In New York City you might see many dogs trying to eat poo off the sidewalk. A very distasteful but also very unhealthy practice.
Out of all of the dog behavior complaints reported in a recent dog owner survey, this is one of the first major ones that is actually a real medical issue. It is also one that can be hard to solve as the causes are not all that well defined.
There are many ‘reasons’ given as to why a dog will eat poo, but it is not always easy to identify why a specific dog is eating poo, or how to solve the issue.
NO, you never rub a dog or any other animals nose in poo to discourage it. Negative reinforcement punishment training rarely works with any animal, let alone intelligent dogs.
Dogs and the medical condition PICA
Interestingly eating feces was reported by owners (or perhaps discussed by survey takers) rather than the over arching category of dog pica. The term Pica refers to a medical condition where a dog craves of a non-food material and eats it. A dog may eat almost anything or one specific non food item.
I walk a few dogs that will eat almost anything from clumps of grass to bark, but most of these things are organic non poisonous items, and they are being excited by the smell and finding the texture fun to rip and eat. They may or may not be getting enough of some nutrient from their kibble, they may even be craving meat, or they may just be on a calorie restricted diet, but what they are eating is just filling their stomach, and they don’t do it compulsively.
Eating of Feces is a major issue for owners because woman in particular find it very disgusting, and it can also get on their face, coat and give bad breath. It is also very likely to be very unhealthy for a dog, as dog waste contains a lot of toxins, often more than herbivore animal feces. This is because dogs are carnivore and have a high acid stomach and expel waste fast before high toxin bacteria can really take hold. This is why they can often survive eating very old meat or things that a human or herbivore would never consider eating.
This also means a dog eating such feces may get a lot of bad bacteria into it from the poo and get very sick. In the least besides being unpleasant to humans it is likely to get a compromised immune system and diarrhea.
Why dogs eat poo (feces) and how to solve the problem
The reasons dog eat poo are many and varied. If it is a hard wired mental issue, then drugs and trainer / behaviorist therapy may be required. This is not always the case. Often it can be because of interesting smells, an interest in seeing other dogs poo and being intrigued and trying it once they get addicted to eating in future.
It can also be because of missing nutrients in regular dog food.
If it is missing ingredients, then either increasing meat in your dogs diet or adding vitamins might help.
Once you see a dog eating poo and you tell it off, you will often find it being sneaky with how it approaches and eats food because it knows you are going to tell it off, and sometimes that adds to the excitement of a dog eating the poo, an unintentional positive reinforcement. Having a high recall level and much tastier and nutrition dog treats than the poo offers sometimes helps too.
If you can’t handle discouraging your dog yourself, you immediately should get onto a vet or dog behaviorist before it becomes a very strong habit that you can’t easily break.
Good luck ! (and Remember, when Linda says its a REAL problem, then it really is !)