With the utmost certainty, I assure you if the neighbors in our condo building ever listened to the conversations in our home, they were horrified and moved on. That’s because most of the time, my partner and I talk about dog poop.
Our Labradors, Daisy and Jackson, have pooping issues. It makes city living in our backyard-less Boston neighborhood a challenge. When one of us returns from a stroll with the dogs, the post-walk interrogation and bickering begins: “Did Daisy eat poop? Why didn’t you watch her more closely? Did Jackson poop? You know he hates pooping in that park!”
For Jackson, the wind, barometric pressure and temperature need to be just right for him to poop. He also requires the perfect bush. Once he finds this treasured shrub, he backs his rear end right into it and defecates. Sometimes his deposits fall onto different branches, adorning them like Christmas tree ornaments. When I pick it up with a baggie, I can’t jiggle the limbs or poop falls on my arm.
Why are some dogs such picky poopers?
“Aren’t we all a little particular about where we, well, go to the bathroom? Dogs are no different,” says board-certified veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta from Florida Veterinary Behavior Service.
Canines have different reasons for being choosy. “Some dogs were taught by their human parents, sometimes inadvertently, to eliminate in one area or on one surface,” Dr. Radosta says. “If a dog lives in a house with a yard and always eliminates on grass, it may be a challenge to get that dog to eliminate on concrete or rock.”
Dr. Radosta suspects that Jackson is fearful when he’s outside. “Dogs who are scared are constantly hypervigilant, scanning the environment,” she says. “It is tough to be vulnerable and settle down for a good poop when you → are always looking for the monsters behind the next house. He may back up to the bush because that seems safer.”
Interestingly, before we adopted Jackson, he was a stray in a rural area and likely had to be watchful to stay alive.
For some pups, being choosy may be a turf battle. “Dogs can use urine and feces to mark territory,” says board-certified applied animal behaviorist Megan Maxwell, PhD. “You might see a dog looking for an elevated spot to poop or one where the wind is likely to carry the scent.”
While Jackson’s pooping is mysterious, Daisy suffers from a seasonal grossness disorder. In the winter, she gobbles down poopsicles, frozen dog waste irresponsible owners leave behind. Excrement eating — coprophagia — is downright horrifying to humans, but experts say it’s common.
“This is normal dog behavior,” Dr. Radosta says. “Mother dogs eat their pup’s feces to keep the den clean. Dogs may learn to eat feces through normal exploration. Dogs can certainly lack proper nutrition or have underlying systemic disease, which can also contribute.”
Dr. Radosta adds that feces containing undigested food may smell appetizing to dogs. My guess is Daisy, who eats nearly anything, likely thinks, “Oh, the aroma! I need to devour this quickly before my mom flips out!”
Does this look normal?
Cori Johnson definitely can’t participate in those social media games where people are asked to post the third photo in their phone because chances are hers is a pile of doggie doo.
The former nurse volunteers for an animal rescue and uses her medical skills to field fosters’ concerns. Cori’s phone is filled with poop pics and texts that say, “Does this look normal to you?”
“Some dogs come right out of shelters,” Cori says. “They haven’t always had the best nutrition or care. The pictures are revealing.”
Board-certified veterinary nutritionist Lindsey Bullen with VetScoop.com says her inbox is also flooded with feces photos, and she’s thrilled. “Poop is a window to the inner soul. It tells us a lot about the body.”
So, what is normal? “We want stool to be formed and have that log appearance,” Dr. Bullen says. “When you pick it up, it shouldn’t fall apart. It shouldn’t smear, but it shouldn’t be dried out.”
If a pup’s poop changes appearance, is stinkier than usual or turns a different color, that could signal a problem. If a dog goes more or less often, take note.
“You’re the expert when it comes to your pet,” Dr. Bullen explains. “You know what their poop used to look like. You know what it used to smell like. You know how easy or hard it was to pick up. Any changes could warrant investigation.”
Anything out of the norm is worth seeking medical advice.
“It is never wrong to call your vet. I want to emphasize the importance of finding a vet pet parents feel comfortable with to talk about poop or send pictures,” Dr. Bullen says.
Veterinarians can run tests to find the cause of a pooping problem. But don’t wait for a predicament; regular exams, fecal tests and heartworm prevention with a de-wormer are crucial to keeping dogs healthy.
Solving Problems: Behavior Challenges
What are solutions for dogs who dine on doo and peculiar poopers? If pooches with coprophagia have no underlying medical issues, scoop up backyard poop immediately, so there’s nothing to eat. And work on training.
“Teach the dog a leave-it cue,” Dr. Radosta says. “When you see your dog moving toward the poop, ask her to ‘Leave it,’ and when she comes back to you, reward her with a tasty treat every single time.”
Dr. Maxwell also suggests positive reinforcement for picky poopers like Jackson. “You could walk him in more open spaces, so he gradually gets used to relieving himself on grass,” she says. “Bring treats, and as soon as he finishes pooping on a flat surface, praise merrily and provide a treat.”
Veterinarians, behaviorists, and certified trainers are excellent resources for pet parents concerned — or even bickering — about their dog’s pooping habits.
If a pup’s poop changes appearance, is stinkier than usual or turns a different color, that could signal a problem. If a dog goes more or less often, take note, too.
Poop problems can be caused by quite a variety of things, which is why dog lovers have to become poop police.
It may be a sign of:
If a dog is straining or pooping less frequently, it might be:
Cleaning up poop is so much easier with today’s poop products. Here are just a few:
Nature’s Miracle Advanced Stain and Odor Eliminator $15.49; chewy.com
The Original Poop Bags: USDA Biobased Peanuts Leash Rolls and Peanuts Dispenser $4.99/60 bags and $4.99/ dispenser; poopbags.com. *part of the company’s You Buy, We Donate program, helping pet shelters, dog parks and animals in need.