of their habit and they may always take the opportunity to eat it if they can (if you are not there to supervise them). Eating it won’t hurt them, but it is best to ensure that their worming regime is up to date and that licking human faces is kept to a minimum!

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