Are you asking yourself “why does my dog eat sticks, rocks, pine cones, acorns or other stuff while out in the yard or on a walk”? Sticks and rocks are especially troublesome since they can injure your dog’s mouth and cause intestinal blockages that could require surgery.
Sometimes puppies eat inappropriate things and grow out of it, but other times it can become a habit and continue into adulthood. If your adult dog continues to eat things that are not food, it is a behavior disorder called pica that you should ask your vet about.
Here are some tips to train dogs not to eat stuff that they shouldn’t. These tips are meant to be used while you are in the great outdoors with your dog and supervising him or her. If your dog is eating things while alone in the yard, the best solution I know of is to make sure your dog’s needs are being met (exercise, chewing, etc) and keeping him or her in an place where there is less potential for “getting into trouble”, such as a gated area or crate and only allowing your dog access to “the great outdoors” when you are there to supervise.
Training: Here are two different ways to train your dog to leave objects like rocks and sticks alone. If your dog has a very dangerous problem with eating items (such as needing surgery in the past), I would not rely on training alone and would use one of the prevention methods discussed below such as a muzzle.
- Let’s start out easy and obvious! If swallowing rocks or sticks is happening while your dog is off leash, sometimes, simply putting a leash on your dog can help you be more aware of your dog so that you can interrupt the him or her from eating things. It is also helpful to keep your dog busy with other activities such as playing with a toy or interacting with you while outdoors. Think of some behaviors you could reward with treats such as checking in with you, playing with a toy or playing “hide and seek” with you. This will keep your dog’s mind off of searching for things on the ground to swallow. If your dog is eating things while in the yard by him or herself, the best advice I can think of is to not allow your dog outside unsupervised or create an outdoor area with no “eatables”.
If your dog has only a mild issue with eating things and you would be happy to be able to tell him when you want him to leave something alone, then you can use this method to train your dog to “Leave it”. You can substitute the food described in the article with the item that your dog tends to want to eat. Then practice “Leave It” on walks. If you want to take this to the next level, you can teach your dog to automatically leave the item without even having to say “leave it”. Instead, you go through the exercise in the article with the object and teach the dog that he or she will be rewarded when she turns away from the item even when you don’t say anything. You can even progress to being able to have your dog leave the item when you are out of sight. The trick getting your dog to leave items in “real life” using this method is paying attention to when your dog “leaves” something so that you can continue to reward him or her. If your dog is “leaving” rocks and you are not rewarding it, he or she will quickly learn that this new trick is not so fun and go back to the old habit of picking up rocks. If your dog already has the stick or rock in his mouth you can ask your dog to ” drop it” and exchange for a treat. However, be careful of doing too many “drop its” with a dog that likes to pick up objects as you may inadvertently be rewarding the dog for picking things up. Try to do a lot more “leave its” than “drop its” on a walk.