Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
So why are dogs so picky about where they poop? Why do they have to spend so much time contemplating a good spot and then go in circles sniffing before they finally pick a spot and relieve themselves? If you are the owner of such a dog, I can practically hear you sighing as—after many circles and many minutes—your dog squats down, signaling that you can finally go home. I think I can also hear you swearing on those frigid winter days when it's pouring rain and 50-MPH winds turn your umbrella into a useless gadget.
If you feel like your dog deserves applause or a standing ovation after pooping, you know you have a picky pooper that may be driving you crazy. It almost feels as if pooping requires the concentration of an airline pilot trying to land a plane in high winds or a pianist sweating over the keyboard as he frantically plays a complex piece of music. Yet, pooping seems so easy for other dogs, all they have to do is squeeze and they're done. So what gives?
This is a case where we would be blessed if dogs could talk. Wouldn't it be great if Rover could simply tell us: "Look I only like to poop in this spot and on this surface". Things would be much easier that way, as we could try our best to accommodate the dog's wishes. Instead, we're often left with most of the guesswork. And that's what we'll be going over in the next paragraphs as we can only make assumptions on what is really going on in Rover's mind.
Why Is My Dog Picky About Where He Poops?
For starters, let's consider that the world from Rover's perspective is quite different from ours. Pooping in dogs has much more functionality than just eliminating his earlier meals. When humans do their business, it's just that—a deed to be done fast; but from a dog's mindset, pooping entails much more than that. Let's take a look at what pooping must feel like from a dog's perspective.
It's the Canine's Form of Tweeting
Just as you use Twitter and other social networks to leave a message for others to read, in the doggy world, pooping is a less romantic way to communicate.
"Rover was here" is what a dog may be saying when he leaves some stool in a strategic location. Blessed with more than 220 million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs will surely be interested in your doggy's daily headlines.
Yes, dogs can mark with their poop other than with their pee. So if your dog is taking a long time to poop, most likely he is looking for the perfect location where his poop can be noticed, and yes, it must also "smell right."
Your dog may be also looking for some leftover scent of another dog so he can happily mark over it and leave his own message.
Ever wondered why some dogs go around in circles before pooping? This behavior is often seen also before a dog is about to lie down and is an instinctual behavior to crush tall grass to make a soft bed and scare away any unwanted critters such as bugs or snakes.
In the case of pooping, this behavior may occur so the poop becomes more evident (and isn't hidden by the grass) and so nasty critters stay away when a dog is in such a vulnerable position, but it could also be so that the scent of the fresh crushed grass works as a bonus attractant. This instinct is so ingrained, dogs keep on doing this even when there is no grass, as seen in dogs who religiously turn around several times before lying down.
It's Not Time to Go Yet
Sometimes, the dog is not being picky, but he simply doesn't have to go. When your dog is fed on a predictable schedule, his poop may come out predictably at the same times every day as well. This is why it's so important for young puppies to adhere to a strict puppy feeding schedule, so you can predict when you can take your puppy out to eliminate.
So if you take your dog out at the same time every day and he doesn't go, perhaps you want to try taking him out a bit later, when his need is a bit more urgent and he is less likely of making you lose time.
In such a case though, make sure you gradually increase the time and keep an eye on your dog if he isn't housebroken yet; he may anticipate you and leave a little present on your favorite Oriental rug.
There's an Underlying Medical Problem
If your dog takes quite a while to poop, you must evaluate if your dog perhaps has some form of a medical problem. It's not uncommon for some dogs to take a lot to poop because they are constipated dogs, have painful anal glands or even have something as serious as an intestinal blockage.
In some cases, dogs affected by diarrhea may feel like they need to poop and will strain inconclusively; the medical term for this is tenesmus. In this case, the dog may have a bout of colitis. See your vet if your dog seems to have difficulty pooping, is straining, moaning as he poops or seems in any pain. Keep a watchful eye on your dog and report anything abnormal to your vet.
