Rock-eating is caused by:
- Pica: A medical condition in which dogs eat non-digestible items.
- Attention-Seeking Behavior: Your dog may have learned that chewing a rock immediately results in your attention.
- Curiosity: Rocks have different textures or can have various odors or liquids spilled on them. Puppies are more likely to explore rocks by chewing on them.
- Boredom: Understimulated dogs like to chew, and may select a relatively novel item (ie. a rock) over a boring chew toy.
Regardless of the cause, rock-eating is a dangerous habit for your dog to form and should be discouraged.
What is Pica?
Research has linked pica to hyperactivity, impulsivity, obsessive-compulsive oral or ingestive disorders, and anxiety or attachment-related troubles. But it can also be related to nutritional deficiencies.
If you’re thinking this sounds like no one knows what causes pica…you’d be correct. Unfortunately, there is no long-term cure for pica. In some cases where it is a symptom of OCD, behavior modification and environmental management can help control pica.
Pica is not affected by breed or age, or even by species. It occurs in humans and other animals.
If your dog swallows a rock, they may require emergency surgery. If you suspect your dog has pica, supervise them closely around trigger objects.
What to Do If Your Dog Swallows a Rock
Call your vet immediately. They may be able to induce vomiting. Do not attempt to induce vomiting yourself.
In addition to being choking hazards, rocks are puncture risks and can create intestinal blockages.
If you can see the rock in your dog’s throat, you can attempt to remove it yourself only if you can do so without hurting yourself.
Keep one hand on the upper jaw and one hand on the lower. Use the hand on the lower jaw to sweep the object forward from the back of the mouth to the front. Be very careful–your dog can still bite in this position.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Eating Rocks
When your dog picks up a rock, use this as an opportunity to practice treat exchanges or the Drop It cue. Avoid yelling–this may startle them and trigger an accidental swallow reflex.
Train Leave it and Drop It at home, and use walks to practice and strengthen the cue around different objects and in multiple environments.
Your dog may enjoy carrying a toy in their mouth during walks. Holding something in their jaws can be soothing, or they may simply appreciate being given a job to perform. As a bonus, when your dog’s mouth is full, they can’t scoop any rocks up.
If you’re struggling with prevention and your dog refuses to trade for a high-value treat, consider conditioning your dog to accept a basket muzzle for safety reasons. While muzzles have a reputation for being used only for aggressive dogs, they are fantastic preventative tools for dogs with pica…or even just dogs that aren’t too picky about what they put in their mouths.
And in general, make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. Don’t forget to pay attention to your dog when they’re exhibiting good behavior, such as walking without eating.
It’s much better to nip rock-eating in the bud early and not allow it to grow into a compulsive habit. A vet or dog trainer can help you figure out if repeated rock-eating is a learned behavior or pica-related, and give you advice on how to proceed from there.