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Coprophagia, medical or behavioural

Warning, I would not eat and read this article at the same time.

For some of the things that our dogs do, we as owners, often find them revolting. One of the worst must be eating faeces of theirs, or of others or even of other animals.

Last year I received an e-mail from a person who had three dogs, two bitches and one male. The dog was always on the look out for the next tasty morsel. The owner said she had tried everything to stop this. Even the vet was now unable to offer any more helpful advice. What more could she do to stop this was her question.

I had two dogs, Lumpy and Rolly, who did love the excreta left by cows. They both saw this as some sort of doggy ambrosia. This was in my early days of using enforcement methods with dog training. It involved a hard pull on their leads as soon as they attempted to eat it. It worked and though Rolly stopped, you could see that look of, if only I was not watching. Lumpy on the other hand kept clear, though one day, when not looking where he was going, he nearly stood in a cowpat. He almost jumped out of his skin for fear of my reprimand.

Another method we can use is compressed air. If you give the command of LEAVE and if they do not, then firing the compressed air in front of them should distract them enough so when they stop, you praise them. Radio controlled citronella collars work the same way, but at a distance. As an alternative, you can use stones in a coke can or metal rings, so if your dog ignores your command, then you throw these down on the ground, again to distract the dog. This sort of reprimand and distraction method works as the owner praises the dog for stopping.

The next option is to find an alternative where they receive a better incentive. Using clickers for a treat can work or if your dog is toy conscious, then throwing it could sometimes distract them as well. One good method is to carry your dog’s food in small plastic tubs. When your dog is tempted, you offer its own food instead. One problem here though is the timing. Get this wrong can teach a dog to find poo in order to get a reward. In other words, it only reinforces the dog’s behaviour instead of changing it.

We know the basic rule is that if a dog receives satisfaction from doing something, it will do it repeatedly. If it does not like what it does, then conversely it will not do it again.

Therefore, what do you do if having tried all these sorts of methods and none of them worked.

When all else fails, a common suggestion is to feed your average sized dog a half slice of tinned pineapple. If you cut it up and add to your dogs or other dog’s meal, then the next day the problem is often resolved.

I passed this information onto the owner. The next day I received an e-mail to thank me, as it had worked beautifully.

Unfortunately, this method does not work if your dog eats up any general dog’s waste, as you cannot ask everyone to put his or her dog on a diet of tinned pineapple for a few days.

Just for some further background information, dog faeces still do contain an amount of nourishment. For this reason when there is a shortage of food, then wolves may possibly resort to this as a way or recycling their own waste. Dogs that are still hungry and still looking for food could just see this as extras.

Another theory is that wolves hunt for animals that are injured or ill, as they are easier to catch. Knowing this, then if one is unwell, they too are fearful from other predators. This could be a possibility as to why they will eat faeces of an ill wolf in order to conceal this fact.

The female with cubs makes them go to the toilet by licking them and cleans up by eating it all. This could be to keep the den clean or again to hide the smell from other hunting predators. Some cubs having seen this, may even copy her later in the same way some bitches will cock their legs because they have copied male dogs.

There is the belief that the wolf or dog knows it is short of some dietary mineral. Certainly, it is always wise to ask your vet whenever a dog starts with this problem to check their health. There are instances of when changing the diet has stopped the problem, but this does not happen in all cases.

Another theory is that it has to do with digestive enzymes remaining in the dogs waste. Though faeces contain undigested food, it is possible that the dog is actually seeking the enzyme. Adding such enzymes to a dog’s diet has had some success.

There is also the problem of obsessive-compulsive disorders where the dog has started with this problem because it is not mentally stimulated. Dogs do need exercise and something to do. Look at animals in zoos, where they just pace back and forth all day long.

Stress can also cause this problem as can a dog seeking their owner’s attention. By eating in front of the owner, it will attract them even if their reaction is negative or chastising.

Whilst eating its own waste or that of other dogs in the home, providing owners have vaccinated and wormed them, they are unlikely to come to much harm. Never the less for those that eat any other dogs or any animals waste, then owners should try to discover the reason why. Once they know this, it may help to find a method that would stop them.

Some dogs will start with this problem but after a while, for seemingly no reason, cease. Trying to stop a dog that has had this problem for a long time can be almost impossible.

Yes, the pineapple trick is successful, but possibly not in every case. I have read that watermelon and other fruit works as well. Vets can give medicines that you add to a dog’s meal that will make its faeces unpalatable. The problem is that for a dog, what makes it foul tasting. Certainly most dogs vomit food, yet moments later they will eat it up again.

This means it is not the taste that will stop it, but the discomfort caused. Whilst it is possible for a dog to steal a bread bap that contains onions and corned beef, this will make it sick almost immediately. It will not steal another such meal, not because it brought it back up or the taste, but because of the speed at which it happened and the pain it felt.

People have tried using foul smelling or bad tasting sauces on other dog’s faeces. They then take their dog outside and give it the opportunity to eat them. Unfortunately, some dogs can take a liking to some very strong sauces that would normally blow your socks off. For Chilli or Tabasco sauce, some dogs actually get to like them.
Coprophagia seems to have many causes and certainly, there is no one universal panacea. Never the less it is important you find your dog a quick cure.

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