Your Dog Does Not Feel Safe
It takes some touch of confidence for a dog to decide to poop. In other words, when a dog is nervous about his surroundings, he may inhibit his need to eliminate. For instance, placing a dog scared of noises in a balcony where construction workers across the street and causing a cacophony of loud noises, will likely cause the dog to hide or at least feel uncomfortable. Elimination won't just happen in this case!
Make sure your dog has a safe, quiet place to eliminate where he feels safe. If your dog refuses to poop in your yard, but then poops the moment he comes in the house, evaluate if there's something in your yard that worries him. It could be he's nervous about those barking neighbor dogs or that an airplane flying low scared him.
It's not unheard of for dogs kept in yards with electronic fences to be scared of eliminating in the "mean yard" and to eliminate in the home instead. In this case, the dog is not being "picky" but is simply scared.
Your Dog Is Sticking to Old Habits
Dogs don't like changes too much and dogs aren't great in generalizing. If your dog is picky, it may be that he is looking for a certain type of surface or for an area where he has previously soiled. Yes, dogs as puppies tend to develop what is known as a "substrate preference," a favorite material to use for eliminating and this preference may stick in their brains.
It's a good idea to pay attention to your dog's preferences, especially in a newly adopted dog. If you just got a new puppy and he was paper trained, he may not like to use grass. Try to bring some paper and put it on some grass.
As seen, there are many possible causes for your dog to be picky where he poops. Always rule out medical problems if you are unsure and pay extra attention to where he prefers to soil. The next paragraph will offer some tips to make your dog poop faster.
How to Get Your Dog to Poop Faster
So you're tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for your dog to poop? Dogs after all aren't that different than humans sometimes. Raise your hand if you ever enjoyed reading the newspaper while sitting on the toilet. In the same way, your dog may like to read the "canine tweets and headlines" left from other dogs on walks. Yet, if you want to speed up the pooping process here are a few tips:
1. Try to figure out at what time your dog is faster to poop.
As mentioned, if you take your dog out every day at 5 to walk, and he poops at the end of the walk at say 5: 45, try taking him out the next day at 5:20, then at 5;30 and then at 5:45. Keep a chart on his progress so you can track his progress.
2. Walk your dog.
If you take your dog to the same potty area in your yard every single day, your dog may not want to poop because in nature dogs are used to walk a lot and walking stimulates peristalsis, and therefore, elimination. Walking your dog may encourage your dog to poop and will also help meet his exercise and mental stimulation needs.
3. Reward your dog for pooping by using high-value treats.
Treat after treat, your dog learns that great things happen when he poops so he'll be eager to get that poop going just to get the treat. Make sure you keep your treats hidden in a pocket though, as the sight of a treat may distract him. Wait for him to finish pooping and then say "good boy" and hand him the treat.
This can be really a great way to expedite the process and will help dogs generalize the potty area. I have taught my dogs to go potty on command and this has helped tremendously when we traveled and the dogs had to poop in unfamiliar areas. The familiar command can do wonders in such a case and can help make things faster.
5. Install a pheromone-treated stake.
Placing such a stake in a certain area may help your dog to reliably poop there. There are mixed reviews on such products. Alternatively, if your dog poops in the home, try taking his mess and placing it in a precise spot in the yard so your dog knows that that's his new bathroom area.
These tips should help your dog become less picky and poop more reliably. As mentioned, always see your vet first if something doesn't look right, and then once your dog has received a clean bill of health, start assessing the other possibilities and try some options.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: What does a dog's white dry poop mean?
Answer: It can mean different things. If it's white due to presence of mucus, the mucus is indicative of inflammation. Your dog may have eaten something white. Dogs who eat bones may also produce white stools. If it happens often, there's a disorder where dogs aren't capable of digesting fat due to a lack of pancreatic enzymes and that may cause white stools in dogs.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 08, 2020:
-Hi Emmarentia, this can be frustrating when it happens. I would have a vet check in case this is a new behavior. I would also evaluate whether there is something outside that is concerning her and what happens inside the home just prior to these accidents.
