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Ask the Trainer: Teaching the Dog to Stop Eating Poop

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Dear Kevin,
My dog, Bristol, is obsessed with eating poop. Not only her poop but other dogs poop. Help! How do I stop her from doing this? She is a 3 to 4 year old Walker Hound with possible Basset Hound in her. We believe she was used as a hunting dog before we adopted her and had never been in a home before.

Hey Al,

I recommend starting to build an extremely strong “leave it” cue. If you start off with the basics for teaching “leave it” you can start to quickly incorporate tougher challenges. This can then lead up to the “leaving of the poop.” I think that it is very important that the dog understands exactly what “leave it” means. I start off by holding a treat in one hand and clinching it into a fist. I then put it right in front of the dogs face as I say, “leave it.” I then wait patiently until the dog stops licking and nibbling. (This could be 5 seconds or it could be 1 minute and 5 seconds.) The very second the dog stops licking or nibbling, “mark” the behavior and reward from the other hand. (Marking can be a verbal, “Yes” or a click from the clicker.) Keep repeating this until Bristol is leaving it right when you ask. When that happens you are ready to place the treat on the ground with your hand covering it. Repeat step 1’s process. When that is going smoothly you can try step 3. Step 3 is the treat on the ground without your hand covering it. Be on guard though, you don’t want to let Bristol snatch it up. (If she does snatch it up just try again. The big thing is making sure it doesn’t happen often because it would defeat the purpose.) Below is a video of these 3 steps for teaching “leave it.”

When she can leave things on the ground when you ask you are ready to add in some movement. One type of movement is to have her on leash and to move her around. I recommend having a treat on the ground and having her “leave it.” Start off a decent distance away. The further away she is the easier it will be for her to do the right thing. When she is doing that distance well start to get closer. I like to walk back and forth next to it. Each time I pass I would get her a little bit closer to the treat. The goal with this isn’t to pull her away; it is for her to hear your cue, and then for her to do it. There will be times where she goes after it and you’ll have to physically stop her, that is part of it. But try to form the habit of her leaving it, not being told to leave it and then being pulled away.

Another type of movement is dropping a treat and saying, “leave it.” This one can be pretty tough so start off by only dropping it a few inches from the ground. From there slowly start to drop it from higher distances. Be on guard with this one too.

With all this practice you should then be able to utilize it on feces. If you spot a piece, practice with it. Start off further away, and then get closer. I also recommend not allowing her to be outside unsupervised. If she is unsupervised then she has the opportunity to do it. If she does it then she will continue the habit. It is also a good idea to stay on top of poop removal. I know she eats both her own and others but picking up her’s will at least prevent against that part. You can then utilize the, “leave it” cue for the others.

Here is the video to give you a visual. Remember to take your time with this.

Thanks for your question!

Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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