What's the fascination with rocks? They certainly don't seem that interesting to us. But Fido sees things differently. Whether it's digging them up, gathering them, hiding them, or chewing on them, rocks provide endless hours of entertainment for our dogs. What in the world is the appeal? It is difficult for us to understand just what compels Fido to play with rocks, yet for him, it is clearly a very satisfying activity. As with most dog behaviors, playing with rocks finds its roots in logic. If we are fervent in our quest for answers, we can easily see that there are valid explanations behind this strange activity. Is this normal canine behavior, or is this something that is cause for concern? When we understand the motivations behind our dogs' actions, we gain insights which can help us discern whether an activity is harmful or helpful for our pets. Rock chewing is one of those issues that can be problematic but can also be harmless fun. Further examination of your own dog's favourite activity involving rocks can help you determine whether it's a habit that can stay or needs to go.
The Root of the Behavior
Our dogs' preoccupation with rocks causes us to scratch our heads with wonder. What could the appeal be? It's not readily apparent to us, but we must always bear in mind that these are the same creatures that enjoy rolling on dead bodies and eating feces. There are reasons, for sure, but we must dig beneath the surface to unearth them. The fact that most dogs love to play with rocks cannot be denied. However, for some dogs, it goes beyond just play. Some dogs like to chew and even eat rocks. The ingesting of rocks can lead to very serious health complications. The act of eating rocks and other non-edible substances is known as a condition called Pica. This is a medical issue characterized by the eating of materials not intended for consumption, and that are potentially hazardous to our dogs' delicate digestive systems. It is important to note that this condition is not limited simply to rock consumption. There are many other inedible objects dogs can fixate on and attempt to chew and swallow; rocks are simply one of the most common "snacks" of choice for dogs suffering from Pica.
While eating rocks is a problem that can be quite grave and requires owner intervention, chewing rocks can also be troubling. Dogs who choose to chew on rocks not only do irreparable damage to their teeth, but they are also at a higher risk for tissue lesions in the lining of the mouth, gastrointestinal distress, blockages, and choking. Since dogs rarely know their limitations, it is possible for your dog to scoop up a rock just large enough to block his airway, and if not caught in time, can lead to suffocation and premature death. We understand that our dogs like to chew rocks, and there are even a few who like to eat them. What we don't understand yet is why. There are several different reasons why dogs choose to play with rocks. Determining the precise source for the action can be challenging. This seemingly peculiar activity could trace its roots to either behavioral issues or medical concerns. On the behavioral front, it has been suggested that some dogs play with rocks for attention. Attention is attention, be it positive or negative, so if chewing on a rock is what it takes, that just might be sufficient motivation for Fido to start nibbling.
Encouraging the Behavior
Other experts suggest that boredom can also be a factor in rock chewing. In the absence of other more engaging toys to play with, our dogs will find means to amuse themselves. Rocks are easily accessible, and they are an object they can use in a variety of different ways to have fun. Then there is the basic truth that dogs just like to chew! Chewing is good for our dogs both physically and emotionally. There are great health benefits for them in using their jaws in this fashion including critical stress relief. Consider it the canine equivalent of a hot bath, a cup of tea, and a good book. Still, this behavior can find its basis in medical issues. Doctors suggest that some dogs may choose to chew or eat rocks due to dietary or vitamin and mineral deficiencies in their systems. Running diagnostic bloodwork at your local veterinary clinic may help you to determine what Fido is missing in his diet so that you can supplement it for overall improved health, and hopefully, cessation of the behavior. Other conditions that also can be responsible for chewing or eating of rocks include diabetes mellitus or disturbances of the intestines. It is always wise to rule out any potential medical concerns before assuming your dog's activity is behavior-based.
If your dog likes to play with rocks, there are some strategies you can employ to help change this behavior. Redirection is a powerful tool owners can use to assist their dogs with shifting their focus to activities that would be more beneficial for them. Should you happen upon Fido having a good "chow down" on his favorite rock, divert his attention by interesting him with a different toy or his favorite treat. Once Fido is engaged with a different toy or activity, you can then remove the rock to prevent further chomping sessions. Make sure Fido has access to plenty of engaging toys. If your dog is bored, he can, and he will create his own fun. Ensuring that Fido has a steady supply of cool stuff to play with will go a long way in keeping him away from choosing to play with rocks instead. Consider Fido's activity. Is he active enough? A dog that isn't getting enough physical activity will often result to behaviors that can be destructive both to him and his environment. Taking Fido for daily walks will go a long way to prevent this from happening.
Other Solutions and Considerations
One of the simplest things that you can do to eliminate this problem is to take a walk through your yard and gather up any rocks or stones that you think your pet might fancy for his collection. By removing the rocks from your yard, you thwart any efforts to chew on them. Dogs must have occasion and opportunity to engage in rock playing. If rock playing is an issue for your dog, it is best to do a clean sweep of your yard. As a last resort, there are medications that can be prescribed by your veterinarian to reduce and possibly eliminate Pica in your beloved dog. It is highly recommended that behavior modification training with a qualified professional trainer be included along with the medication for best efficacy. A two-pronged approach to address both behavioral and medical issues is best should your veterinarian feel that your dog's rock eating ways are motivated by underlying medical causes. Should Fido just like to carry rocks around to add to his collection, it isn't necessarily an activity that he needs to give up. But chewing or eating rocks is serious business. If Fido enjoys rocks for snacks, it is important for his health that you put a stop to the behavior as soon as possible.
Yes, Fido likes his rocks. Is the behavior helpful or harmful? That all depends on the context. If he is more of a gatherer than a chewer, it is likely just fine to let him persist. But if you've got a hardcore chewing machine on your hands, it may be time to seek professional help. It is always better to be safe than to be sorry!
By a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Published: 03/08/2018, edited: 01/30/2020