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Coprophagia

 Reviewed 12 October 2018 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto
 

==> Why fecal matter matters!

Dog eating poop?

Coprophagia

dogs eat poopAgain, I was shocked to see how much nonsense has been published on the delicate topic of shit eating* (or eating stool), incl. on medical websites! Particularly as regards causes and suggested response to coprophagia.

So, do not accept (and thus implement) things written anywhere without applying some common sense yourself. Yes, we do have this as footnote on every page on MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG, yet an extra reminder above the fold seems appropriate at times.

* Sounds vulgar? Well, that's what people are actually searching for! 😕

In this Periodical:

  • Is coprophagy normal?
  • Why do dogs eat poop?
  • Where does the dog eat poop?
  • How NOT to react! grin
  • Risks of shit eating!
  • How to prevent coprophagia

Is coprophagy normal?

is eating poop healthyContrary to what you can read elsewhere: No, unlike scavenging, poop eating (coprophagia or coprophagy) is not normal for dogs (any dogs, not only GSDs). For reasons explained in our Periodical How to Stop Scavenging that you received a year or so ago, scouring for food remains is a trait that remained even with our modern domesticated dogs (including the German Shepherd). However, this does not include eating poop.

Under normal circumstances, the excellent sense of smell of dogs naturally prevents coprophagia: Even several days' old feces exhibit a strong smell (strong for the dog's nose) that attracts the dog towards the feces - because dogs aim to find out: "Who's in my territory?", or at least "Who's been here where I am now?"!

But the dog's brain answers this question based on smell alone, there is no need for the dog to involve the taste buds and eat feces: Dogs only have 1/6th of the number of taste buds that humans have, and most of the dog's taste buds are on the tip of the tongue. Thus, licking poop would be sufficient even if the dog's sense of smell has been destroyed - say by the owner's use of strong chemical house-cleaning agents (this again was a hidden WARNING).

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that "many dogs like the taste of poop" - I assume that one person wrote this and all others copied it (as is typical on the internet).

dog toothpick holder

The only case where a dog would be able to identify a taste of poop that (s)he likes is where the poop primarily consists of undigested matter. This means, either the particular poop (dog) owner feeds the dog "tasty crap", or the dog is ill and unable to digest the "tasty quality food" (s)he gets.

So then why do some dogs eat poop?

Why do dogs eat poop?

The most common causes of a dog eating shit are:

  1. Behavioral causes
  2. Dietary causes
  3. Metabolic causes
  4. Medical causes
  5. Hereditary causes (rare and unconfirmed)

checkPotential causes of coprophagia should be ruled out in this very order. Ie first, you consider your own behavior (and where relevant, the potential impact of the behavior of prior owners/handlers/breeder). Then you check the dog's diet. Then you consider metabolic causes. Then you check for potential medical causes.

Finally, if none of the above was identified as the cause of your puppy eating poop or adult dog eating poop (highly unlikely!), then it would be down to a genetic fault - and in such case this dog should of course not be bred (neither female nor male dog)!

Behavioral causes

As always, one of my interviewed top dog experts truly nails it:

One cannot listen to this too often! She and the others (and I with my Reviews) are giving such crucial insight that every dog owner and every wannabe dog owner (and every Obedience dog trainer!) should be legally obliged to listen ten times a day (at least)! While commuting, while sitting on the toilet, while doing housework or walking the dog, listen listen listen listen. Because it will change your thinking, your attitude, your behavior - for the better.

How I know? It has changed mine. Cause I am listening!

These causes of why do dogs eat poop are massive among most dog owners, but these causes wouldn't exist if every dog owner learned Behavior Training from MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG, instead of Obedience Training from others. Because, obviously the way you behave when your dog is eating poop, licking poop, or sniffing poop, determines whether going forward (s)he'll do this more often or reduce the behavior, and even when you're not present!

You will not be able to stop this behavior (any behavior) instantly and for good - not with Behavior Training, and certainly not with Obedience Training (because there, you even stimulate the dog to pursue that very behavior, see below)! But within a few times of you exhibiting the right behavior, your dog will stop eating poop and licking poop. - Not sniffing poop, because this is a genetic canine behavior that we shouldn't even try to untrain a dog (see above).

poop flagAs these behavioral causes of poop eating (ie the dog owner's behavior) are somewhat funny, I've added an extra (but short) chapter on it below, for you to have a laugh too: How NOT to react! smile

Another group of behavioral causes of coprophagia (which again relates to our own behavior) are boredom or stress of the dog, or keeping the dog in too small an area (indeed, kennel dogs are far more susceptible to eating shit).

