Poop is not a food group.
October 22, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Nearing end of rope: dog edition with complicating factors of dog eating poop (his own and the wild rabbits who poop in our yard), dog pooping in the house, dog eating said house poop, and I'm 8 months pregnant with a boisterous 2.5 year old toddler.

I try not to make monumental decisions while pregnant because I know that my decision-making ability is out of whack due to hormones and just plain discomfort. Having said that, I am about at the end of my rope with the dog.

He's a 12 yo Golden Retriever. We got him from a rescue group and he has been and is very much loved. But, we cannot continue on like this, especially bringing in a new baby to the house. The problems are all inter-related. He first started with just eating his poop outside. I was able to curb that somewhat by being really proactive about picking up his poop so that he couldn't get to it.

Then we moved about 500 miles away to a new house. He now stays in the house four days a week from 7:30 to 5:45pm. We also have a lovely collection of wild rabbits who poop all over our back yard. There are gaps underneath the fence so that they can come and go through the back fence into the greenbelt area behind us. He has discovered the joy of rabbit droppings and has a much more efficient nose than I do to find every last morsel. The rabbit poop goes right through him and he will poop in the house if he can't hold it. Sometimes (like tonight) he'll eat the poop in the house.

I can't possibly disinfect my entire house everytime he comes back in and I'm terribly concerned about bringing a baby into the mix, especially when said child begins to crawl. Short of sending him back to the rescue group or the rescue group in our new area, what can I do to get him to stop this behavior and keep my house safe for the new baby?

Here's what we do already to try to combat the problem:

1) I try to clean up the poop outside so he can't eat it. The rabbit droppings are very hard to completely find and remove. We also have a big yard with lots of nooks and crannies. Inevitably, he finds more rabbit droppings than I can get. And, I'm getting to the point where it's hard to walk around the entire yard on a constant poop patrol.

2) We're switching his food to Innova to try to address any kind of vitamin deficiency that he might have.

3) I walk him before bed to get any left over rabbit poop out of his system so that he won't poop overnight (and possible eat it).

4) He is let out multiple times in the morning before we leave on the 4 days we're gone all day. We let him out the minute we get home, after dinner and then before bed (when he gets his walk). On the three other days, he is let out in the morning, at lunch, around dinner and at bedtime. I'll be home for maternity leave in another three weeks or so and will be able to let him out regularly (but may not be able to do poop patrolling).

We need to address the rabbit issue, obviously, but what is the most effective way? How can I keep my house clean?
posted by Leezie to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Crating seems to be the standard AskMe answer in situations like this, but at the very least can you try to confine where the dog is allowed to go in your house? That will take care of the immediate problem of the dog pooing everywhere, and you having to clean it up.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:19 PM on October 22, 2012

Get a water scarecrow to minimize the rabbit poop available to the dog. Turn it off when you let the dog into the yard, turn it back on when you bring him back inside.

Also don't forget to turn it off before you walk across the yard, I used to get strafed on the regular because I couldn't learn this one simple rule.
posted by padraigin at 7:23 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I come at this from the perspective of a dog owner who lives in a semi-dense urban area where few of us have fenced yards and we just walk our dogs a few times a day for their pottying, but what about simply not giving him free, unsupervised time in the back yard until you can figure out a way to keep the rabbits out? That could mean simply sitting out in the yard while he's out to do his business so you can scold him off if he goes poop-snacking, or else walking him on a schedule, or a combination of the two.
posted by drlith at 7:33 PM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Crating for the pooping inside while left alone is probably the easiest solution right now. It won't help if he gets the runs as he will poop in his cage but it will at least contain the mess a little.

Check out this website that summarizes some of the main reasons why dogs eat poop very well. Some ideas as to why your dog is eating poop from the site.

1. A dog with a physical problem that causes excessive hunger, pain, or other sensations may resort to eating feces. If your adult dog who has not previously had this habit suddenly develops it, take the dog to your veterinarian for a check-up.

