Dear Beast Mode,
We have two dogs, both 80-pound doofuses. Back when we got the second one (1½ years ago), our older pooch started eating his brother’s poop. We hoped he would grow out of it, or, once his brother was no longer on puppy food, it wouldn’t be as enticing. We were wrong! He has escalated to eating both his brother’s poop and his own poop.
We’ve tried solutions from the internet, like supplements to help the poop taste bad, but none of it has worked. Our current strategy: We put a remote-controlled beeping collar on him and watch him like a hawk, beeping it if he gets too interested in a fresh (or not-so-fresh) pile. We also let him out before meals so he has a good reason to come right back in instead of perusing the yard for a snack. We try to keep the yard as clean as possible, but we’re two working adults and sometimes miss a poo or two.
This entire collar system is complicated and less than ideal. Is there a way to actually train him to not eat it? Are we stuck choosing between having a dog with poop breath or eagle-eyeing our dog’s every move outside?
It’s really gross! Does help exist for this problem? Or is the world just divided into Dogs That Eat Poop and Dogs That Don’t?
Dear Turd-Eating Grin,
Dogs and humans have lived together for thousands of years, yet there are still so many things we don’t understand about each other. We’ll never fully appreciate, for example, the extent to which a vacuum cleaner assaults their various senses. They, meanwhile, can’t comprehend why we invite that screaming monster to prowl our carpets every week. History’s greatest interspecies friendship has endured despite these often-clashing quirks, even if, as is the case with your pooch, our enigmatic pals sometimes like to eat poop.
I usually ask readers to put themselves in their pets’ position, but I’m going to forgo that advice here (and spare you a few rounds of antibiotics). Your pup has a marvelously indiscriminate palate, and there’s nothing you can do to fully appreciate his turd cravings. “There is a lot of conflicting information out there about why some dogs choose to eat poop, and I don’t have a definitive answer,” Courtney Briggs of Devoted Dog Training tells me over email.
My own dog ate poop as a puppy, and we helped her grow out of it by watching her closely and correcting the behavior pre- or midgobble. It was important not to make too big of a deal about it, however, as an outsize reaction would have only made things worse. Now, I can proudly say that she barely bats an eye when she encounters a stinking log during a walk. She’s a star!
Because your dog is an adult, you will have to be more proactive with your teaching. Briggs recommends working with a professional trainer to get your dog to learn an ironclad “leave it” command. This will take time and patience, and since eating poop can actually hurt him, it’s not something you should take lightly. Talk to your vet about this behavior. You also want to make sure it’s not related to an underlying problem, even if the training goes well.
The American Kennel Club has a step-by-step guide to teaching “leave it,” and you should start working with your dog ASAP. Once he starts to learn what the command means, you can use it on poop. Again, please consider the help of a professional trainer, as this will take time and lots of attention and perseverance.
You should also stop using that beeping collar. Like, now. “The e-collar is making the problem worse,” Briggs says. “Any tool or method that causes a dog fear or pain is called ‘aversive’ … All aversive methods have been proven to make problems worse, because they cause your dog to no longer trust you. Why would a dog choose to do anything that means receiving pain or fear?”
The collar is teaching your pooch that feces is scary and, given how much of a dog’s life revolves around pooping, this could complicate things down the road. The “leave it” command involves rewarding him every time he resists going after something off-limits, and it is part of a process that actively nurtures his desire to learn.
We may never fully understand what’s going on between a dog’s furry ears, but no one likes to be scared. Your pooch would never try to frighten you into changing your ways, even if you were doing something harmful to yourself. He deserves the same kind of compassion in return, even if he’s got a mouthful of poop.