German Shepherd dog owners love their dogs for all kinds of reasons. However, poop eating sure isn’t one of them!
In fact, if there is one behavior that seems literally designed to provoke the up-chuck reflex in you, it is the sight of your GSD going to town on their own pile of steaming poo.
Why do German Shepherds eat their own poop? Is there any medical issue that might cause poop eating? How can you stop your GSD from eating their own stools? That is exactly what this article is going to investigate.
Why Do German Shepherds Eat Their Own Poop?
German Shepherds may eat their own poop for any number of reasons.
Dietary deficiency, diseases, copycat behavior, behavioral problems, and even ancient genetic instincts may be reasons why your GSD eats their own stool, as the American Kennel Club (AKC) points out.
Learn About Coprophagia from a Canine Veterinarian
This helpful and informative YouTube video introduces you to a new term – “coprophagia.”
Coprophagia (“cop-ruh-fey-gee-yuh”) is the medical term for poop eating – their own poop or the poop of other animals.
This term applies equally to dogs, cats, and other pets. In the rest of this article, we will talk about the many reasons why you might catch your German Shepherd eating their own stool.
Common Reasons Why German Shepherds Eat Their Own Poop
So now let’s turn our attention to understanding why on earth your well-fed, much-loved German Shepherd dog might feel the need to eat their own poop.
Your German Shepherd Dog Eats Stool Because They Are Hungry
Believe it or not, this isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. While it is unlikely your dog is physically feeling hunger pangs when they go to eat their stool, it is quite possible there is an underlying dietary deficiency driving the behavior.
As VCA Animal Hospitals explains, dietary deficiency in dogs can arise from a number of different potential causes.
Hidden food imbalance
Even if you are feeding your GSD a dog food that is labeled as “complete and balanced,” studies have shown that what the manufacturer label states are in the dog food does not always match the chemical analysis of that food.
As this iFeeder report indicates, analyzing pet foods is big business in and of itself, and there is a lot of money riding on manufacturer reputation.
This can make it particularly challenging to determine exactly what is in your dog’s food and whether it provides what the label says it provides. So often you have to look for other clues – such as poop eating – to detect when there may be a mismatch.
This is true even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to use labels like “complete and balanced” only if the food meets a certain set of strict nutritional criteria.
When a dog is missing certain vital nutrients, they may go back to their own poop to try to absorb more nutrition from each portion of the food they eat.
This is a practice that is so essential for some mammals (such as guinea pigs) that they die if not permitted to engage in coprophagy.
Luckily, dogs do not have a genetic nutritional need to eat their poop. But they may do so if their diet is chronically lacking.
Your dog has parasites
When your dog has parasites, they are essentially eating for the parasites as well as for their own health and nutrient needs.
Unfortunately, eating poop is one of the primary ways that a dog can pick up parasites like hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm in the first place, as Vetz Insight explains.
Even if you don’t see other evidence that your German Shepherd has parasites, if your dog starts to eat poop more frequently, it is time to get your veterinarian to do a fecal culture.
Your dog can’t absorb the nutrients in food well
The presence of parasites is the number one cause for medically-induced canine coprophagy. But it is not the only potential trigger.
Deficiencies in certain key digestive enzymes may also be a culprit.
As PetMD explains, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI, is the best-known medical problem that can result in coprophagy in dogs.
The pancreas is responsible for producing a number of important digestive enzymes along with insulin. EPI arises when the pancreas isn’t pumping out enough digestive enzymes to absorb the nutrients from the food your dog eats.
Researchers believe that when EPI shows up in a German Shepherd, it may be genetic.
There are two main reasons for EPI: pancreatitis and idiopathic pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA). The latter is caused by defective cells. The former can be genetic or induced and may also be triggered by canine diabetes.
EPI’s classic symptoms include the following:
- Weight loss (that isn’t explained for any other reason).
- Ongoing issues with diarrhea.
- Chronic flatulence.
- Increased stool output.
- Eating stool.
Interestingly, some German Shepherds that only seem to want to eat the stool of a particular dog may actually be responding to disease in the other dog.
In other words, if the other dog can’t absorb the nutrients in their food well enough, there will be more nutritional value leftover in the stool and your German Shepherd may be attracted to it for that reason.
Drugs are causing poop eating
The American Kennel Club (AKC) states that sometimes drugs used to treat canine health issues like diabetes, Cushing’s disease (a disease of the adrenal glands), thyroid disease, or autoimmune conditions may cause an increase in hunger or a desire to eat poop.
If your dog’s poop eating seems to have gotten worse (or simply started) after going on medication for another health condition, it could possibly be that the medication is causing a higher degree of hunger that in turn is triggering the coprophagia.
Your GSD has pika
As West Park Animal Hospital points out, pika (“pie-kuh”) is a condition where the animal eats non-food items.
This can include stool, although it can also extend to other non-food objects like rocks, grass, leaves, stones, sticks, fabrics, and more.
While most cases of pica are considered to be linked to behavior rather than medical problems, with coprophagy there can be a clear medical component as well.
If your German Shepherd has a tendency to eat poop and other items that are not on the menu of a typical canine (or are not on any menu at all), your pet may be suffering from pica.
Your German Shepherd Dog Eats Poop for Behavioral Reasons
If your dog has been evaluated and tested and your canine veterinarian has ruled out a possible medical cause for coprophagia, the other main area to look at is behavioral.
In other words, German Shepherds that are healthy otherwise may still choose to eat their own poop.
But why, you are probably wondering? This is what we will look at in the next section.