A third group of behavioral causes of dogs eating poop relates to the dog's behavior without considering our own behavior. It is this tiny subset of behavioral causes that you can read about practically everywhere else. And it is irrelevant! Because the dog's poop eating - if not down to one of the other causes listed below - is of course caused by our own behavior (our reaction to poop eating), since already small puppies learn everything from observing how the human Pack members behave! Initially the breeder family, and now you.

Dietary causes

Cheap, bad-quality dog food (full of grain or other fillers, preservatives or chemical additives, or decayed) can lead to enzyme imbalances in the dog's gastrointestinal (GI) tract that result in ongoing malabsorption of nutrients.

bad dog food

Then the body's cardiovascular system, urinary system, digestive system, nervous system, and endocrine system signal the critical shortage of nutrients to the dog's brain, and now the puppy or adult dog unconsciously tries to make up for the lack of nutrition by ingesting feces. Sometimes other animals' feces, but mostly own feces. You could say, the dog tries with a second round of digestion to absorb more nutrients from the "food".

Note that all of this is unconscious though, which is why it makes zero sense to punish the dog in any form! The dog doesn't know that (s)he is doing something "wrong" - in the human view of the world (ie here the looks, smell, and taste of poop). Thus in this case (dietary causes) rather the owner should be punished for serving the dog such poor-quality "food".

Metabolic causes

Extraordinary metabolic changes in the dog's body (following eg sexual maturity, pregnancy, spaying/neutering) can temporarily result in enzyme imbalances too. But contrary to dietary causes which lead to malabsorption of nutrients (and which by now we must have ruled out, see the order above), extraordinary metabolic changes can establish an affinity to fecal matter without any underprovisioning of nutrients.

dog diarrheaFurther metabolic causes are Diarrhea and Vomiting. Although both of these are a symptom of gastrointestinal upset that itself almost always has dietary causes (see above) or medical causes (see below), both Vomiting and Diarrhea immediately lead to metabolic changes too (which is why I list them here).

Medical causes

The administration of antibiotics, corticosteroids, or other medication regularly leads to enzyme imbalances in the GI-tract that result in ongoing malabsorption of nutrients (among many further health problems)!

pill moneyAs a child I was given these (and too much) - and you just cannot imagine the magnitude of follow-up health problems I've been suffering from, throughout this "life"! Yet another reason why I am so much against the widespread blanket treatment with antibiotics and corticosteroids for every "fart" that you report to an ordinarily educated doctor or vet! - Own experience is everything.

But common sense alone would have helped too: Already the name "antibiotics" makes it so damn clear. "Anti" is Latin and means "against", "bio" is Latin and means "life". Thus, antibiotics literally means against life. Harmful. Deadly. Not only for the pathogens that the antibiotics are meant to target.

Because, both the human and the canine body are so incredibly complex that you just cannot realistically expect to kill off certain pathogens without also killing off some natural body functions! Body functions which evolution has developed over millions of years to balance the human and canine body as it is today.

What ordinarily educated doctors and vets haven't learned (or else they wouldn't subscribe blanket medications*), you hopefully just learned here!

* The only other possible explanation is: Those doctors and vets subscribe such blanket medications because it earns them perks (higher income), but I personally don't think this is the reason. I really feel that the reason is that most doctors and vets have too much time to work, and too little time to think - and so they simply do what they routinely do.

Like I wrote in an earlier Periodical:

Routine is a stronger force than reason!


In addition to the impact of medication, further medical causes of poop eating may be an infestation with parasites (see below), Thyroidism, Diabetes, Hypercortisolism and other diseases.parasites affecting dogs

A third group of medical causes of dogs eating poop are psychological disorders - although these may actually be caused by human (mis)behavior or any of the diseases and enzyme imbalances mentioned above, or by a gene defect mentioned below. Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder (OCD) falls into this group.

But, contrary to what you can read in some places, Pica does not fall into this group: Pica is a purely psychological, thus behavioral, eating disorder where the dog ingests clearly non-nutritive items.

Note that it is very easy to wrongly conclude that a dog eating shit (or chasing tail or doing anything else really!) suffers a psychological disorder. No, OCD should always be considered a symptom, not the cause. The cause almost certainly was already mentioned above (hence again, see the order above)!