2. A dog who is not getting enough to eat or is going too long between meals may eat feces. Your veterinarian can help you evaluate the dog's weight and can suggest a feeding schedule and amount. Sometimes it takes experimentation to see what works best for a particular dog.

3. A dog with intestinal parasites or other condition that creates blood or other fecal changes may eat feces. One dog may eat the feces of another dog who is shedding something like this in the stools. A fresh fecal specimen to your veterinarian for evaluation can detect some of these problems.

4. Sometimes a change of diet helps. There doesn't seem to be any one food that is right for all dogs, and your dog may need something different than you're currently feeding. Be sure to make any changes of diet gradual, mixing the new food in with the old over a period of several days or weeks, to give the dog's intestines time to adjust and avoid diarrhea from the change.

5. Some dogs develop a mental connection that they will be punished if their humans find them in the same room with feces. Dogs react to this fearful situation in various ways, and one way is to eat the feces so it will not be there to make the human angry. This is one of many reasons not to use punishment when housetraining a dog.

6. Boredom can cause dogs to do all sorts of things, including eat feces. Interesting toys that have treats inside them for the dog to get out can help with lots of boredom-based problems.

7. Dogs may do just about any wild thing when suffering from separation anxiety. If that is the problem, this won't be the only symptom, and you'll want to help your dog work through the separation anxiety

Our dog had issues with being corrected for pooping inside, we made the mistake of telling him off, before learning about positive training methods, and he started to hide his poop and eat it to try and avoid trouble. We have him mostly fixed using positive training, but he will still sometimes stress poop in the house during storms or dramatic changes in routine.

The site has one basic training idea which is a good start. Get your dog rock solid on recall and a "Leave it alone" command, it will make trips to the back yard less disgusting to start with and you can follow drliths advice, which may make things a little less stressful. There is a product that you can add to your dogs food that is supposed to make their poops repellent to them, I don't know how it works but believe you can get it through most vets so that might be worth looking into.
posted by wwax at 7:37 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sometimes older dogs eat poop in an effort to mask illness from unknown predators. A vet visit may be a good idea. Sometimes they eat poop out of stress, anxiety, or boredom, but it sounds like he gets a good amount of exercise, especially for his age. Perhaps the recent move has increased his anxiety level, leading to an increase in coprophagic behavior. If the pooping in the house is new, that could be an indicator of either anxiety or illness. Crating is probably a good option until you get this behavior quashed.

I've seen various products you can add to a dog's diet to make their poop unappetizing, but I don't know if they work or if they do any harm to the dog. I've also seen recommendations for the addition of a few tablespoons of canned pumpkin to the dog's food, which apparently has a similar effect. I don't have any personal experience with this method.

Hopefully you're feeding your dog a decent, nutritionally complete food--Blue, Canidae, etc.
posted by xyzzy at 7:39 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

How often is the dog being walked? When? Not let out into the yard...but walked. What happens between 7:30 and 5:45?

I'd change to even higher protein food like Orijen.

Definitely vet visit for bloodwork.
posted by barnone at 7:50 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts:

-Rabbit-proofing a yard where you already have a fence is actually really easy. Use fence staples to run chicken wire along the bottom of the existing fence. Extending about 2 feet up is sufficient, and to make sure you don't have gaps for them to get under, bend the chicken wire into a shallow "L" shape towards your yard. Rabbits don't generally make much of an effort to dig under fences. They'll just eat your neighbor's clover instead.

-10 hours is a crazy long time for a senior dog to go without a potty break and its not surprising he can't hold it that long. I'm not convinced that part of your problem has anything to do with the rabbit poop. Get a dog walker for those days. It's seriously not that expensive to get someone to come walk him around the block, and it would be a huge improvement to his quality of life.

