Scatological Material, or, Much Ado About Poo

Let the title be your warning! This post is about…scat.

Wild scat. Left by wild animals in the wild, in the forest my dogs and I spend much of our time traversing.

I first heard the term “scatological material” when a college professor, teaching English history, used it. I’ve searched for ways to use it in conversation ever since.

But I digress. Back to actual scatological material. (See how I just used that in a sentence?) I’m fascinated by the natural world around me, plants, animals, earth and sky. Scat is part of that world. It’s…everywhere.

As I run or walk through the forest with my dogs, my eyes are constantly moving, first along the ground in front of me, planning every foot placement to prevent tripping, then on the dogs, the near landscape around us, and sometimes on the far vistas. As I scan what’s around me, I also listen, and smell. But all of my senses pale in comparison to those of my dogs, so I keep close attention to what they’re seeing, smelling, and hearing. They’re my alert system, my first warning that something usual is about.

Often, their forward progress through the forest comes to a sudden halt when they see or smell a pile of wildlife scat on or near our path. They investigate, sometimes quickly, other times with more interest. I used to wonder why, with their keen sense of smell, they virtually plant their nostrils onto something as disgusting (to me) as poop as they sniff. But they’re inhaling chemical compounds far beyond what we humans can detect. A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 more acute than ours. Chemical compounds emanating from some material – scat, food, a person, another dog – are dispersed into the air, which is why you often see a dog, nose uplifted, sniffing what’s wafting on and diluted by the breeze. Getting up close and personal with the object of their interest for a close sniff allows them to inhale and collect those compounds, providing them all of the information offered by those chemical traces.

Sometimes, though, Conall eats the scat.

Gross, right? It’s mostly Conall who does this, and mostly happened when he was a puppy learning about his world, but still occasionally – like this morning – he finds scat he wants to eat.

I have my own theories on why this is, why a dog like Conall eats wild scat, based on years of observations of my dogs, young and old. This afternoon I put over a thousand words on the page about this topic for the book I’m writing. Why even include the topic? Whether we want to admit it or not, we humans have been obsessed with poo since the dawn of time. And for good reason: it speaks volumes not just about our own health, but about the location and health of animals nearby, animals that provide food or that might harm us. Important stuff. Our dogs know that scat offers key information, and paying attention to what dogs pay attention to can divulge useful information to us humans about the activity of local wildlife.

One aspect of finding wild scat that amuses me is the way certain canids – mostly coyote and fox – display their scat for all to see. It’s part of their territory marking, but honestly, in some cases it clearly takes some serious skill to plant that pile where they want it!

Some examples I’ve been recording this summer:

At least the scat piles are obvious enough that even I, a mere human, can avoid stepping in them.

Since I don’t want to leave you with those scatological imagines crowding your mind, here’s something more pleasant to end with, a vista from this morning’s foray in the forest…

trees, mountains

Feature image: my boys ushering me toward a vista during this morning’s walk.

14 thoughts on “Scatological Material, or, Much Ado About Poo”

  1. Hi, I have had a similar experience with my dog eating poo. The wonderful dog trainer I had finally had a sensible explanation (I would have thought the vet would have had this info…). Puppies eat mama’s poo to balance bacteria in their intestines for good gut health – kind of like humans and probiotics. Unfortunately, not all dogs grow out of this stage. As in my dog who also has a very sensitive stomach – probably related. He does much better when I feed him yogurt. I just thought I would share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s not unusual, and conventional wisdom for caprophagy (dogs eating dog poop) that makes sense. Eating scat of wild animals is, I believe, different, more related I think to learning about that particular animal. But that’s only my own observational theory 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love finding scat on the trail. It’s the best. I loved in California in the fall finding coyote scat with seeds from the prickly pear fruit. When I first moved back here and wasn’t thinking, didn’t have my Rocky Mountain mind yet (no bears in Southern California) I let my dogs run off leash in the wee hours in the field behind the cabin where I stayed. One morning we took our daylight walk and there was fresh bear scat. That was like, “Uh, Martha, you gotta’ get real now… You DO have a flashlight, right? Bear spray?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lots of black bear scat here. Oddly, the dogs always ignore it, don’t even sniff it. Unfortunately my Aussie loves chasing bears; thankfully my Mal warns me if they’re nearby so I can leash the Aussie before he gets a chance to chase. Here the black bears are as skittish of people and dogs as the other wildlife so I don’t worry about encounters. Since the wildlife is fairly elusive, their scat at least lets me know they’re out there, that the forest is healthy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We have our own scat inspection here in Edmonds. For instance we know a big dog likes to leave its piles on the sidewalk. The owner doesn’t seem to mind either. So I too scan right, left, down and forward looking for the dangerous spots. It is extremely dangerous when large maple leaves hide the evidence. Poo in foot tread is one of my most hated experiences. I’ve been known to do a close inspection of said poo to see the color of fur left behind by the offending dog or dogs (white fur in one example). I have not photographed it however. You win.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. #1…. Much Ado About Poo? Best blog title ever!
    #2…. We have numerous piles of unidentified poo on our property, but thankfully no canine to ingest it. Ick!
    #3…. As usual, gorgeous scenic shot.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I have to tell you, this post is full of shit! Sorry, had to do it. Feel free to roll your eyes and groan.

    When I am walking my dogs in the city I often get admonished by other walkers by not “controlling” my dogs when I let them pretty much drag me to whatever they want to sniff. I explain to them, it’s their way of “seeing” and experiencing the world around them and if I am going to take them on a walk I want them to get the most out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I only groaned a little. I agree, dogs need to use their senses and deserve as much freedom as possible to do so. A huge part of why I live in rural Idaho is because my dogs can be off-leash in the forest, free to follow their noses. Of course, that freedom results in the occasional skunking, but it’s a risk we’re all willing to take.

      Liked by 1 person

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