Humans find it hard to fathom that dogs, particularly their own dogs, eat poop. There are many theories why, the most recent one published in the January 2018 issue of Veterinary Medicine & Science....
The previous theory that I remember reading, which made a lot of sense to me, was that eating feces (coprophagia) was a dog's defensive strategy, inherited from his wolf ancestry, to keep predators from finding their camp areas. But this latest research, conducted by scientists at University of California Davis, suggests something else related to our dogs' ancestry: that eating poop is a way to clean a dog's environment of harmful bacteria.
Harmful bacteria in a dog's stool develops after about two days from elimination, and according to about 1500 dog owner surveys, most dogs who consume poop, whether it's their own poop or another dog's, eat it during that two day period. This inherited trait has a very useful purpose: keeping a wolf's family from getting sick.
Not all dogs eat poop, however. It seems that terriers and hounds are more prone to poop eating than other breeds and, at that, only about 16 percent of all dogs are estimated to be poop-eaters (defined in the study as having been seen by their owners to eat poop at least 6 times in their lives and at least once a week). So the population of canine coprophagics is small, perhaps much smaller now than many generations before.
Maybe we could train dogs to clean it instead of eating it.
Researchers obtained data from another questionnaire that focused on the success of behavioral or commercially available remedial measures; it yielded another approximately 1500 responses. Some of the questions in both surveys overlapped and the researchers found answers to be consistent between the two groups of respondents.
An interesting correlation among the dogs identified as coprophagic was that they tended to be 'greedy' eaters. The other significant correlation was that a high percentage of dogs from both studies, more than 80 percent, were found to eat stool that was less than 2 days old, cementing the theory that continued growth of bacteria 'would be' unhealthy for the 'pack.'
The poop-eating dogs tended to be older than one year but, beyond that, were in no specific age range. They were also house-broken, suggesting that they knew that feces did not belong where they ate. Some dogs also ate dirt and cat poop.
One of the most significant findings of the two studies was that none of the 11 most popular over-the-counter or veterinarian-dispensed products provided to the respondents to reduce coprophagia was successful! Now the study's researchers will focus their attention on developing a poop deterrent that works.
Oh, don't forget to use your poop bags to pick up dog poop. That's what they're for....