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Finished breakfast yet? Then let’s talk about some disgusting dog habits
Dear Dr. Spiegel, My 6 month old Cocker Spaniel has a the very disgusting habit of eating other animals' stools. I have two cats, and while I clean the litter box twice a day, if I happen to be a minute late in scooping it out my dog has already gotten there before I could. Last week, I noticed while walking her, she makes her way to other dog's piles. Scolding or punishing her is not working. This seems to be one "stubborn-streak" that I can't break her from. I asked my vet's office what to do about this. I have read that this habit is due to something lacking in my dog's diet; however, my vet's office said this is a behavioral problem. Another employee there told me it's something all dogs do, and sold me "FOR-BID" to sprinkle in my cat's food. I'd like your opinion as to whether you believe this to be a behavioral problem, or as I've read, something lacking in her diet. If you think it is diet, what is it she's lacking? I feed her ProPlan (dry) and Cycle for puppies (can). I don't believe all dogs do this, because I've always had dogs, but I've only seen this problem one other time -- again, with a previous Cocker Spaniel. Thank you for answering. Sincerely, K.M., Newark
Dear K.M., It's Sunday Morning! Let's talk poop!! Do I believe this is a behavioral problem? For most dogs, no. For most owners, yes. If this behavior on your dog's part causes unwanted stress for you, then yes, it is a behavior problem. The only real potential problem it can cause for the dog is that it can increase the likelihood that your dog will get one or more of a variety of intestinal parasites whose eggs are passed in the stools of affected dogs. Is this a dietary deficiency? Not usually. If you want to be sure to rule this out as a possibility (although it is highly unlikely) you can supplement your dog's diet by adding a multi-vitamin to her food once a day for a week or two. If you do this alone, and see the behavior diminish and/or stop, then you've cured the problem. But since this is probably not the cause of the problem, I wouldn't expect such positive results. Since yours is a situation that has started with the ingestion of cat feces, the source of the problem is almost certainly a matter of taste. Cat feces smell and taste wonderful!!!! That is, at least, from a dog's perspective. The reason this is so is because both cat food and, consequently, cat feces are high in fat content. Fat is smelly and is the part of food that increases aroma and palatability. Anyone that's ever been on a diet can attest that foods which are high in fat usually taste a whole lot better than their fat free substitutes. Since your Cocker is still quite young, another contributing factor is probably general mouthiness at this stage. Dog's use their mouths for just about everything -- hunting, eating, defending themselves, picking up and carrying things, and exploring their environments. By simply putting a hook-and-eye latch on the door to the room containing the cat box, so that the door is fixed in a position open just enough for the cat to enter and exit easily, you can eliminate your dog's access to that area. "FOR-BID" and other forms of taste aversive conditioning are of moderate effectiveness. What is significantly more effective in eliminating the eating of feces by dogs is using a remote trainer. Imagine if you wanted to take a particular object, and each time you attempted to touch/pick up that object you got a sudden sting or shock. And even though you still really wanted that thing, you didn't like the shock that came when you attempted to take it, so finally you said, "I think I'll try this other thing instead." And that's how effective aversive conditioning works. By giving your dog appropriate outlets for her energetic exploring nature, giving appropriate yummies for good behaviors, and providing her with chew toys that she loves, these will further decrease the likelihood that she will be continue to pursue the consumption of some other body's leftovers. While your letter suggests the taste attractiveness of stools to dogs, there are all sorts of other interesting dog/stool scenarios. Obviously dogs like to sniff each others behinds... and while most owners react with something like, "No! No! No! Stop that Brutus, you shameless beast!" There are significant reasons for these behaviors, as there often are when dog's roll in the feces of other dogs, and when they ingest feces in other contexts. For further assistance when considering or using tools like remote training collars, I strongly suggest getting expert guidance/instruction. Friends of Animals has begun a Low Cost Spay/Neuter Program for Dogs and Cats. To obtain a list of participating veterinarians and to order a neutering certificate write or call: P.O. Box 242 Woodlyn, PA 19094, (610)544-9535.