Dogs eat poop for a number of reasons.
Medical causes for a dog having a tendency to eat poop may be thyroid disease, internal parasites, diabetes, cushings, or even just an incomplete diet. I highly recommend that before pushing on with the following training protocols, you check in with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog eating feces is in fact a behavioral issue and not a medical one.
On a behavioral level, there are a lot of trains of thought as to why a healthy dog might like eating poop. It has smells of other animals, traces of food, and no one can deny that dogs love smelly stuff. At the end of the day, dogs who eat feces behaviorally do so because, to them, it is enjoyable.
Not a fun answer.
But poop-eating is not one of those behaviors where maybe it’s okay to leave it alone, like a dog who likes to lick their tail a lot or stick their face in odd nooks and crannies for seemingly no reason. Poop can spread disease and parasites, it can be vomited up again later in the home, and let’s be honest: it’s gross.
Luckily, stopping poop eating is easily trainable with the use of an e-collar. Before you get started, make sure you have checked that what you’re seeing is not a symptom of a medical issue, and go through your conditioning stage and early training before using the following protocols.
For foundational training for the e-collar and more remote collar information, the following articles will be helpful.
Once the medical side of things is ruled out and your dog understands how the e-collar works, you can start training them to leave the poop alone.
How to Stop Dogs Eating Dog Poop
This training does not make use of any food, any commands, or even any acknowledgement from you that the behavior is occurring one way or another. The reason that this is strictly an e-collar protocol is because we want to establish an implied behavior, one that is understood regardless of your presence and regardless of your response.
Plain and simple, we are teaching the dog to never eat poop, no matter what.
The only two things you will need are:
- Your dog’s e-collar
- A long line/leash
Put your dog on the long leash and go out poop hunting. If you know there’s going to be feces outside on your property, that works great. If you have to go out to find it, that’s also fine.
If your dog has an implied heel, give them the release to go an sniff around, as long as you’re in a place where it is safe to do so. I usually start with +10 over the dog’s working level.
Watch your dog for the signs of them sniffing for poop. When your dog approaches a pile and is close enough to sniff it, hold down the stim on continuous for 2-3 seconds.
If your dog is not fazed by the stim, you can increase the level and apply another stim of 2-3 seconds. Alternatively, you can hold down the stim while increasing the levels until your dog stops.
When your dog stops, do not acknowledge the stop. The goal is to make it seem like nothing has happened; the poop was the trigger for the stim, not you seeing it.
You’re going to want to repeat this protocol a few times as you go about your training session.
From here, you should now know the level that your dog will decide that poop eating is not “worth it.” Usually, it’s ok to bump the level down a little bit before encountering the next pile and increase again as your dog interacts with it. This allows the dog to understand that the intensity of the correction will directly correspond to how much they are interacting with the poop.
After a couple repetitions of this protocol, you should start to see your dog avoiding piles, or looking and then making another choice. At this point, if it is otherwise safe to do so, you can allow your dog to come off the leash.
Repeat the same protocol without the leash, correcting for interaction with any poop you happen upon. If your dog is still pushing after several repetitions to see what they can get away with, you can use a higher level right off the bat rather than raising it as the dog comes closer to the piles. It’s a good idea, as your dog understands the new expectation more and more, to also correct for sniffing as well; this is because allowing sniffing adds the allure of the old self-rewarding behavior, and may cause the training to slip later on if you are not very careful.
Train Your Dog to Stop Eating Cat Poop
Training a dog to leave cat poop alone comes with its own set of challenges, the most obvious of which is that the poop is in the home in a predictable spot (the litter box). While the training protocol for getting a dog to leave the litter box alone is in essence the same as the protocol for training a dog to leave poop alone in the yard or on the walk, it also does have some nuances to it and take a few extra steps to really dial in.
If you have an all-around poop eater who loves the cat box as well as piles of treasure out in the world, I recommend doing the protocol for wild poops before starting training your dog to stop eating cat poop. This will establish the idea that eating poop is a no-go, and training the dog about the litter box will be something of a form of generalization of something they already know.
Once your dog has gone through the anti-poop training outside, I recommend setting up a camera by your litter box. There are many affordable cameras available online with apps for your phone, but you can also make use of an old smartphone, an extra tablet, or a laptop with any mutable video chat app.
These cameras are helpful for many sneaky behaviors such as counter surfing and stealing food off the table.
To train your dog to not eat out of the litter box, simply set up your camera and walk off to do something else out of sight. When your dog is out of your line of sight, check your camera and wait for them to check out the litter box.
When you see your dog sniffing at the litter box, apply a correction at +10 their indoor working level. As a reminder, the dog’s working level inside the home will likely be much lower than it is outside in a whole world of distraction. Make sure you’re using an appropriate level for where your dog is mentally.
Just like refining behavior outside, it’s best to teach the dog to avoid the cat box entirely and not allow sniffing. If you see your dog going to the litter box area to have a sniff, you may correct that as well as it will help avoid your dog slipping back into nasty habits.