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Published: Sunday, 3/11/2012

How to break dog of distasteful habit


Dear Dr. Thompson: I adopted a 7-year-old female cock-a-poo from the dog warden last March. I have found her eating feces in the back yard and would like to do something to break this habit.

I have read that if you put pineapple in the dog food it will be distasteful to eat. Can you confirm this method or let me know what else I can do? Thank you.

Let me start by apologizing to anyone who is reading this column over their morning breakfast and note that long-time readers are fortunate that I haven't had this question in a while. The technical term for the repulsive behavior you are battling is coprophagia. This is an instinctive behavior with dogs who are nursing in an effort to keep the nesting area clean and to not attract predators. However, I assume this is not the case with your adopted dog and this is likely a compulsive behavior.

Some dogs have an obsessive tendency to keep their environment free of droppings. This may stem from confinement in a shelter setting, or be completely unrelated, and re-training and avoidance will be needed to stop this nasty habit.

You can teach her to void in a specific spot every time and then quickly, without any drama, clean the stool up after leading her away. Developing a "leave it" command for other items will also be a very useful step. You can work on this regularly with toys, food, and other everyday items so that once the command is ingrained it can be utilized at the crucial moment.

You mentioned adding pineapple to the diet. There are a number of products available that theoretically make the stool distasteful. I have heard people trying meat tenderizer and the commercially available additives are all similar. If you are a loyal reader you have heard me question previously how it could be possible to make feces taste any worse, but if it doesn't hurt, why not give it a try? Just check with your veterinarian first.

I would caution you to avoid your natural response when this happens to punish her for the behavior. With most compulsive disorders, negative feedback only brings anxiety to the behavior and will complicate matters.

You can minimize the habit with time and patience and hopefully give your veterinarian a heads up at the next visit before she gives him a big friendly lick on the face.

Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to askthevet@theblade.com or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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