When animals eat feces it is called coprophagia. While it is unbelievably disgusting to us, it is not that uncommon in the animal kingdom. Nursing canine mothers will lick their young puppies to activate the reflex to defecate. In doing so, mothers routinely ingest feces.
Puppies sometimes eat feces, as well as grass, sticks, random pieces of plastic, cigarette butts or other items in their environment. As dogs get older, most grow out of this and eat items that we consider more normal.
Causes and Treatment of Coprophagia
There are a few theories as to why dogs do this. Make sure your dog is getting what he needs.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Dogs that are not getting the proper nutrients can look for other ways to complete their nutritional needs. Make sure that you are feeding a high-quality, meat-based food. Avoid corn, soy, grains and by-products.
- Boredom. Dogs that are bored can look for ways to curb their boredom. Chewing on furniture, rugs or eating feces are all possibly outlets. Increase your dog's mental and physical stimulation.
- Punishment for accidents. Dogs that have been hit, yelled at, or had their face pushed in feces have been known to get anxious and eat feces as a result. One possibility is that they are "trying to hide the evidence", but it is hard to know exactly why this happens.
Once it has been determined that my clients are feeding a good quality food, I look at boredom as the next culprit. Make sure your dog is getting at least 60 minutes of physical exercise and 15-30 minutes of training per day. You might need to increase the amounts if your dog is still showing anxiety or boredom.
If you have a backyard, it is also critical to keep it clean and do not allow your dog access unless you are with her. If she eats poop even occasionally, it will be more difficult to change this behavior pattern.
On walks, work on a "Leave It" and make a "nn, nn" noise with your mouth or tap your leg to get her to turn around and then give her a yummy treat or throw a toy for her to chase. Redirect her behavior so she gets out of the habit of scanning for feces.
If your dog goes potty and eats her feces when she is alone, you need to work on all of the above issues including "Leave It" and do the best you can. There isn't anything you can do when you aren't there. Usually if you are diligent when you are around your pup, the behavior can diminish over time.
Good luck, and let me know if you have questions.
Here is a link to my house training videos if you have general house training questions.