Dear Lisa: My son has a beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer who is a companion plus hunting dog. The dog eats rocks. My son has tried everything to keep him from doing this. The dog gets plenty of exercise everyday, has his own toy box full of chew toys, balls to retrieve, etc., gets regular veterinary care and has a good diet. My son has a shock collar (uses the warning ring most of the time) to prevent this behavior and has also taken all of the rocks out of his pen. What else can he do? --Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Beaumont
The behavior you are describing is called "Pica" which means ingesting non-food items. The cause is unknown. There could be a variety of reasons why your son's dog does this. It might be behavioral, anxiety or a medical reason.
I would start with his vet and rule out any medical reason, such as a disease, illness, or digestive or deficiency problem. Once any health issue is ruled out, you can move on to a behavioral cause.
It sounds like your son does a fair amount of exercise and training with the dog. However, using the shock collar probably isn't the best approach for dealing with this issue. It was a good move to remove the rocks from the kennel but maybe your dog learned this behavior as a puppy and it's just habitual.
If this is the case, then you really have to get firm about teaching the dog a new behavior when it comes to grabbing and gulping rocks just for kicks. Eating rocks can cause serious damage from an intestinal blockage to perforated stomachs and colons. If any of these happens, it could mean an expensive surgery bill or worse.
Besides scanning the internet for "Pica Kit" products to address vitamin deficiencies, you might also want to look at changing his dog food. It has been reported that sometimes this behavior is linked to dogs tied out on runs. It could be that your dog is just bored with the same old routine, toys and activities even if you think they are adequate for him.
With a highly intelligent, active hunting dog, like the German Shorthaired Pointer, you will need to constantly provide him with a challenging job. Making strides to incorporate highly stimulating activities for your dog and taking his mind off eating rocks may just save his life.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.