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Behaviourist's Corner

Why does my dog poo that way? Toilet habits explained


Your dog's toilet habits may not be your favourite subject, but it's one you're likely to be more than familiar with. Still, do you know why your pet might like to do his business in strange places - or worse, while making eye contact? Our expert gets to the bottom of some perplexing poo behaviours.


Techniques for number twos

Your pet's toilet habits can be confusing, and might even cause quite a stink (both figuratively and literally). Even though pooing is a perfectly natural business, dogs' behaviours when doing the deed can be as varied as canines are themselves.

'You see every different type of behaviour when it comes to dogs' toilet habits,' says Huw Stacey, a veterinary behaviourist and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets. 'You get some dogs that sit down as if they're going to read the paper. Some will look right at you when doing their business, and some will look everywhere except at you. Then there are some that are far too busy to even sit still and so they do it on the run.'

Laura Turnill's cockapoo, Barney, likes to poo higher up - including on top of a sandcastle last summer. 'A preference for heights is quite common,' says Huw. 'Some dogs like to poo in the highest place they can get to. Pooing somewhere really visible is a behaviour called "middening". It's a territorial signal and, to make it as effective as possible, the dog does it somewhere really obvious, such as the sandcastle in this case.'

On the other hand, Alex Burrows' miniature schnauzer, Eric, always likes to go next to the park's dog-poo bin. Is he being thoughtful? 'One reason for this might be that animals tend to have preferred locations that they go back to,' explains Huw. 'While I haven't come across a dog deliberately pooing by a bin, it may be that Eric goes there because he can smell lots of other dogs in that area and so deliberately wants to leave his mark.'

Keep track of toileting habits

While these are all completely natural ways for your dog to go about his business, if you notice a sudden change, it could be a sign that something is amiss. 'Once house-trained, dogs will tend to stick to a routine,' Huw says. 'Some will always go in their garden and some will go as soon as they get out on a walk. Individual preferences and times of day will all factor into a dog's habits, but these won't usually change without an explanation.'

Unlike cats, which can have accidents when stressed, house-trained dogs are very unlikely to have an 'oops' moment. 'If your dog is trained to go outside, it's uncommon that he'll have accidents inside,' Huw says. 'However, if a dog is very frightened - for example, of fireworks - this could make him too spooked to go out at night, and he might start going in the house.

'If the problem persists, it's important to have your dog checked over by your vet,' Huw adds. 'Sometimes, what may look like a behavioural issue could actually be caused by an underlying medical problem.'

For example, if your dog leaves unwanted parcels for you in the house, it could be that he's eaten something that's upset his system and caused a bout of diarrhoea. Another cause could be joint problems; a dog that is in pain might not want to exert himself to make the trip outside, as it could worsen his discomfort.

While scooping up and examining your dog's poo is no one's idea of fun, it does pay to keep track of his toileting habits. If he seems to go more often, or not as often as he once used to, or if there's a change in the consistency of his poos that lasts more than two or three days, speak to your vet straight away.


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