They have had adorable nine-month-old Bichon Poodle cross Maisy for a couple of weeks now. I was called because there a few problems – nothing major – and they want to pre-empt things before they get worse.
One concern is that she pesters their other patient Bichon Frise, Candy, by jumping on her and annoying her until she gets cross. Another is that she runs off with the baby’s toys and wrecks them, she is reluctant to give things up, she jumps onto things and surfs the tables for crumbs and cups to lick and she won’t come to them when she’s called. All fairly usual stuff for a teenage dog!
However, the thing that upsets them most is the things she eats and worst of all is that she eats dog poo, both her own and Candy’s.
It seems that more than half of all dogs have eaten dog poo, called coprophagia, at some stage during their lives. The reasons may be varied, from lack of nutrition in the diet or hunger, so they are ‘topping up’ or ‘recycling’, to disease like pancreatitis which affects the absorption of nutrients, to learned or copied behaviour. Until he was twelve weeks old, one dog I know who did this was in a kennel in a breeder’s barn where his food was scattered on the floor amongst his mess and as he wasn’t ‘housetrained’ having never been in a house, so it wasn’t surprising. In the case of Maisy, I suspect it is ‘puppy see, puppy do’. If in their young lives their mother had the same habit, the puppies may have copied her.
The million dollar question though is what can you do about it. The most obvious thing, to yell and quickly pounce, is the worst thing. The dog will think ‘hey – you want it too? It’s valuable?’ and will grab it before you can get to it! You make her furtive. Scolding will only mean you have a job for life (sorry). If she thinks she might get into trouble, a copraphagic dog can become very sneaky and will remember for later if there is some still out there that you have missed!
Some suggest adding pineapple or courgette in the dog’s food, but I have never found evidence that it makes any difference at all. It’s impossible if it involves other dogs also. There are two approaches that I believe will work with this particular little dog, but it means being vigilant. The first thing is to work on a really solid recall around the house and garden, so your dog comes running to you straight away for a reward. The reward needs to be worth the effort, so make it tasty and make it fun. You are in competition with something very attractive to the dog – poo!! Soon she will be running to you for a treat as soon as she or the other dog has finished.
The other plan works best with dogs who like to chase things. Have in you pocket some of those treats that look like little sausage rolls. As you call the dog, roll it in the opposite direction. This combines food with a game. She will run after the food and you can then pick up. Soon the toileting will be the trigger for him to look at you, waiting for the treat to roll. She is being conditioned to run away from poo.
This only works when you are about of course. The likelihood is, by removing the opportunity for long enough so she doesn’t continue to practise the habit – even if it means, when out, keeping the dog on a long line or even wearing a basket muzzle if off lead – and consistently keeping up the training process, that she will grow out of it.
To the dog it’s not revolting of course – it’s food.