Hereditary causes

As indicated earlier, these can be considered rare, they are unconfirmed. Meaning: If at all, coprophagia rarely is inherited from the dog's parents, it rarely is a genetic fault. Most times, the dog owner or vet just hasn't identified the real cause. Hence why I gave you the above order in which to identify the cause of coprophagia: Most likely it's down to your behavior (or that of a prior owner/handler/breeder).

See it this way: You may be aware that you too, like everyone, have several specific quirks (eg typical for humans: we want certain items to be exactly placed where we want them, or sit on a certain chair at the dinner table, or pull over a pullover in a certain way, etc). Note that each of these (and others) are caused by what you learned during puppyhood. Sorry, childhood. wink

poop mealMeaning: Your childhood is responsible for most quirks you exhibit (or suffer!) throughout your life. Had you learned from the mum of your "litter" that she clears your fecal matter with her mouth (because canine litter mums do), then you may well have ended up with another quirk: You'd have ingested feces too! grin

Though, this particular quirk would have stopped when you went to school - because of social pressure, incl. peer pressure. But note that dogs are much less susceptible to social pressure than people are. Particularly during adolescence: teens.

Where does the dog eat poop?

Surprisingly, most "dog experts" completely overlook this crucial bit of information when they discuss why do dogs eat poop, and how to prevent that the dog eats poop.

Why is this relevant?

dog poop in the houseBecause, if the dog only eats poop inside the house then it's a clear sign that the poop eating has a behavioral cause (see 1. above): Irrespective of the typical canine territorial behavior - the dog ultimately considers the house to be your place (which has to be kept clean to please you), and thus the dog seeks to clean up after defecating inside the house.

Not necessarily that the dog accepts the owner as Pack leader, rather, in most cases probably because the dog is fearful of punishment, ie the owner is practicing an outdated and ineffective dog training approach based on the mindset of Obedience Training.

dog poopIf the dog (also or only) eats poop outside the house but on its perceived territory (likely your premises, plus possibly a bit extra) then again the poop eating has a behavioral cause but the dog does not scoop poop to please you, but to keep its own territory clean - which is irrespective of your dog training approach. Note that here, you are definitely not the accepted Pack leader.

Finally, if the dog eats poop outside its perceived territory (ie further/far away from your property) then clearly there is another motivation for poop eating involved, likely in addition to Behavioral causes (1) - ie one or more of the causes 2 to 5 (see the order above).

Thus, in short: Where the dog eats poop is a crucial bit of information, as it indicates why the dog eats poop. - Fascinating, hm?

Since I know what's in House Training Dogs To Behave Well, I can outright say:

House Training Dogs To Behave WellIf you follow the dog training approach in this complete House Training guide, then you can rule out behavioral causes (1) and dietary causes (2) of poop eating (see the order above).

Thus, you can then straight away look at the possibility of metabolic causes (3) and medical causes (4). As said, hereditary causes (5) are unlikely anyway.

How NOT to react!

You've probably seen and heard it from others - or even from yourself? What do most dog owners do when they see their dog sniffing poop, licking poop, or even eating poop?

Yes, they are yelling!

STOP IT! - NO! - OUT! - LEAVE IT! - COME HERE! - THAT'S DISGUSTING! - YOU NAUGHTY BITCH YOU! - etc.

And they are pulling their dog away from it.

Although, it should be pretty obvious that this kind of reaction is wrong (obvious at least if you have children, or if you've ever been a child yourself?). Because these dog owners don't realize that the only outcome of all this drama is: It stimulates the dog to eat poop more often now! All this commotion attracts the dog towards poop.

Why? Because, you just gave your dog lots of attention for giving attention to poop!

attention: poop!

Domesticated dogs love human attention. Dogs thrive on our attention. When we give the dog attention, we show the dog: "This is something I care about a LOT". So then the dog does not memorize (what we would hope): "My Pack buddy here doesn't want me doing this". - No, instead the dog memorizes: "This is something my Pack buddy cares about a LOT" - and so the dog will give it attention again and again.

Thus, with your one-act or two-act drama of yelling:
STOP IT! - NO! - OUT! - LEAVE IT! - COME HERE! - THAT'S DISGUSTING! - YOU NAUGHTY BITCH YOU!
...you just successfully trained your dog to eat poop. - What an achievement. Congratulations! wink

 

Do not stimulate unwanted dog behavior by making a drama of it with your own behavior.

However you react: Give unwanted dog behavior as little attention as possible!

