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As strange as it may seem, sometimes you’ll find your Labrador eating sticks and rocks, or other not-so-savory objects. It can be scary when you see your dog eating non-edible items, but there are ways to treat their medical issues and prevent this behavior in the future.
Labradors eat rocks and sticks if they’re bored, anxious, or trying to find a distraction from pain. These items damage their teeth and block their digestive systems. Vets can treat these problems, but you can help by giving Labs chew toys and training them to drop rocks and sticks on command.
Dogs have a deep-set instinct to chew and eat, and it may take time to change their destructive eating habits. But don’t worry! It’s possible to change this behavior when you find the root of the problem and train them to stop when they’re told. All Labs can learn how to change, and I’ll show you how I did it.
What To Do If Your Lab Has Eaten a Stick or Rock
If find your Labrador eating sticks and rocks, the first thing you need to do is make sure they’re healthy and safe. Training and long-term solutions can come later, but your dog’s health needs to be the number 1 priority.
Keep an eye on your Labrador’s poop for the next day or so. If they’ve successfully passed the stone, then the problem is usually solved. However, if your dog ate multiple rocks and/or a particularly large one, these could get stuck in their digestive tract.
Gently feel around your dog’s stomach to see if you can detect any bulges or hard lumps. Visit the vet immediately if your dog ate a large stone that you can physically feel in their stomach.
Sometimes it’s hard to be sure whether or not your dog has actually swallowed a stick or rock. We can’t watch them every second, and it’s not always clear when they eat something. Monitor your dog’s behavior closely if you suspect they’ve been eating non-food items. Warning signs include lethargy, distress, vomiting, and straining/difficulty while pooping.
If you know (or at least suspect) that your Lab has rocks, sticks, and other items stuck in their digestive system, you should take them to a vet as soon as possible. These issues are treatable, but they could cause discomfort and long-term digestive consequences if they’re left unchecked. In the worst-case scenario, undigested rocks and sticks could kill a Labrador.
Vets will discuss the treatment options with you once you arrive, but it will often include an x-ray scan and a surgery.
Look For The Source of This Behavior
The best way to protect your Lab (and your wallet) from a pricey vet visit is to cut off this problematic behavior early on. If you’ve ever owned a Lab, you know they love to chew on anything and everything, This instinct runs deep and it can be amplified by several factors. To keep them safe in the future, you need to address the root of the problem.
Health Problems and Pain
Labs sometimes get restless when they’re in pain. This discomfort leads them to take comfort in familiar behaviors like eating and chewing. This serves as a distraction for them, but it can lead to even more pain in the future. Issues like Pica, tooth pain, parasites, and overheating can lead to destructive chewing.
Anxiety and Boredom
Dogs also turn to chewing as a source of entertainment or distraction. If they’re unstimulated, they can become restless, anxious, and bored. They may chew on rocks and sticks to gain your attention (whether it’s good or bad).
At the end of the day, some Labs just like to chew and eat strange things! They may be curious about the texture or just like the taste of it. It’s not bad to be curious, but for their own sake, they need to learn what is and isn’t okay to eat.
How To Stop Destructive Eating Behavior
Now that we know some of the dangers and root causes, the question is, “how can we prevent this behavior in the future?” Depending on the dog and the situation, there may be a few ways to keep a Labrador from eating sticks and rocks, as well as other dangerous items. Every Lab is unique, so you may need to try a few different approaches to get through to them. Try the following methods:
Address Their Chewing Instinct
Labs love to eat and chew on things! That’s just their nature and it’s impossible to fully prevent it. The problem arises when they turn to things like rocks, which can damage their teeth and digestive system.
To help them get their energy out, try to provide them with a variety of safe chew toys. Labradors may get bored if they only have access to one toy, so buy a few of them and rotate them so they stay interesting.
My go-to chew toys that LAST:
Kong Classic chew toy for large dogs (Molly still has the same one we purchased on 10/16/2017!)
Kong Classic chew toy with Easy Treat peanut butter spray (so much easier than using a knife)
Kong tug of war toy (her absolute favorite)
Rawhide bones are fine in moderation, but even these can be harmful to aggressive chewers. Toys made from rubber and nylon are good alternatives. You would also fill a hollow toy with peanut butter and let your dog go to town on that!
Dog-Proof Your Yard
There’s no way to keep your Lab away from all the sticks and rocks in the world, but you can limit their access when they’re at home. If your landscaping includes bark chips, river rocks, pebbles, or other bite-sized items, you may want to replace them or create some kind of barrier.
Keep your yard as clean as possible so your dog doesn’t get into the habit of eating your decorative rocks and plants!
Stimulation and Attention Prevents Boredom
A lot of chewing issues happen because your dog is bored or feels lonely. They chew and eat things to distract themselves and find an outlet for their emotions. So one of the best ways to prevent destructive chewing is to give them enough attention and entertainment!
Playing with people or other dogs is a great way to help them burn off excess energy.
Train Them To “Drop it” or “Leave it”
All dogs can benefit from a bit of basic training. They can respond to their name, come when they’re called, and even perform some tricks! But some commands help keep them safe.
An important command for Lab owners to teach them is “Drop it” or “Leave it”. If they’re properly trained to respond, the dog will leave the problematic item alone. They can’t learn this command overnight, so try to start training your dog as early as possible. Reward good behavior with treats and praise.
Check out the video below for more guidance on training your Lab to let go of rocks, sticks, and toys.
There may come a time when you find your Labrador eating sticks and rocks – it happens more often than you think. With a little help from their owners, Labs can learn safe habits and curb this behavior. If you provide proper stimulation, remove temptation, and train them to obey, rocks and sticks will soon be off the menu!
Why Do Dogs Eat Rocks? – The American Kennel Club
How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Wood, Sticks & Debris – Love Your Dog
Help! My Dog Swallowed A Rock – Its Dog or Nothing
Help… My Dog Ate A Rock! What To Do If Your Dog Eats Stones Or Pebbles – The Fun Times Guide
Symptoms to Watch for After a Dog Has Eaten a Rock – Cuteness