It’s time for a topic that isn’t so fine or dandy -- puppies eating poop! This behavior, known as coprophagia, is disgusting to us humans but pretty normal in the canine world.
The ancestors of our current canines ate poop because that was the only “food” available sometimes and it protected their pack from predators who could easily follow the scent to their lair.
There are several reasons a puppy in today’s time could eat his or her own stool or that of other animals. The top three are:
Mom cleaned up her babies by licking them and eating their waste for about the first three weeks of their life. This kept them all clean and protected. Some momma dogs can do this for a longer time frame. If the puppies smelled it on her breath and associated it with feeding time, they could try to eat waste as well.
Puppies, like human babies, explore the world with their mouths. So, it’s only natural to see this strange, smelly substance on the ground and want to check it out.
It tastes good! (By doggie standards of course)
Other reasons include boredom, stress or anxiety, attention-seeking, poor digestion, or hiding evidence. Boredom and anxiety are sort of self-explanatory but attention-seeking and hiding evidence may not be.
Imagine you’re a puppy and you’ve just come across this cool pile of stuff in the grass. It kinda smells like the food they ate last night. So they pick it up with their mouth to experiment. The new pet parent sees this and runs over to them hollering and a chase ensues. While some puppies will drop it and never touch another pile of poo again, others may like their owner paying attention to them, spending time with them, and, therefore end up doing it again and again like playing a game. In this situation, it’s less about the poop and more about quality time with you.
To remedy this behavior, do not overreact to them when they eat the foul substance, but rather distract them by giving them another job or task and removing the stool so they do not have access to it. Also, spend more time with them playing fetch or going on walks and the like so, one, they are with you, and two, they’re expending energy.
The flip side is hiding evidence. If a puppy has been repeatedly punished for pooping in the house, she may be worried about being punished for defecating again, regardless of the location, so she eats it before you can see what she’s done. In this case, change your method of training from negative reinforcement to positive reinforcement. Reward her for doing what you want her to do. For instance, when you see her potty outside, say “good potty” and tell her what a good girl she is as opposed to rubbing her nose in poo and telling her "bad dog" when she leaves a freshy on the living room floor. You can also consider a special, super yummy treat that she gets during this positive potty reinforcement time only. Then, as soon as possible, pick up the waste so she is not tempted later.
Eating poo-berries can be a learned behavior and become a habit. It can also be dangerous to a pup’s health if they eat another animal’s stool that is tainted with parasites or pathogens, so it’s definitely a habit worth breaking.
Here are some tips to discourage gobbling up those rather foul “treats”:
Pick up the poo in a timely manner so it is not there to tempt them.
Keep the dining area and the potty area separated and clean.
Use positive reinforcement as your primary method of training. Think rewarding the desired behavior. Rewards don’t always have to be food treats either -- it could be verbal praise, physical praise/petting, or a toy.
Work on the “leave it” and “come” commands so you can call the dog away from something he shouldn’t have.
If your puppy will go and then immediately turn around to eat it, use a leash and direct them away before they have a chance to get it.
If the puppy is raiding the kitty box, place the litter box where they can no longer get to it.
If you often see big chunks of undigested food, or if eating poo is new behavior and the dog is not acting or looking like themselves, do take them to the vet. The doctor can run some tests and may prescribe supplements or medicines depending on what they find.
Above all, as usual, always give your puppy grace and patience, although we know it can be super frustrating sometimes! Give yourself grace and patience too. Let us know if you have any questions or if you’ve tried any of these tips. Comment below if so. :-)