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Our dogs chew on all kinds of different things, including rocks. This can lead to intestinal blockages, digestive issues, and choking. But why do dogs eat rocks? Dogs will chew and swallow stones for a variety of reasons. These tips can help prevent or end this damaging behavior so your dog lives a healthier life.
Why Does My Dog Eat Rocks?
A dog eating rocks can be the result of medical, behavioral, or psychological problems. When a dog obsessively eats inedible objects, the cause may be pica, an eating disorder that generally emerges because of a nutritional deficiency in your dog’s diet. Other dogs may have undiagnosed medical disorders like canine diabetes, internal dog parasites or worms in dogs, 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. Your pet may be anxious, annoyed, or frustrated. “They’re going to explore their world and they’re like human babies,” says Mindy Tusko, dog trainer and owner of Pawsitive Results Training.
Curiosity attracts some dogs and puppies to rocks. Tasting different objects allows them to better understand their environments. Smell can also play a role in that attraction, as other animals may have marked the rocks. The stones could also have food remnants on them.
Your dog may be tired of the same routine and activities, even if you think they should be enough. “Boredom is a big problem,” says 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. Pets get bored with their chew toys the same way human children do, so rotate dog toys and introduce new ones.
How Can I Get My Dog to Stop Eating Rocks?
Teach Your Dog Two Important Commands
Basic obedience training is the important 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,” says Tusko. “It could be life-saving for the dogs.”
When you see your dog munching away on a stone, tell them to “drop it” in a calm but firm tone. This teaches them 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,” adds Tusko.
If your dog is expressing an interest in sniffing or nosing around rocks, use the “leave it” command. You’ll want to avoid yelling; if you startle your dog, they may try to get rid of the rock quickly and swallow it (which can cause your dog to choke). 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,” says 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.
Provide Your Dog With Engaging Activities
A dog that’s eating rocks may also be a plea for attention, so build in some bonding time with a shared activity. You can try participating in dog sports. For example, Agility or Herding can give pets positive outlets to funnel their energy into. Training together for a program like Canine Good Citizen (CGC) will help dogs master basic obedience lessons and give them more of the personal attention that they crave. Contact your local AKC club to get started in dog sports or classes.
If your dog is 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. Make sure to supervise dogs that like to eat rocks when they’re loose in the backyard or dog park.
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 or medication, as well as provide advice.
Once your vet rules out medical causes, it’s time to focus on solving behavioral issues. Try any of the tips above and consult a dog trainer for obedience classes. If the cause is pica, your dog will have to work through specialized training with professional animal behaviorists.