1st Mar, 2017

My 6-month-old Beagle puppy, Boots, eats his own poop – and any other that he finds on walks. It’s really unpleasant as his breath stinks, and I’d love to have cuddle kisses with him but that’s obviously a no-no. What can I do to help him?

Katie Janson – Eshowe

Dog Behaviourist Claire Atkinson answers…

A good question, thank you Katie.

There is no definitive cause of this behaviour and hence no cure-all solution.

One cause is digestive malabsorption. This indicates an imbalance in the system and results in a possible lack of necessary nutrients, so the dog is always hungry. Another possibility is that he has learned this behaviour from his mother, as she cleans up the den in puppyhood. Various other medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid problems, and reaction to various drugs, such as steroids, may also be a cause.

Not only could the cause be a physical need, it could also have an emotional content – for example, he could be phobic and exhibit obsessive/compulsive behaviour.

Here’s what to do

The first step is to eliminate any medical condition. This could include a review of his diet; some reports of changing to a raw-food diet have had positive results.

The second step is to clear up, where possible, as soon as he has defecated. Solutions such as using hot sauce or pepper on the faeces, or using pills marketed to treat the condition have not proved successful. It should be relatively easy to clean up in the home environment – if not, try taking him out on his leash to do his business. The use of any form of punishment such as rubbing his nose in it, smacking him or using strong words do not work long term. In fact, the result is usually to create more anxiety in the dog.

When going for walks outside, the use of a basket muzzle is recommended. Be sure to take time to accustom him to the muzzle over a couple of relaxed sessions with a positive atmosphere so that it predicts good things, i.e. a walk.

Behavioural modification can be useful as well. The reason it works is that a behaviour rewarded is likely to be repeated – this is called positive reinforcement. We use this by getting our dogs to understand that we are the provider of yummy treats. Coprophagia is a powerful drive, so the treats used have to be “high value” – chicken, cheese or whatever is really special for him (as opposed to his normal dog food). This is then offered when he approaches the faeces and serves to distract his focus towards you.

Recommended would be the help of a trainer or a behaviourist to get you started. If the stinky breath persists, try adding raw, chopped parsley to his food.

What will work for your own special pup depends on the cause of his behaviour, so I cannot say exactly what will do the trick in your case. When in doubt, please seek professional help. It’s worth it.