Poop Finder Extraordinaire

How my dog rewards me
By Claudia Kawczynska, December 2019

Charlie and Kit sharing a joke.

I do envy people with working dog partners, like those amazing search and rescue dogs who locate lost humans, or those who do scat detection work with conservation researchers. The list is long for the services that dogs’ noses have been put to in helping us. So, it is with a dollop of pride that I want to tell you about my little Terrier Charlie and his uncanny talent for finding his housemate’s poop. He has honed this ability to such a degree that I need to share his latest feat with you.

If you have more than one dog and go on off-leash walks with them, you know that one of the biggest challenges—besides reliable recalls—can be locating their poop. As off-leash advocates we realize the importance of never leaving any behind, and even scoop any “strays” that come our way. So, if one of your pack members is like our Kit, who favors defecating far from any prying human eyes, you’ll see why I’m excited about Charlie’s handy, self-taught skill. Normally Charlie will hang around Kit and stay close to her (probably hoping that her Beagley nose will pick up an interesting scent). Past history has taught me that  if I see her go into a squatting position, what will likely follow is Charlie “marking” her deposits, sometimes, unfortunately, while she is in the act. Strangely, he only does that with Kit, not Lola or any other dog. So, I decided to start to take advantage of this behavior by adding a cue, “find the poop,” and rewarding him. We’ve been working on this field game now for a couple of years. I reward his successes by exuberantly telling him what a grand dog he is. Dear Charlie is one of those rare dogs who seems to value attention and praise from me as much as he does food.

Normally those are nearby and easy poop finds. But on our walk earlier this week, while he was hanging around me and Lola on the paved trail, Kit (who prefers the rear flank) was a lot further afield, maybe 100 feet or more away, up a muddy hillside. Charlie wasn’t paying her any mind whatsoever. But I spotted her just in time to see her squat and gave him the cue “find the poop.” In the blink of an eye off he ran in the direction she was coming from, up the hill, next to a tree and then up goes his hind right leg. As I am scrambling up that darn hill, I have the thought that he misjudged the spot, but then I look down and voilà, there it was, steaming, fresh and definitely Kit’s, ready for the bagging.

I realize that this isn’t a remarkable canine exploit, but I had that satisfying tingle of how a parent must feel when their kid snags a ball up against the fence. And it sure is a good way to start a day. I would love to hear from you about the rewards your dog has treated you to and how they have made your day brighter.