-I agree with drlith that he doesn't actually need to go out in the yard unsupervised, if that's where all your problems are happening. Just take him out and walk him when he needs to go. Seems like a pretty obvious way to solve all the problems you've identified here.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:52 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks to everyone so far for suggestions. To answer a few questions:

- my attempts to train him on recall a few years ago failed miserably and he ignores me when I tell him to leave something unless there is a leash attached to his collar and I'm gently yanking on it. So the unsupervised yard time is part of the problem. But, he just so loves to roll in the grass and just enjoy the sunshine. I'd hate to take that away from him.
- I agree that we'll need to have someone let him out in the middle of the day.
- we're putting him on Innova senior food (he's currently on Science Diet Senior Dog)
- he's walked about 3-4x a week. I'm the primary walker.
- when he first started his poop eating, we took him to the vet and were advised that there were no medical issues behind it. New vet tends to agree, and that issue is more behavioral than anything.
posted by Leezie at 8:02 PM on October 22, 2012

Put ground-up alfalfa pellets (1/4 by volume, mix it in so it cannot be separated) in with your dog's food. That will cure the most determined coprophage.
posted by jet_silver at 8:06 PM on October 22, 2012

I'm glad you're changing from Science Diet, because on the whole it's a terrible dog food and way overpriced for what it is. Innova is better and it's good you're going with the senior recipe. It's still very heavy on the grains which can cause issues with dogs, especially over the longterm - if your 12 year old dog has been primarily on Science Diet, better food will likely help. Try the Innova for a few months and think about switching to something even higher protein.

Make sure to transition really slowly - like over 2 weeks or so, not 3 days.

Did the vet check for parasites? Or just bloodwork?

Really, your pup needs to have two walks a day - once in the morning, once at night. And at least short break mid-day. You're not setting him up for success by giving him one walk at night, and trying to make him hold it for TEN hours and 45 minutes during the day. It's just not feasible to expect him not to poop given that amount of time. Since he has to poop then, it's pretty likely that he'd poop at other times in the house too. The idea is -- set him up for success.

Dogs are roaming animals. They like to walk, stretch, and their bowels get going through movement. Think about old men you know - their digestive systems get a big finicky too, no? Backyards are great for a quick pee but they are definitely not replacements for actual twice daily walks. Even if you think he's too old for long walks, go far enough that he gets tired and gets to explore a bit.

Give him half of his daily food about 30 mins - 1 hour before his walk if possible, and he'll likely poop on the walk. When he poops outside, praise him with a yummy yummy special treat.

In the house, keep him on a short leash for the next few weeks until you get this under control. Don't allow him to be elsewhere in the house - he has to be in the room with you.

Is there a neighborhood kid who wouldn't mind making some money? $10 for a walk? Maybe they could do it twice in a day? Whatever the literal solution is, you have to provide walks for your dog. Otherwise you can pick up all the rabbit poo in every corner in your backyard, but it won't solve the problem.

For the next few months:
1. Increased actual exercise with REGULAR walks on a schedule
2. No more than 4, maybe 5, hours without a bathroom break
3. Consider crate training or leaving him in a kitchen with baby gates when you're out
4. Short leash inside, either literally or metaphorically. No free access without you.
5. Supervised time outside in backyard
6. Better food

You'll be able to ease up a bit once he's got the habit under control but until then, do the steps above and you'll see a dramatic improvement.
posted by barnone at 9:53 PM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

A retriever needs daily walks if you want happy and non-crazy.

Doing that, by hook or by crook, will make your hound happier and probably solve the house pooping too.
posted by zippy at 1:56 AM on October 23, 2012

You might try Pro-Sense Stool-Eating Deterrennt, WalMart, $3.50
posted by misspat at 5:43 AM on October 23, 2012

One of my neighbors walks her dog with a home made mosquito net over her dog's head to prevent it from eating cat and other poops. Looks like it loops into the dog's collar. Still need to supervise the dog but will keep him from sneaking a quick snack.
posted by dottiechang at 12:27 AM on November 16, 2012

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