My four-year-old Labrador is always trying to eat dog poo on walks in the park. He never eats his own, but is always on the lookout for other dogs’ poo, whether he’s on or off the lead. This habit has made him sick a few times, and I find the whole thing disgusting. Please help!
Nick Jones advises…
First, you need to make sure your dog is being fed a high-quality diet – the best you can afford – and one that is free from artificial additives, colourings, flavourings and preservatives. Try to avoid cheap fillers, such as wheat and corn, and avoid the cheaper supermarket brands, as they tend to be cheap for a reason. Addressing his diet can cover the element that he may be lacking certain nutrients and is being driven to compensate for this through eating faeces – known as coprophagia.
When in open spaces, you will need to be able to watch your Labrador like a hawk, and so a long training line (30-50ft) will help ensure that you can guide his physical location and behaviour during each outing. You may also find a muzzle useful (the Baskerville type allows a dog to pant and drink as normal), but if your dog is not used to wearing a muzzle, you will need to gradually introduce this at home over a period of about a week or two. Make sure your dog pays attention to you throughout every walk, but don’t indulge in his game of ‘find the poo’ by being overly focused on this to the exclusion of everything else.
Try to develop his recall away from all sorts of distractions, not just poo, by randomly recalling him throughout the walk, and rewarding him when he comes back. When he does approach a pile of something he seems overly interested in, call your dog back to you, using the recall command, and if he doesn’t respond immediately, use the long line to reinforce this – effectively reeling him in – and reward him once he reaches your feet. You can also issue a clear and firm ‘Leave it’ command if he gets too close to the poo for your liking.
Now, I have seen some dogs – even when wearing a muzzle – attempt to eat poo as if it’s going out of fashion, so if this problem persists, you might need to seek professional advice from an experienced behaviour consultant. A vet check-up would be a good idea too, as you have already mentioned he has been sick several times, and the habit can have a negative effect on a dog’s health.