 

So, do not do what you can read in a lot of places (incl. medical! websites): Like dipping the dog's nose in urine or feces, remote punishment via shock collar or spray collar, jerk on the leash, shouting, commanding, kick in the ribs, finger-poking, luring away with a food treat, and similar nonsense.

Clear? Good. smile

Risks of shit eating!

poop risksHuman feelings of disgust aside (which dogs don't have!), in some places you can read: "there are no real health risks associated with coprophagy".

Wow! This couldn't be further from the truth! This proves once more: Just because today everyone can publish books (via Amazon) and webpages (via internet) doesn't mean everyone should, right? 😕

So, what are the actual risks of... well, our dog eating shit?

  • Contracting worms (both dormant and active, both excreted and infested post excretion)!
  • Transmitted pathogen diseases (just think of Parvovirus!)
  • Intoxication from ingested pesticides and other chemicals contained in flea- and tick products and in vaccinations and then excreted (remember that all chemical pesticides have high oral toxicity!)
  • Oral infections (particularly gingival inflammation and salivary gland inflammation)
  • Heightened gastrointestinal sensitivities (a particular issue for GSDs!)
  • Cerebral atrophy
  • Tumors
  • Seizures
  • :

poop risksAll of these have been clinically linked to coprophagia, meaning they are facts, not rumors. And: The less the first two play a role in your geographic area(?), the more the third plays a role in your geographic area! Yet, sites like these dare to publicize: "Most of the time, coprophagia is just a habit which has no real health issues for your dog." - Misinforming dog owners on such a scale is really shocking, isn't it?

How to prevent coprophagia

In line with all of the above, the key measures to prevent coprophagy are:

  1. Behavior Training
  2. Providing the dog with sufficient and varied exercise!
  3. Serving a natural and balanced dog food diet
  4. Environmental control
  5. Leashing the dog
  6. Cleaning up after your dog
  7. Food supplements
  8. Taste deterrents

Behavior Training

Remember, Behavior Training our dog means that we behave right such that our dog behaves the way we want. Here, not eating poop! Thus, avoid all the behavior I mentioned above in the chapter (chapter="article"!) How NOT to react!

Considering that I wrote there:

Do not stimulate unwanted dog behavior by making a drama of it with your own behavior.

However you react: Give unwanted dog behavior as little attention as possible!

... you may be wondering: "How do I give my dog's poop eating as little attention as possible, yet effectively prevent it?"

sniffing poopWell, instead of dipping the dog's nose in the feces, remote punishment via shock collar or spray collar, jerking on the leash, shouting, commanding, kicking in the ribs, finger-poking, luring away with a food treat and similar nonsense, here's what you should be doing: Calmly walk to your dog and - without eye contact, speaking, or otherwise touching - simply take hold of the collar for the Collar Freeze.

This may seem counter-productive at first, but if you do it as said you'll see it is far more effective than any of the above: Within a few times only, your dog should stop ingesting poop - and often (s)he won't even approach it (but this is not the goal, as sniffing poop is canine exploration, see above).

Now, what can you do if you aren't close enough to get to your dog in time, but you are sure that (s)he has found some poop and is eating the shit (instead of just sniffing it)? Should you yell now? Or, if the dog is on the long line, give it a jerk?

No, I suggest you don't react at all in this case. Only react the way mentioned above when you are close enough to be able to calmly take hold of the collar while your dog is ingesting the poop - and then remain calm in Collar Freeze position until your dog is totally calm too (almost bored). - You could do more things, but for now this is enough.

I would really say: Behavior Training your dog indoors (see House Training Dogs To Behave Well) and outdoors (see Dogs Unleashed), this is the baseline for almost everything. You could say, these two guides alone pretty much "prevent that your dog does shit" and "prevent that your dog eats shit". grin

Providing the dog with sufficient and varied exercise

In addition to Behavior Training indoors and outdoors, for a German Shepherd of course exercise is a critical aspect too. As mentioned earlier, both boredom and stress can be significant factors for why do dogs eat poop. And both these factors can be eliminated by providing the dog with sufficient and varied exercise - plus preventing the Pack conflict experienced by the dog.

Serving a natural and balanced dog food diet

poop foodIf you feed your dog cheap kibble or tin food (and all the more if you feed always the same, instead of rotating through different brands on a daily basis!) then enzyme imbalances and underprovisioning of nutrients (and hence often, poop eating) are unavoidable.

poop cookbookSo, even if your only goal is to prevent "poop presents" in the house, make sure that your dog gets a varied, natural, and balanced diet.

