Training Tips: How to Keep A Dog From Eating Rocks
Dogs can pick up some interesting habits, and not all of them are funny or healthy. Pica, or “eating things that aren’t food” are one of these habits.
Pica is very common in dogs who are bored or who are experiencing nutritional deficiencies due to a poor diet. However, pica is most common in puppies, who prefer to explore everything with their mouths (much as a human toddler). This is one more reason why you should “puppy-proof” your home prior to bringing one home.
Many dogs treat rocks like toys, tossing them into the air, fetching them or carrying them as they run through the yard in hopes someone will chase them. If not taken care of early on in life, it can become a compulsive behavior – one that brings you, the pet owner, a lot of veterinarian bills and grief.
Rock eating is one of the most common forms of pica and it can also be one of the more deadly. This is why it’s very important to help your pet stop eating rocks.
There are ways to train your pets to avoid eating rocks. Here are a few easy and inexpensive ways to keep your pets from eating or playing with rocks:
This helps the dog gets lots of rewards for being close to rocks but not eating or chewing on them – she gets food when she pushes rocks aside![load_module id=”210″] [heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]2. Take her on a leash to an area where there are rocks.[/heading]
Stand at a safe distance so she can’t get the rocks. If she’s really obsessed – which I have had to deal with – and she’s just fixated on the rocks, wait until she finally stops staring at the rocks and looks away, then reward her with a jackpot of treats or have a party with tennis balls or Frisbees (at night, you could use a Nite Ize Flashflight L.E.D Light Up Flying Disc ) or WHATEVER SHE WANTS AS MUCH OR MORE THAN THE ROCKS! A bit of kibble isn’t going to cut it! Repeat many many times.
Get closer & closer to the rocks, gradually, until you can walk around them and over them without her taking any notice of them.
This behavior is usually the result of a combination of boredom (to start with) and owner reaction. The more the owner reacts to the dog playing with rocks/stones, the more attention producing the behavior is and it is, therefore, being “rewarded” so it will be repeated.
[heading style=”2″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Other tips that may help decrease rock-eating behavior include:[/heading]
Avoid putting the dog in a situation where she is in proximity to the rocks and is bored.
Change Feeding Habits
Give her all meals in a treat dispensing device, e.g. Tricky Treat Ball or the KONG Wobbler Treat Dispensing Dog Toy. These can be used indoors or outdoors, but if used outdoors, be sure to keep your pet supervised at all times.
Distract the Dog
Distract the dog from playing with rocks – if you see her heading towards the rocks say “let’s go” in an enthusiastic tone and run in the opposite direction and then ask her to engage with you in any other activity you like – anything so she can be rewarded for choosing to leave the rocks and go play with you.
Condition her to a muzzle.
If the owner insists on letting the dog outside unsupervised and she has started ingesting rocks then you must keep the dog safe. They should muzzle her when she goes outside unsupervised. We recommend the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle.
Address the Boredom Issue Outdoors
- Hide treats and stuffed kong toys under buckets and old plant pots.
- Make a sand pit (use a hard plastic swimming pool for kids), fill it with sand, then hide your pets favorite toys in the sand.
- Place treats all around the yard in safe places (be sure to avoid areas preferred by fire ants, snakes or flower beds that you don’t want the dog to dig in). Good hiding places include window sills, cross struts on fences, cardboard boxes, etc. Get creative!
Teach “Leave It”
Teach a really solid “leave it” and be sure you never reprimand the dog for playing with rocks – that will lead to the behavior of ingesting them.
If possible, on a temporary basis, use temporary fencing to fence off the rocky area while you work on the behavior so there’s no chance for intermittent reinforcement. Consistency is very important.
Obtain Health Check
This behavior can potentially be the result of a medical condition – some digestive problem or dietary deficiency – so, as with all behavior modification, it must be established that the dog is in good health before attempting to change the behavior. A full vet check is recommended. This is particularly relevant in the case of rock-eaters because they could have a stomach full of rocks which could cause a problem so your vet might need to do an x-ray.
There are other aspects to this behavior and I recommend a full consult to get the whole picture and address each element. There are many triggers that could cause the dog to eat rocks due to stress. For example, the dog might get really stressed when vehicles or people pass by the house and relieve that frustration by chewing on rocks. All triggers should be addressed.
Teaching a “leave it” cue:
Acclimating to a muzzle: