Category Archives: Training tips

Your dog eats what????? Dogs who eat faeces

Coprophagia is the ingestion of a dog’s own or other pets’ faeces. While offensive to us it is normal for bitches with young pups and pups exploring their environment. It is only dangerous to dogs if they ingest parasites with the faeces. However, coprophagia in an older dog maybe an indication of a physical or behavioural problem and should be investigated by your veterinarian before trying the remedies listed below.

Common causes of coprophagia:

  • Normal maternal behaviour. A bitch licks her pups to stimulate urination and defecation and then consumes their excrement to keep the nest clean.
  • Normal exploratory behaviour in young pups.
  • Boredom.
  • An inadequate diet. A poorly balanced, low calorie or indigestible diet may drive a dog to consume faeces.
  • An excessive appetite because of a disease such as diabetes or Cushings disease, or because of poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, or because of drugs that stimulate  the appetite like prednisolone, cortisone or thyroxine.
  • Dietary preference. Many dogs think cat faeces are a gourmet delicacy.
  • The poorly digested faeces of a companion dog with digestion or malabsorption problems are attractive to some dogs.
  • Attention seeking behaviour if the dog discovers he gains the immediate attention of his owners when he eats faeces.
  • A coping mechanism in anxious dogs.
  • The rare manifestation of a compulsive disorder

Management:

  • Pick up faeces in the dog’s yard promptly.
  • Restrict outdoor access unless the dog has defecated and the area is free of faeces.
  • Walk dogs on a leash to avoid ingestion outside the yard.
  • Move cat litter trays to an area inaccessible to the dog or provide a covered tray (as long as this is acceptable to the cat).
  • Feed an age appropriate, complete, good quality diet.
  • Provide a more stimulating environment including regular human attention, excursions outside the house yard, walks, doggy play dates, food finding games and activity feeder toys, such as stuffed Kongs, treat balls, bob-a -lots.
  • Add vegetable oil or fibre to meals to soften faeces and make them less attractive.
  • Add the meat tenderiser, papain, to the diet to make faeces less palatable or
  • Add pancreatic enzymes to meals to make faeces less palatable or
  • Add pineapple or grated zucchini to meals to make faeces less palatable or
  • Slip some white pepper or hot chillis into faeces to discourage sniffing and consumption
  • Deworm with Drontal, Milbemax or similar every 3 months.

Training techniques:

  • If your dog defecates on a walk give it a food reward to counter condition it to expect food rather than to search for faeces.
  • Teach your dog to come away from faeces with the command “leave it”. Teach the “leave it” command using a head collar and leash. Walk the dog toward an item he likes to pick up, such as a ball or chew toy. As he reaches for the item say “leave it” and turn the dog’s head using the head collar. As his head comes toward you reward him with a food treat and praise.  Repeat until he turns his head before you pull on the leash. Immediately reward him for turning. Progress to rewarding him for turning away from more valued items such as a juicy bone. Gradually phase out food rewards while retaining the verbal praise. Then use the “leave it” command to discourage investigation of faeces. You could use fake faeces from a joke shop as practice. You could reward obeying a leave command and ignoring faeces with an activity ball.

While coprophagia is distasteful to us it is usually not harmful to the dog as long as he is dewormed every 3 months. It is difficult to wean some dogs of the habit.

Reward-based training

Dogs play an important part in many of our lives. With proper training from an early age, they can learn to interact with people in a positive way.

With this in mind the Australian Veterinary Association has developed a set of practical recommendations for vets and dog trainers on training methods based on positive reinforcement.

Reward-based training: a guide for dog trainers outlines the benefits of reward-based training and identifies some of the problems associated with alternative training methods. It also includes a number of case studies, examples of training and comprehensive list of references for further reading on the subject.

Effect of Training Method on Dog Learning

From Applied Animal Behaviour Science via the RSPCA’s Science Updates Issue 33.

Dogs are trained by their owners using a variety of techniques.
Although the use of reward-oriented training protocols has increased in popularity in recent years, many owners still report using different kinds of punishment, especially for specific, unwanted behaviours, such as stealing an object.

However, there have been few empirical studies on how an owner’s training style affects a dog’s temperament and later ability to learn new tasks.

The authors of this paper surveyed around 50 dog owners in the UK, to ask them about the methods used when training common tasks such as toilet training, sitting on command and walking to heel. The owners were then interviewed in their own homes, and their interactions with their dog were video recorded, especially while training the dog to perform a novel task (touching an object with its nose). The researchers found that dogs owned by subjects who reported using a higher proportion of punishment were less likely to interact with a stranger, and those dogs whose owners favoured physical punishment tended to be less playful.

Dogs whose owners reported using more rewards tended to perform better in the novel training task. Ability at this novel  task was also higher in dogs belonging to owners who were seen to be more playful and who employed a patient approach to training. The authors conclude that, for dog owners, the use of reward-based training appears to be the most beneficial for the dog’s welfare, since it is linked to enhanced learning and a balanced and healthy dog-owner relationship.

Rooney, N.J. & Cowan, S. (2011) Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132: 169-177.

Aggressive Dogs

Meghan Herron, veterinarian author of a recent study on dogs aggressive to other dogs says “the number-one reason why dog owners take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior. Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them, or intimidating them with physical manipulation, do little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.”

The use of such confrontational training techniques can provoke fear in the dog and lead to defensively aggressive behavior toward the person administering the aversive action.

Far better to use non-aversive training methods including:

  • Training the dog to sit for everything it wants (only 2% of owners reported aggression afterward)
  • Rewarding the dog for eye contact (2%)
  • Food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing the item out (6%)
  • Rewarding the dog for “watch me” (0%)

With consistent and regular sessions using these positive methods, aggressive dogs slowly gain confidence in their owners and become easier to take out on walks.

“Canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or the lack of the owner’s ‘alpha’ status,” Heron says, “but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems. Aversive techniques can elicit an aggressive response in dogs because they can increase the fear and arousal in the dog, especially in those that are already defensive.”

These fear inducing, aversive techniques should be avoided:

  • Hitting or kicking the dog (41% of owners reported aggression in response)
  • Growling at the dog (41%)
  • Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)
  • “Alpha roll” (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)
  • “Dominance down” (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)
  • Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)
  • Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)
  • Spraying the dog with a water pistol or spray bottle (20%)
  • Yelling “no” (15%)
  • Forced exposure (to something that frightens the dog, such as tile floors, noise or people) (12%)

Toilet training your new puppy

Toilet training is fundamental to a new pup’s introduction to family life. Start it the minute you get home with her.

Choose a toileting place away from the deck, thoroughfares and busy spots like the clothesline.

Give her plenty of opportunities to go to this place. Take her out to this spot before she has time to find another: as soon as she wakes from a snooze, after food, after play or if she starts to sniff or circle suspiciously.

While she is toileting say “wee” or “potty” so that she learns to toilet on command. This is useful for the last walk before bed or when travelling.

Positive reinforcement is the key to successful toilet training. Immediately reward her after she relieves herself. Praise her with a pat, “good girl” and, especially at first, give her a food treat. Try not to miss an opportunity for rewarding her for the right behaviour and she will soon learn to do the right thing.

Set an alarm to remind you to take her out again so she doesn’t make a mistake.

If she doesn’t go when you take her out, set a 10-15 minute alarm and keep her on lead,  in a crate or with you to prevent any mishaps.

Short term confinement in a crate inhibits elimination and many pups will toilet as soon as they are released. Take advantage of this by rushing her to the chosen place as soon as you open the crate.

If she soils inside ignore her and clean the area with a non-ammonia based cleaning product like Urine-off so she doesn’t use the same place again.

Punishment for toileting inside will associate toileting near you with trouble. She will avoid you and toilet training will be delayed.