ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: How can you stop heelers from eating their feces (and that of turkeys and geese, plus dirt, plants, etc.)? My friend’s 7-month-old heeler is a planet eater! She’s also super hyper and uncontrollable to the point of not being an enjoyable dog.
Dr. Nichol: Coprophagia (stool eating) is certainly disgusting, but in most cases it isn’t a genuine behavior problem, at least not in dogs. That’s because consuming feces seldom reflects an abnormal behavioral motivation. Exceptions are those who eat stool because they have an internal disorder that increases their appetites. Severely compulsive dogs and pets with brain lesions may also eat stool.
It’s likely that your friend’s puppy eats stools because she is wild and unruly, and lacks healthy after-school activities. She needs age-appropriate, species- and breed-specific behavioral opportunities.
A heeler is a working dog. This girl should be gainfully employed, ideally in the herding business that she is genetically programmed to pursue as her life’s work. There is a reason that heelers have so much energy; they are hard-wired to drive livestock all day, every day.
I would urge your friend to join a herding club with this crazy kid. I also recommend obedience classes that do not use prong collars and electric shock. Training won’t dissipate much of this puppy’s energy but when she’s good and tired after an honest day’s labor, she’ll be capable of earning rewards from her leader.
Punishment should be out of the question for this youngster’s nutty behaviors. It would be pointless and unfair to try to teach her to stop because she’s just doing her best to vent her natural tendencies. She doesn’t want to be a bad dog; she needs to be allowed to be who she is. Your friend’s responsibility is to play the hand she’s been dealt and address her heeler puppy’s legitimate needs.
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I am fortunate to have been chosen to give a TED talk. I’ll be speaking in the afternoon on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. You can purchase tickets at TEDxABQ.com. My topic will be “Fear and Anxiety: Treat with Generous Doses of Kindness.” I hope you can come.
Each week, Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109.