Our canine companions chew on all kinds of weird things, but among the most dangerous are rocks. Rock eating can lead to intestinal blockages, perforated stomachs, and chocking.
Even though rocks can damage their teeth, gums, and digestive systems, dogs often chew and swallow these earthly items for a variety of reasons. These tips can help prevent or end this damaging behavior so your dog lives a healthier life.
Why Do Dogs Eat Rocks?
Rock eating can be the result of a medical, behavioral, or psychological problem.
When a dog repeatedly eats non-edible objects obsessively, it could be due to pica, an eating disorder that generally emerges because of a nutritional deficiency in their diet. Other dogs may have undiagnosed medical disorders like diabetes, parasites or worms, or tumors. Puppies may bite, chew, or swallow rocks in search of relief from teething pain.
Of course, dogs may also chew on rocks because they want to draw your attention. They could also be anxious, annoyed, or frustrated.
“They’re going to explore their world and they’re like human babies,” said Mindy Tusko, dog trainer and owner of Pawsitive Results Training.
Some dogs and puppies are attracted to rocks out of curiosity, as tasting different objects allows them to better understand their environment. Smell can also play a role in that attraction, as rocks may have been marked by other animals or have food remnants on them.
It could just be that your dog is tired of the same routine, toys, and activities that they are involved in, even if you think they should be enough.
“Boredom is a big problem,” said Tusko, “One of the reasons that we do find dogs are eating rocks is because [they] have nothing else to do.”
Since dogs are highly intelligent and need both mental and physical stimulation, they need to be constantly challenged. Dogs get bored with their chew toys the same way human children do, so rotate chew toys and introduce new ones.
How Can I Get My Dog to Stop Eating Rocks?
Basic obedience training is the crucial first step to stopping this dangerous behavior. Teaching dogs and puppies two important basic commands, “leave it” and “drop it,” is the foundation of successfully destroying this habit.
“Those [commands] are so highly beneficial,” said Tusko. “It could be life-saving for the dogs.”
Using the “drop it” command teaches dogs to safely release the rocks from their mouths. The “leave it” command reinforces a habit of not eating rocks in the first place.
“Proper training needs to start pretty much immediately from the time you get the puppy,” said Tusko.
When you see your four-legged friend munching away, tell them to “drop it” in a calm but firm tone. The same goes for when you see them interested in getting their snouts near rocks, just use “leave it” instead. If you yell and startle them, it could prompt them to quickly get rid of the rock by swallowing it. Then redirect their attention with a toy or a treat as a reward. You can also use physical or verbal praise to reward dogs in addition to or instead of treats. Hugs, belly rubs, compliments, and pets tell your pet that they made the right choice.
“Your love and affection is a very high reward for a dog,” said Tusko.
When dogs understand these commands, they will have an easier time ignoring or dropping rocks. It’ll also make it easier for you to avoid serious health problems and expensive surgeries.
In addition to basic training, increasing daily exercise and playtime will prevent boredom from playing a role in your dog’s rock-eating habits. Try going on longer walks, or playing fetch or tug-of-war together.
Rock-eating may also be a plea for attention, so build in some bonding time with a shared activity. As all dogs require both mental and physical stimulation, dog sports like Agility or Herding can give them positive outlets to funnel their energy into. Training together for a program like Canine Good Citizen (CGC) will help them master basic obedience lessons and give them more of the attention from you that they crave. Contact your local AKC club to get started in dog sports or training classes.
If your dogs are spending time with you outdoors, they may chew rocks out of boredom or to draw your attention. Providing them with a chew toy outside can help occupy their time and fight off boredom. Dogs with a tendency to eat rocks set loose in the backyard or dog park also need to be supervised at all times.
What to Do if your Dog Eats Rocks
If you have a rock-chewer at home, make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can perform a physical examination to determine if your dog has an underlying health condition or nutritional deficiency. If the behavior stems from a health condition, your veterinarian can recommend special diets, medication, or advice.
Once any medical causes are ruled out, it’s time to focus on solving behavioral issues. Try any of the tips above and consult a dog trainer for obedience classes. If it’s pica, your dog will have to work through specialized training with professional behaviorists.
Have a non-urgent medical question? AKC Vetline is a live, 24/7 service staffed by licensed veterinary staff and pet professionals. Get unlimited access to answers about your pet’s health and wellness whenever and wherever you need it from a source you know you can trust.