A dog eating stones might seem strange to you for the first time. In fact, most dog owners will panic whenever they observe their puppies engaging in stone eating. This habit is known as pica, whereby a dog will consume non-food items. However, you should not tolerate it as it could lead to health complications. Therefore, you will need to stop your dog from eating stones as soon as you find out.
In this article, we are going to give you a complete guide to help you get rid of this behavior in both puppies and adult dogs.
Reasons why your dog might be eating stones
There is no known reason for pica behavior in dogs or even humans. The good news is, you can be able to examine your dog and determine why he loves eating stones. Stone eating can be as a result of a behavioral or medical issue. You will need to pay attention to him in order to tell the reason behind it all. Some of the reasons for this behavior may include:
This is not an uncommon occurrence. I will remind you that your dog is a scavenger in nature, despite all the years that we have domesticated them. This particular character does not go away and thus, you might observe your dog exhibiting his true nature. That’s not the point here though. In their natural environment, dogs are supposed to hunt and feed on raw prey. However, we have been able to change this and there are plenty of dog foods in the stores. These foods are completely safe for consumption for your dog.
Unfortunately, your dog’s system may require other nutrients that are not found in dog food. As a result, your dog will start looking for those nutrients by himself. Often, he does not know where to get them. I mean, we domesticate them and thus they do not know how to hunt for prey. Instead, he will not only eat rocks but also other non-food items like grass and soil. Therefore, we cannot refute the possibility of nutritional deficiency being the cause of your dog eating stones.
Boredom and Loneliness
Dogs get bored quickly and they will start engaging in undesirable habits like eating rocks. Unfortunately, most dog owners forget about the fact that their canine friends are vulnerable to boredom and loneliness. This is especially when they have been left alone. We cannot afford to spend every single day with our dogs nevertheless.
When your dog starts eating rocks, it could be as a result of boredom and loneliness. When you leave the house, you most probably leave him alone until you get back. If he has nothing keeping him busy when you are away from home, he will get something to do definitely. He will not choose a very productive way to beat boredom. Instead, eating stones will be an activity to get you to react as well as keep himself busy.
Stress in dogs
Like boredom, dogs are also prone to stress. As a result, our dogs find coping mechanisms for stress and stone eating can be one of the mechanisms. You should, therefore, keep an eye on your dog in order to detect any signs of stress.
Our canine friends may get stressed as a result of simple and normal occurrences in our lives. For instance, if you change your residence, he might find it a little stressful to adjust to new environs. In addition to this, exposing your dog to strangers or new dogs can also be stressful. Other situations that can lead to stress in a dog may include traveling in a car, leaving your dog alone for long periods of time. Loud music or even noisy streets could also cause stress leading to your dog eating stones.
Most dogs will develop separation anxiety at some point in their lives. Once again, we cannot be able to spend each day with our dogs. As a result, they develop some type of anxiety every time we leave them alone at home. Unfortunately, our canine friend becomes attached to us, such that they feel bad every time we are about to leave the house.
If you recently adopted a puppy, he might also suffer from separation anxiety in that he has been separated from his ‘family’. This includes those dogs that have left the shelter to move to a new home. Well, the bottom line is that such huge changes could possibly be the reason why your dog won’t stop eating stones.
Separation anxiety is an actual dog problem that will need your attend ion immediately. Not only will he eat rocks but he might also engage in other behaviors in order to cope. We will discuss how to curb separation anxiety a little later in this article.
Normal development stage
This is a common reason for a puppy to eat stones. During development, your puppy wants to discover how everything works. In efforts to do so, he has to explore the things around him and he will do so by use of his mouth.
Therefore, you might observe your puppy eating stones around the home or even during walks. This, however, will stop as soon as your puppy learns that it is unacceptable. We shall look at how to train a puppy to stop eating stones in the next section.
Now that we already looked at some of the causes for a dog eating stones, we need to learn how to stop the behavior. Not only can swallowing stones cause digestive issues but also lead to health complications. In fact, some dogs will go for emergency surgery in order to remove the stones from the digestive tract. We are going to discuss how to stop a dog from eating stones completely;
Sweep the stones from your home
In most cases, your dog will eat stones from your yard or basically homestead. He is doing so because the stones are readily available for him. When you remove all the stones from your home, he will not have to do so anymore.
Therefore, the very first step you should take when correcting any unwanted habit in dogs is to remove the stimuli. Sweep the stones to remove them from your homestead. Sweep your homestead to remove all the non-food items that your dog might want to eat.
Get rid of boredom
As we mentioned in the first section of this article, boredom can be the cause of your dog eating rocks. Well, dogs are quite prone to boredom, especially when they are at home. When you leave to work or to run your errands, ensure that your dog is busy. To do so, you can get a few exciting toys that you can leave him playing with.
However, it is not as easy as it sounds. Unlike the human mind, your dog probably has no idea of what he is supposed to do with the toys. Therefore, it is up to you to train him on how to play with them successfully. Chew toys are particularly important to dogs with the habit of eating stones. When leaving your home, leave different types of toys for your dog.
For instance, you can get a food puzzle toy that will dispense treats. Train your dog to play with it in that he will be sure of getting a reward every time he gets right. This will not only keep him occupied throughout the day but also stimulate him mentally. Dogs constantly need to be stimulated else they get bored and lonely.
