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Many dogs have behaviors their owners do not understand. Some of these behaviors become habitual and can be quite dangerous for your dog if they continue. If your dog has created a habit which can cause internal problems for him, you may want to have him checked out by your veterinarian for potential reasons for the behavior.
Behavior by dogs eating materials which are not digestible is called a pica disorder. There is a difference between eating something indigestible such as rocks and chewing on an inedible object such as a chew toy to relieve teething pain, cure boredom, or for play. Dogs learn from an early age eating feels good, and because they use their mouths to explore their senses, as puppies, they tend to put everything in their mouths. Eating indigestible items such as rocks can become a problem. If your dog did not learn as a puppy not to eat rocks, he might need to be taught now to avoid gastrointestinal problems.
While catching your dog eating rocks, you can use 'drop it' or other commands to get him to not only release the rocks from his mouth but also create the habit of not eating rocks. The 'drop it' command can be an important command to teach your dog if he tends to get into things he should not. 'Drop it' works for rocks, children's toys, your socks, and shoes, or any other item your dog has in his mouth. Once your dog knows how to stop the bad habit of eating rocks, you can teach him to 'leave it'.
Other ways to teach your dog to stop eating rocks will include offering alternatives to rocks and changing behavior. Creating new habits for dogs, much like creating patterns for humans, takes time, repetition, and praise. Depending on how motivated your dog is to give up the act of eating rocks, he could stop this behavior in a couple of weeks, or it could take up to a couple of months. Be persistent, and understand your dog could have some health problems down the road if he continues eating rocks.
You will need a few things to start retraining your dog. If you have trained other commands with him using a clicker, have your clicker handy. You will also need treats and alternative chew toys for your dog. You will also want some of your dog's favorite chew toys. Time and patience will be required of you, along with dedication, repeating these new ideas with your dog several times a day.
The Drop It Method
You want to start with the 'drop it' command first if your dog has already begun the habit of eating rocks. Starting with a few of your dog's favorite toys and some treats, hold a toy comfortably in your hand and wait for your dog to try to take it from you.
As soon as your dog begins to mouth the toy, place the treat very close to his nose and say the command “drop it.”
When your dog opens his mouth to release the toy, give him verbal praise and the treat from your opposite hand.
Practice these steps, allowing your dog to put the toy in his mouth before offering a treat and using the 'drop it' command.
Once your dog has successfully repeated dropping the toy to receive a treat several times, begin to use the drop it command without the treat reward.
Repeat this several times without a treat, mixing in a few times with a treat to create the repetitive habit of dropping the object with and without being rewarded.
Once your dog has this down, try a different object for your dog to mouth. You can use a larger treat, a tasty food, or a rock at this point.
Continue to practice the 'drop it' command daily for several weeks, using it with various objects around the house including when you are outside on walks and in your yard with rocks.
If you are clicker training your dog, use a clicker every time you treat your dog. Just as with the other commands, click and treat in when your dog is showing a positive response.
Once your dog comprehends 'drop it', you can work on 'leave it'.
The Leave It Method
Much like the 'drop it' command, you will need a toy, some treats, and a clicker if you are clicker training. Hide some treats in your hands. Let your dog sniff your hand, but leave it closed.
As soon as your dog sniffs your hand to explore the treat and the delicious smell, say the command, “leave it.”
The moment your dog diverts his attention from the hand you are showing him, praise him and reward him with a treat from your opposite hand. If you are using a clicker to train, click and treat.
Practice this a few times and then move the treat to the floor while covering it with your hand.
As your dog begins to sniff the treat on the floor, use the command to 'leave it'. Again, when he diverts his attention from the treat, praise and reward from your opposite hand.
As your dog begins to sniff the treat on the floor, use the command to leave it. Again, when he diverts his attention from the treat, praise and reward from your opposite hand.
Continue to practice the “leave it” command in various situations, such as while walking on the leash, while in your backyard with some distance between you two, and while on neighborhood walks.
The 'leave it' command can be applied to items your dog would like to ingest, such as rocks, or even to leaving wildlife alone while on a hiking trail. You can use the 'leave it' command in your household when you see your dog nearing an object that does not belong to him, such as your shoes or food he should not be getting into.
The Behavior Focus Method
Watch your dog closely when you are outside and near rocks.
When you see your dog chewing on rocks or showing an interest in mouthing rocks, gently pull him away, letting him know he is not to be near the rocks.
Redirect him to another object which is safe for him to chew or eat.
While on a walk, keep your dog's leash taut and your dog close to you to avoid being near rocks.
Every several feet, let your dog's leash loosen and allow him closer to rocks along your walking path.
Each time you are successful at getting your dog to leave the rocks alone, whether you are in your backyard or out on a walk, give your dog a treat reward and verbal praise.
Written by Stephanie Plummer
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/29/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
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