Your GSD puppy is curious about their poop
When your German Shepherd puppy was born, they couldn’t even pee and poop for themselves. GSD puppies, like all puppies, rely on the mother dog to lick them and remind them to do their business.
Learning how to poop on their own is a big part of early puppyhood. It is a big deal!
While we can’t know this for sure, it is quite possible that puppies who play with their poop or eat it are simply exploring their sensory world.
Your GSD puppy wants more of your attention
German Shepherds are one of those dog breeds that are known to be particularly needy and even “clingy.” They really need and crave human company and will do just about anything to get it.
When your GSD puppy came home with you, potty training became a big part of daily life. Your puppy probably got lots of attention and praise when it was potty time and things went well.
In the same way, if your puppy pooped in the house, they likely got quite a bit of attention for this as well – you might not have been happy about it, but your puppy was because your attention was focused on them.
So it is quite possible for your puppy (or even adult dog) still returns to playing with and/or eating their own poop as a very reliable way to get your attention.
As Canine Journal explains, a poorly trained and socialized or previously traumatized German Shepherd may resort to poop eating rather than seeking attention in more positive and acceptable ways.
For example, let’s say you rescued an adult German Shepherd dog that had previously been “disciplined” for inappropriate elimination by having their nose rubbed in their own poop.
This outdated and ineffective form of training is now thought to actually encourage coprophagia in dogs that have been subjected to it. The dog may start to eat their poop to hide it and avoid further discipline.
Along the same lines, German Shepherd dogs can be especially prone to developing separation anxiety, which is another behavioral issue that is linked to poop eating.
Your German Shepherd is acting out of instinct
While this explanation walks a fine line between genetics and behavior, wild canid females have often been observed eating the feces of their young to try to remove the scent and throw potential predators off the trail.
Some canine behaviorists have theorized that domestic dogs may also eat their own poop or their puppies’ poop for the same basic reason – it is a protective instinct.
But what about when male puppies or adult GSDs do this? In this case, canid behaviorists think it may have to do with puppies watching their mother eat poop and picking up the behavior from her.
After all, canid pups in the wild have to learn everything from their mother and would be carefully watching and mimicking everything she does – including eating their own poop.
How to Deal With German Shepherds Eating Their Own Poop
Unfortunately, once a German Shepherd gets into the habit of eating their own poop, it can be hard to break them of this behavior.
According to a research study reported in Live Science, the majority of dog owners that have tried to discourage stool eating in their dogs have experienced low or no success.
However, this is not to say it is impossible to train your dog not to eat their own poop. You will just need a lot of patience and persistence to find what works to discourage your German Shepherd from eating poop.
Remove access to the poop
While this may sound like a tall order, the most effective way to keep your German Shepherd from eating their own poop is to simply make sure there isn’t any poop to eat!
This will require consistent, determined effort on your part. You will need to watch your GSD closely on potty breaks and quickly remove the feces and dispose of it in a secure location.
If your dog goes out at night or early in the morning, you will need to bring a flashlight to make sure you see where the poop is and can pick it up right away.
Teach “leave it” with the poop
If your German Shepherd hasn’t learned the “leave it” command yet, this is a good one for discouraging poop eating behaviors.
When you teach “leave it,” you will essentially be redirecting your dog’s attention away from the poop and towards you. Then you will reinforce this with praise, pats, treats, and attention.
Train elimination with immediate recall
An alternative to “leave it” that works even better in some situations is when you train your German Shepherd to poop in a specific location and then immediately come back to you.
This way, you always know where to look to pick up the stool and your GSD is not lingering near it long enough to potentially eat it.
Add something to make the poop taste bad
To dog owners, the idea that poop doesn’t already taste bad is guaranteed to make your head spin. But to dogs, it is quite possible they just eat poop because they like it!
This can have an unexpected benefit if you need to train your GSD not to eat their own poop.
As PetCareRX highlights, there are soft chews and additives available that may change the taste of the poop to make it undesirable.
Foods like zucchini and pineapple can also change the tastebuds and may make poop (and everything else) taste different from your dog.
Use a head or muzzle restraint
This is not an ideal choice for training your German Shepherd dog not to eat poop for two reasons.
One, restraints can be difficult to manage and your dog may be very determined to get out of a neck cone or head collar.
And two, if your dog decides to mash their muzzle or restraint down on the poop to try to eat it anyway, then you have to clean it and your dog.
But if nothing else is working, it is certainly worth a try.
Change something in your GSD’s home environment
If your dog’s coprophagia stems from a behavioral issue, sometimes changing the environment can change the behavior.
For example, if your GSD has developed separation anxiety, this can require special and intense training to overcome. You may need to temporarily put your dog in a daycare program or hire a dog sitter to keep your anxious GSD from eating their own poop.
Alternately, if your German Shepherd hates their crate or some other aspect of their living space, you may need to explore an alternate arrangement for when you need to confine your dog.
Add more excitement to your dog’s life
Your dog may also eat poop out of loneliness or simple boredom.
German Shepherds are extremely intelligent working dogs that have been bred for more than a century to work hard at difficult, demanding, and sometimes dangerous jobs.
This is why GSDs can be difficult to keep as pet dogs, especially if they don’t get enough daily exercise, playtime, and training because their owners are at school or at work and don’t have a lot of free time.
Your dog may be bored and lonely and acts out because eating poop is something to do to fill the time.
You may find that adding more canine athletics, taking your dog for more walks, adding some additional playtime, and using more puzzle toys and treat toys work to tire out your dog and keep poop eating behavior at bay.
Remember, above all else, your German Shepherd dog wants your attention, time, and love. More of you often equals less eating poop.