What could be appetizing about a rock and why would a dog want to chew a hard, seemingly tasteless object? An object that is going to break his teeth and upset his digestion if he swallows it. You may be right in thinking your dog has got rocks in his head! There could be several reasons for this unusual behavior and before you judge your dog, or punish him, it is a good idea to look at several options to decide why you are seeing this behavior. If your dog is still a puppy then the rock chewing could just be part of a puppy's need to explore and experiment with the world around him. Since you don't want to encourage this, it is a good idea to give more chew toys to your inquisitive pup and steer him away from rocks. If your dog is over the puppy stage, there could be a number of other reasons for rock chewing and it is worth investigating them as you decide on the best course of action.
The Root of the Behavior
A behavioral problem can have its origins in many different root causes. You could draw up a checklist to help you to eliminate different case scenarios. This is a way to avoid a 'rocky road' experience as you run ragged to find the reason why your dog eats rocks. Put on your list the following suggested avenues to follow: the vet, yourself, and a behaviorist. Start with your vet and a checkup to be sure the rock chewing is not dietary or signs of an illness. Your vet will be able to tell you if there is a vitamin deficiency like phosphorus or calcium and you can get some supplements to help replenish the vitamins. Your vet may suggest you deworm your dog and check for an illness like diabetes or the eating disorder some dogs have called pica. This sounds very serious but your vet will advise you and you can act accordingly. Next on the checklist is you and the home environment. Ask yourself if your dog gets enough attention and if you are providing enough walks and fun outdoor activities. Look for signs of fear, anxiety, or stress that would motivate unusual behavior. A new home, an addition to the family, or changes in routine can be stressful and cause unusual attention seeking behavior. Third, on your checklist, is seeking the advice of an animal behaviorist. Your dog's behavior can be difficult to change without the help of an expert in this field. It will help you to get professional advice and guidance as you try to put a stop to this unhealthy desire to eat rocks. The behaviorist would come to your home and observe your dog's actions and then give you some behavior modification ideas. It is possible to try a few things on your own, and depending on the severity of the behavior, and the time you have available, it might be possible to manage the changes yourself. Never punish your dog for the way he eats rocks as this will not help. Although you know how damaging eating rocks is to your dog's health, your dog will not respond well to punishment. Distraction and reward for a good response are far more positive. It would also be a good idea to provide a rock free environment with other chew toys so your dog gets out of the habit of rock crunching and into the habit of acceptable chew toys.
Encouraging the Behavior
Now you will be wanting to assess the severity of the disorder. It is definitely a dangerous practice, especially if your dog swallows the rocks or gravitates to bigger rocks. If the vet sees a vitamin or dietary deficiency then you could consider 'ad libitum' feeding, which is basically free feeding. This means you give your dog access to food freely and you persuade him that readily available food is better than rocks. It is important to get advice from your vet about the 'free food' method and not to consider this as a feeding option for puppies. Another controlled behavior suggestion is to remove all the rocks from a designated area where your dog is going to stay. Watch how your dog is adjusting, then you can slowly introduce one or two rocks and see how your dog reacts as rocks are returned. The free food option and control of your dogs living area are just some of several choices you may have. Look at these options, if you feel you have actually reached 'rock bottom' with addressing this unwanted behavior, seek the advice of an expert. Positive reinforcement always builds on strengths and so gaining your dogs attention and getting him to focus on you and not the rocks should slowly change the behavior. Really great treats will act as the best reward system as your dog changes his focus from the rocks to you. There is no 'solid as a rock' solution for this behavior but because it is detrimental to your dog's health chewing rocks needs to be resolved. Find a solution for help if necessary.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Creating awareness of the hazards of this behavior will motivate caring dog owners to make every effort to substitute the craving for rocks with another activity. More often than not, behavior like chewing rocks is related to boredom and attention seeking. If this is the root of the behavior then the solution is to increase activity time and add in more quality time with your dog. Dogs get bored and lonely and need attention. Some dogs need more attention than others and if the breed of dog you have is an active breed then there may be activities your dog instinctively needs to be part of. Herding, chasing, retrieving are all outdoor activities many dogs love. Take those actions away from them and they may react by chewing rocks.
Does the fact that your dog chews rocks make him a super strong dog? No, because dog's teeth are not designed to chew rocks. If you own a Boxer, an active excitable breed of dog, you might find it amusing to name him Rocky. His name and breed are entertaining reminders of the boxing star Rocky Balboa. Added to that you do you will be keeping up with the Kardashians and their Boxer, canine friend, named Rocky.
By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Published: 02/21/2018, edited: 01/30/2020