If you have a dog, you have probably had to deal with unwanted chewing. Dogs chew on a vast number of strange things, some of which are dangerous and some of which are just odd. If you are one of the owners whose dog seems to favor rocks or pebbles as chew toys, you might wonder what on earth could possess your canine companion to make that choice. Rocks are neither comfortable nor tasty, so what is the appeal? And is your dog the only one who does this?
The answer to the second question is a definite no. Plenty of dogs chew rocks, despite the fact htat it is dangerous for their teeth and digestive systems. So why is it so popular? Like many strange canine behaviors, the reason depends on the dog.
The Root of the Behavior
As the owner of a rock-chewer, you can start by finding out whether your dog is chewing rocks for the purpose of eating them. If so, the dog may have a psychological condition known as pica. Present in both animals and humans, pica causes a compulsive desire to eat non-food items. In dogs, the item of choice is often rocks or gravel. Although pica is the most common cause of rock-eating in dogs, it is not the only medical explanation. Some dogs chew and swallow rocks or stones because they have nutritional deficiencies, and their bodies identify rocks as a good source of whatever is missing. Others have an intestinal disorder, diabetes, or worms. If your dog is not eating rocks but simply chewing on them, however, the reason is almost certainly psychological or emotional. The dog may be trying to work out anxiety or frustration, although it is also possible that he or she is simply bored. Many dogs start chewing on rocks because they have a compulsion to chew something, yet they lack the right chew toys.
You may be looking around your house and scoffing at the very idea that your dog doesn't have enough to chew on, but remember that dogs get bored with toys just like human children do. They need new and different toys once in a while to hold their interest. Toys are no substitute for human attention, however. Your dog may have plenty of toys and still seem to favor rocks, not because the dog prefers the taste and texture of them, but because chewing on them gets a rise out of you. The chewing process may have its own benefits in this case, but mostly because chewing works out the bad feelings associated with loneliness. The root problem would still be that your dog misses you and needs some quality time.
Encouraging the Behavior
If there is an emotional reason behind your dog's rock-chewing, figuring it out may correct the behavior. Start by spending some extra play time with your dog during the day, and make sure he or she has plenty of chew toys. Keep some in reserve as well, so that you can rotate them. Many dog owners choose to address the rock-chewing issue by removing rocks and stones from their yards. This may work for you and your dog if you are able to find them all, but smaller pebbles may be harder to remove. You can spray any remaining rocks with vinegar or a pet repellant product, but you will want to be thorough enough that all of the stones in the yard are covered with whatever you use. That way, your dog can start to associate rocks with unpleasant experiences. You may also find it useful to fence off a rock-free area in your yard, where your dog can play without putting himself or herself in danger.
In the meantime, work on the “no” and “leave it” commands with your dog. Practice with other objects and work your way up to rocks, so that you can convince your dog to drop any that he or she may see on a walk. You can also make a point of carrying toys with you and replacing any rocks that your dog may pick up so that your dog comes to understand what is and is not okay to chew. If the dog keeps going for the rocks, though, you may need to try a muzzle.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you do have a rock-eater instead of just a rock-chewer, it is even more important for you to stop the behavior. A dog's system cannot pass a rock easily, and it can cause a painful and dangerous obstruction. Before this happens, make an appointment with a veterinarian who can perform the tests necessary to determine whether your dog has a nutritional deficiency or other underlying medical condition. Should this prove to be the case, treating the condition itself is likely to eliminate your dog's desire to self-medicate with rocks. If there is no medical reason why your dog is swallowing rocks, the answer is likely pica. The American Society or the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has confirmed that the compulsive nature of pica means that it will not work itself out and requires special training. There are professional behaviorists that can help.
Part of being a dog owner is keeping your furry friend away from things that he or she should not chew or eat. Rocks are one of those things that can really hurt a dog, and so they are one of the most important things to keep away from his or her curious mouth. That doggone habit is pretty dangerous!
By a Labrador Retriever lover Laura DeCesare
Published: 03/08/2018, edited: 01/30/2020