Curbing your dog's attraction to cat poop may take some creativity

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Bad dog! Stay out of the cat box!

Bad dog! Stay out of the cat box! (Iconica photo/via Getty Images)

Merrick Pet Foods recently conducted a contest via Facebook, asking readers to ask me: "Why does my dog...?" The first 20 responders received a copy of "Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27). The book was written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and co-edited by myself, and veterinary behaviorists Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi.

Here are some of those questions, just the sort of queries we answered in "Decoding Your Dog."

Q. Why does my dog eat cat poop? -- N.J., via cyberspace

A: There are three reasons:

1. It tastes good.

2. Because they can.

3. It tastes good.

For dogs, there's simply no better condiment. Cat poop is rich in protein. Also, consider canine sensibilities; delicacies may even include their own stool.

The problem with eating cat droppings is that -- aside from being gross to us -- it can throw off a dog's housetraining, there's a potential for parasite transmission, and there are lots of calories in cat poop.

Another issue is that some cats are offended when smelly canines investigate and invade their meticulously cared for litter boxes, potentially causing some cats to avoid their boxes and have accidents.

There are all sorts of ways to curb this habit. Sometimes, it's merely a matter of litter box positioning, angling the box such that cats can hop right in, but dogs can't stick their noses in. But most dogs aren't so easily deterred.

There are baby gates on the market with a door big enough for a cat to enter but too small for a mid-sized or larger dog. Or you could buy a standard baby gate and cut a hole through it. Be aware, though, that persistent dogs will knock over gates.

As an alternative, install a doggy door which electronically opens when a cat approaches wearing a "magic collar." Check out http://www.cathole.com or http://www.petdoors.com.

You could also control how far the doors open to the room with the litter box by using a Peek-a-Boo latch: http://www.woofwoofcastle.com/.

If you're a softie and think your pup misses eating those cat turds, check out dog treats shaped like cat poop at http://www.catlogsfordogs.com.

Q: Why does my dog roll around in cat feces when she finds it in our backyard? -- C.R., via cyberspace

A: For the same reason we dab perfume or cologne on ourselves. Many dogs find this as repugnant as we find their habit of rolling in cat or deer droppings, dead fish, or the carcasses of dead critters in the woods. I suppose you can chalk this up to a cultural difference.

Q: Why does my dog snatch dog treats out of my hand and run off with them? It's like he'd rather eat them in private. -- C.C., Cyberspace

A: If your dog runs off and chomps on the treats in private, neither you nor another dog can take them away. Dogs are hard-wired to eat as their ancestors did in secluded spots where other animals can't snatch their food away.

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