Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Why do dogs eat feces? How can you stop them?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #51

Incidentally, dogs can train other dogs by this same method. Our Isabella ignored litter boxes until we adopted Muggsy Malone. Muggsy adored cat poop and used to head for the box at a dead run whenever he saw a cat emerge. Izzy soon noticed his passion and scored a sample for herself. Muggsy has been gone for many years, but his legacy remains.

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Poop?

There are pretty well accepted behavioral explanations for dogs eating their own stool – not that I know of any research to back them up. Pet store puppies seem to eat their own poop more than the average dog. The reason would be the same one that makes crate training so successful: dogs avoid soiling their nests. Dogs forced to eliminate in their cages will often try to clean up. Let this happen a few times, and a habit is born. Finally, eating feces – whether or not it’s the dog’s own – may succeed in getting attention for an animal who’s lonely or bored.

Is It Bad for Dogs to Eat Poop?

Disgusting as it is to us, coprophagy seems to do most healthy, vaccinated dogs no harm,(3)  apart from occasional digestive upset and sometimes a parasite or two.(4)  I did round up a news story about a Pug who developed pancreatitis after way overdoing it at the all-you-can-eat dog poop buffet.(5)

How to Prevent Your Dog From Eating Poop

Yeah, okay, fine, a little poop won’t hurt your dog, but it rings the bell on your Gross-O-Meter, so let’s talk about prevention. Let me say right up front that if your dog has access to the kind of feces she likes, she will sometimes get some. Homeless people defecate in public parks; if your dog is off leash, your best defense is a solid recall or rock-solid response to a cue meaning “Leave that alone.” Even so, your dog is better at finding feces than you are and may well get a few bites in before you notice and intervene. If you live in the country, chances are you can’t control the availability of horse and cow and goose and deer droppings.

Prevent Access to Poop

Control the environment! Tidy the yard diligently and prevent access to poop.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).