Emmarentia on May 08, 2020:
My dog goes and do her rotien on the grass and you never have to ask her to go out of the house to do it but somtimes she just go and do her job in the house and the house is oppen for her to go out
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 23, 2018:
It's not easy to determine why Harley refuses using it but it can simply be that she may not want to mark over Lola's business. Some dogs are that way. You might have to get two and direct each to their own at first, afterward they should learn to use their own. Hopefully! Challenging situation you have there.
Keeley G on January 07, 2018:
We have a porch potty on our terrace which Harley happily used, then we got Lola who now uses the porch potty. Harley now refuses to use it, why and what can you advise? If we buy another porch potty and Lola uses that one too, we'll still be left with a problem.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 20, 2017:
You would have to tackle this from several perspectives. Is your dog scared of something outside? Has he always been this way? What is there in the fall to make this behavior happen? Are there wildlife outside? Here are a few tips; feed at the same times each day so that you can predict at what time he's more likely to potty. If the accidents happen around the same time each day, do not let him inside until he relieves himself. Stay out with him and when he does, praise and give a treat. If he doesn't go potty and yo need to go back inside, keep him on a leash with you nearby the door so that the moment you notice he is about to go, you can quickly escort him outside.
Paul H. on October 20, 2017:
I let my dog out to poop and all he dose is walk the fence sniffing and will not go out in yard, we let him out several times a day and he won't poop then he comes in and poops in the house. This only seems it only starts in the fall. Please help. Ty.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 07, 2016:
Monet, you'll be surprised, but many service dogs are trained to poop on cue. My dogs were trained since puppies, and as soon as they're taken out, they go potty. Nobody forces them to, all we say is "go potty" and they just go as they associate the word with going. If they don't need to, it's OK,, they'll let us know and we'll take them out again later.
Monet on October 09, 2016:
I have 2 shih tzu's one is very regular and not picky at all for pooping.
However, the girl takes sometimes forever. I have learned some of her signs.
When she is ready to try to poop, she gives a good full body shake beginning with her nose to her tail.
We do live on 50 acres, but we only use the area around the house.
We have had a cougar and a black bear on the property but not in the last 2 years.
I wanted to say, that we need to remember, can YOU poop on command? I certainly can not.
We have to learn to be more patient, sometimes they simply do not have to go poop!
So we bring them back inside, and take them out after the next feeding...
They also have specific signs if they need to go outside. So you have to be aware. They are not a book that you put back on the shelf...
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 30, 2015:
I am sorry to hear you're not happy. To precise, I am not just an avid dog owner, please see my biography or Google my name. I deal with picky poopers on a daily basis because of my business. If you are looking for studies on this, there's scarce information as this is something that is not being researched much. If you need specific help with anything, just ask if this article was not helpful to you. I'll be more than happy to provide you with some insight.
anonymous on April 30, 2015:
No factual data or studies just an avid dog owner who is basing all assumptions on intuition and feelings. Does not help
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 10, 2013:
Both my dogs used to get really picky when monsoon season was around the corner. Since it's dry almost year-round, they used to not want to poop on the wet grass.
Shasta Matova from USA on May 10, 2013:
I am reading this as Zeus is refusing to go outside even though the thunderstorm has already passed our area. Great timing! It is funny how we worry about our dog's elimination habits just like we worry about our babies.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 09, 2013:
Barbara, I used to get soaked wet during monsoon season in Arizona when my dogs refused to potty in the rain, here was my ordeal:
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 09, 2013:
Hi Wetnose, dogs are funny in many ways. I was one of the owners who used to wait hours for my dogs to poop, luckily now they pee an poop on command at the same hours each day.
Barbara Badder from USA on May 09, 2013:
I've felt impatient before. Now I know why the dogs do the weird things they do.
wetnosedogs from Alabama on May 09, 2013:
Got some chuckles out of this, but also learned a few things about the furry friends.