 

 

Environmental control

yard poopThis means, we won't walk our dog in crappy places, including unmaintained dog parks, that present poop piles like on a dinner plate.

And when it gets too much, cleaning the yard may help too...

Leashing the dog

Similarly, say when you know that you have to walk your dog in streets where on the sides of the pavement (or even in the center!?) other dogs often leave their presents, then obviously walk your dog on-leash to keep your dog away from poop. This is irrespective of the skill you hopefully gained with Dogs Unleashed.

I also do this at dark, because (I mentioned in some other Periodicals) we should always be able to anticipate any encounters for our dog, whether living or not (traffic, poop piles), within the radius of a long line (50 feet). Remember that anticipation is an important component of Behavior Training, because it allows us to keep calm, and in many situations it avoids having to interfere at all!

Cleaning up after your dog

I don't mean when your dog is well-trained and relieves in the bushes. I mean if there's a chance that (s)he is coprophagic - or, if there's a chance that other folks step into the delicacy. grin

poop businessUnless you enjoy touching the feces, even if through a plastic bag(?), in both cases a poop scoop is ideal. However, I fear neither the as-lazy-as-can-be motor-driven "premium" poop scoop nor the Doody Digger will keep your hands clean, everytime.

Much more effective is the Skoop-N-Pak (for everyone), and the Miracle Jaw (for professional poop scoopers). wink

Food supplements

Food supplements to prevent stool eating never work universally well for all dogs. Such remedies either work only for some dogs but not for others, or they work only the first few times you give them to the dog and then they stop working for this particular dog (ie their efficacy fades off because the dog's metabolism gets used to it and adapts).

This includes natural remedies like garlic, pineapple, esparagus etc - as well as commercial remedies.

nuproSince you have seen all the reasons above, why dogs eat poop, you now know why these remedies will work in some cases, and in others not: Even if the remedy itself is top quality, obviously poop-eating remedies can only work if the dog's poop eating has a dietary cause (2), metabolic cause (3), or medical cause (4).

But as shown, most of the time, eating poop has a behavioral cause (1)! Then enzyme supplements and other food supplements will make no difference to poop eating (although they may still benefit the dog otherwise).

In this regard: The top enzyme supplements you can of course find on the MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG remedy pages, in this case: Dog Care.

Taste deterrents

The overall least helpful measures to stop your dog from eating feces certainly are taste deterrents. And after all the above it is clear why: Taste deterrents only make sense when the poop eating has a behavioral cause - but in such case a behavioral response obviously is most effective (see the order above).

 

Checklist

  • Unlike scavenging, eating poop, eating shit, eating feces, eating stool ... is not normal for dogs
  • The most common causes of a dog eating poop are:
  1. Behavioral causes
  2. Dietary causes
  3. Metabolic causes
  4. Medical causes
  5. Hereditary causes (rare and unconfirmed)
  • Behavioral causes are the most prevalent by far (so these need to be checked first!)
  • And in most cases when the dog eats poop, our own behavior is the cause
  • We (or the prior owner/handler/breeder) have in the past responded to the dog's behavior in a way that stimulates the puppy or adult dog to eat poop
  • Most likely, we gave the dog too much attention for giving attention to poop - bad!
  • Always give unwanted dog behavior as little attention as possible!
  • Thus, NO dipping the dog’s nose in urine or feces, remote punishment via shock collar or spray collar, jerk on the leash, shouting, commanding, kick in the ribs, finger-poking, luring away with food treats and similar nonsense
  • Instead, Behavior-Train your dog: House Training Dogs To Behave Well is a MUST
  • Risks of eating shit: see the list above!
  • Key measures to prevent coprophagy:
  1. Behavior Training
  2. Providing the dog with sufficient and varied exercise!
  3. Serving a natural and balanced dog food diet
  4. Environmental control
  5. Leashing the dog
  6. Cleaning up after your dog
  7. Food supplements
  8. Taste deterrents
  • In most cases, Behavior Training will be all that's needed to stop poop eating: We need to behave in a way that deters the dog from eating poop (see above how)
  • To clean up after your dog, there is no need to touch the poop (not even through a plastic bag): The most effective poop scoopers are Skoop-N-Pak (for everyone), and Miracle Jaw (for 'professional' poop scoopers) wink
  • Taste deterrents certainly are the least effective measures to stop the dog from eating poop
  • By the way, we have these waste bags - already the dispenser is a style lover's dream (attaches easily to the belt) - but don't get them in UK: ridiculously overpriced!

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