Puppies commonly explore their surroundings by chewing on various items. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, this behavior stops around the age of 6 months. Some dogs never give up this behavior, which is also referred to as pica. If your dog’s nonfood items of choice are rocks, it can result in medical difficulties such as a perforated stomach or intestinal blockage. Stopping the behavior can avoid a high medical bill and potentially save your pet companion’s life.
Things You’ll Need
Food-stuffed dog toys
Visit your veterinarian to rule out medical conditions that may trigger your dog to eat rocks. The ASPCA suggests that various conditions, such as a digestive disorder, poisoning, metabolic disorder or parasitic infestation, can be behind your dog’s problem.
Change your dog’s food. According to Dr. Shawn Messonnier, a veterinarian and founder of the Paws and Claws Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas, switching your dog to a healthier natural diet, or switching from one natural dog food brand to another, can stop the rock-eating behavior. Messonnier states that nutritional supplements added to the diet may also help with nutrient digestion and absorption. Before changing your dog’s food, consult your veterinarian for suggestions and recommendations.
Walk your dog on a leash so you can observe and control his behavior. As an alternative, use a basket muzzle, if you prefer to let him run around. A basket muzzle still allows him to drink water and pant, but it disables him from eating rocks.
Create a safe training space to teach your dog right from wrong. Dr. Kristy Conn, a Long Island veterinarian, suggests fencing off a small area outdoors and raking the grass to eliminate any rocks. Within the fenced off area, introduce your dog to toys. Conn states that playing with toys teaches your dog that there are alternatives to rocks. After a few weeks, place a rock that’s too big to ingest or pick up within the fenced off area with the toys. For extra reinforcement, Conn suggests spraying the rock with a nontoxic dog repellent. Each time your dog goes toward the rock, reprimand him. Praise and reward him each time he picks up a toy.
Startle your dog before he eats a rock. Arm yourself with an air horn and observe your dog closely in a location where he can’t see you. Sound the air horn as soon as you see your dog reaching for the rock. Redirect your dog’s attention to a chew toy and praise him when he responds to it. Use the air horn and toy each time you catch your dog, before the actual act. Remain consistent until he loses interest in rocks. Stay alert and observant even after correcting the behavior, because it may return.
Provide your pet companion with daily mental and physical exercise. Exercising your dog will tire him out and prevent boredom so he’s less likely to look for rocks. Take your dog for long walks at least twice a day — run with him and play tug-of-war or fetch. Provide challenging food-stuffed dog toys and chew toys to keep him busy.
Teach your dog to come to you when you call him. When you foresee a rock-eating incident, command your dog to come to you, before he discovers the rocks. Praise your dog each time he comes to you, whether you called him or not. Teach him to come by running from him while calling him. Praise and reward him when he follows you. Call your dog while you’re in different areas of the house before practicing the command outdoors where there are more distractions.
Avoid verbally scolding your dog when he eats rocks. He may associate rock eating with getting your attention and continue the behavior.
Reward and praise your dog companion when he displays good behavior. It may motivate him to repeat it.
Consult your veterinarian about medications that may reduce your dog’s stress and anxiety so your treatment plan is more effective.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Pica (Eating Things That Aren’t Food)
American Kennel Club: Ask AKC
Pet Care Naturally: Questions for Dr. Shawn
Cesar’s Way: Ask the Vet: Rock-eating “Pica” Pup
University of Saskatchewan: Pica Behavior in the Adult Dog
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called