Address separation anxiety
As a result of being left alone, changing ownership and even the absence of a family member, your dog can suffer from separation anxiety. This type of anxiety is as a result of an unhealthy attachment with their owners. As a result, they experience extreme fear whenever their owner is about to leave. This kind of fear leads to your dog seeking comfort in other behaviors including eating stones. Therefore, you need to recognize and treat separation anxiety as soon as possible.
Your dog will be restless and may adopt compulsive barking every time you leave the house. In most cases, your dog will have mastered your schedule. This means that he knows your routine every time you want to leave the house. For instance, he might start pacing and barking when you pick your keys, or even preparing to leave the house. In the case your dog has separation anxiety, it is up to you to help him get over his fear.
There are different methods that you may use to help your dog with separation anxiety. Below are some of these methods:
Desensitization and counterconditioning
When you are looking to treat separation anxiety in dogs, this is one of the most effective methods. The goal is to create a positive association every time you are leaving the house. You have to make your dog believe that it is actually not too bad to be left alone for a few hours. However, you should be careful when you are using the desensitization method.
You can do this by offering him a treat every time you are leaving the house. This way, your dog will be conditioned that there is a reward that comes when you leave. Alternatively, you can teach your dog how to be alone and comfortable. For instance, leave him in the other room for a minute before you get back. This will reassure him that you will always get back. However, use toys to keep him busy even when you exit the room.
This way, your dog might actually start looking forward to your departure, knowing that he will be rewarded.
Plenty of exercises
A puppy with separation anxiety will always start reacting at the very first sign of departure. However, you can reduce this kind of anxiety by exercising him prior to leaving the house. Adjust to your routine such that you have some time to walk him in the morning. This will not only expose him to the new environments but will also reassure him of your presence. Furthermore, exercising is a great way to beat stress and also anxiety.
If you are unable to walk him each morning, ensure that you play with him instead. The goal is to leave him stimulated as well as exhausted. This way, you will minimize the chances of your dog eating stones out of separation anxiety.
Use dog deterrents
You can also opt to use deterrents to make your dog stop eating stones. For instance, you may have stones and pebbles in your home for decoration purposes. This presents an opportunity for your dog to consume them. However, since you do not want to get rid of them, you can use dog deterrents to keep your dog away from them.
One of the most commonly used dog deterrents is vinegar. To use this method, add a relative amount of vinegar to water in a spray bottle. Then spray the mixture on the rocks such that the smell will repel the dog from consuming the latter.
In addition, you can use a water gun which is motion-activated. Install the gun in your flowerbed or yard, where your decorative stones are. This way, the gun will blast the dog with water every time he steps close to the yard. Alternatively, you may use a motion-activated ultrasonic device. This is especially when you are dealing with a dog picking stones from your garden. Install the device in the garden so that it can produce a high-pitched sound that only dogs and pets can hear. This will be so irritating to him such that he will want to stay away.
Take him to a vet (As a last resort)
As mentioned earlier, the stone eating habit can be as a result of medical issues. In most cases, it is as a result of nutritional deficiencies. As much as dog foods are made to satisfy the nutritional needs of your dog, they might not be enough. For instance, your dog might be looking for digestive enzymes and thus result in eating non-food items.
However, you cannot be able to tell this by simply observing his eating stones. Therefore, you need to get him to a vet for a check-up. This way the vet will examine your dog and determine if you will need to adjust your pup’s diet. This will make up for the missing nutrients and thus help you stop your dog from eating stones.
Treat stress in dogs
We already identified stress as a possible reason for a dog to eat stones. Therefore, once you examine your pup and find he is stressed, it is important that you address the issues. The first step to doing this is to ensure that he is comfortable in your home. For instance, if you have a bigger dog causing stress and fear in your pup, consider separating them for a while. Note that your pup will only be able to socialize when he wants to.
The most effective way to eliminate stress in dogs is to find the cause of stress and eliminate the stimuli. In addition to this, you should also invest in various toys. These will keep your dog busy through the day, without stressing about when you will come home.
It is also important that you avoid living in a noisy neighborhood, or playing loud music in the house. This will cause stress in your dog, which could possibly lead to the behavior of eating rocks.
In order to calm your dog, you may leave soft and soothing music on before leaving the house. In addition, leave the TV on nature or sports channel. It will be interesting enough to keep him occupied for the better part of the day.
Train your dog to stop eating stones
This should be the first priority once you notice that your pup is eating stones. You need to teach him that it is not acceptable that he is eating stones. To be able to do this, you can create a negative association with the behavior. For instance, get a shaker toy with beads inside. Whenever your dog reaches for the stones, shake the toy to produce an annoying sound. Not only will this discourage your dog from the habit but also distract your dog’s attention.
Alternatively, you can also train him the ‘no’ command. This is quite effective in puppies that are eating stones during development stages. Whenever he is about to eat a stone, look at him and sternly say ‘no’. Once he obliges, offer him a reward, a treat or even praises to reinforce good behavior.
Buy a muzzle
This should be your last option when your dog won’t stop eating stones completely. In some cases, your dog will not quit the habit despite the above-discussed methods. At this point, consider getting a basket muzzle for your dog. This is especially for a dog that eats stones during walks. As much as this method is not appealing, you may not have a choice.
Ensure that you get a muzzle that allows your dog to breathe, yawn or even chew. However, ensure that he cannot be able to pick stones from the ground.
You should be able to notice whenever your dog picks up new habits. It is usually an indication that everything is not right at that moment. Get to the bottom of it and ensure that your dog is comfortable and healthy all the same. However, do not punish or yell at your dog even when he does not seem to quit eating stones.