Chewing is a common behaviour in young dogs, and can be a result of teething. But many adult dogs like to chew, too. Dogs chew for a variety of reasons, such as in play, to clean their teeth and as a way to alleviate boredom.
Most dogs love to chew, and while some can be fussy about what kinds of things they chew, others are quite willing to chew on just about anything they find.
For some dogs, inappropriate chewing might mean the destruction of a shoe or a much-loved teddy bear. For others, any old rock or stick will do. Unfortunately, chewing sticks and stones can be quite dangerous.
There is quite a difference between fetching or playing with a stick and trying to make one into lunch.
Most of the time, sticks that dogs find on the ground are dry wood that can splinter quite easily. There is always a risk that a dog could choke or wind up with an intestinal blockage. However, there is a much greater risk of a sharp splint puncturing the intestinal tract, which can lead to serious illness and even death.
Another thing to consider is that some trees and plants are toxic to dogs. If the stick is green and fresh, it can contain substances that can make your dog ill. Apple trees and cherry trees are two common types that can make dogs sick. There is also the possibility of a dog becoming ill if the wood is rotten or sprayed with pesticides.
Another less common behaviour is chewing on rocks and stones. This is never a good idea, and can lead to some serious problems.
Aside from dogs breaking, cracking and chipping teeth on them, there are serious problems that can occur when a dog ingests stones. When a dog swallows a rock, it can cause damage to the intestinal tract and can cause blockages.
While there are cases where dogs develop a rock-chewing behaviour as the result of a medical issue — such as a iron deficiency or other chronic illness — most cases are behavioural. Many professionals believe that this behavior is similar to nail-biting in humans.
If you have issues with a dog that likes to chew on things like sticks and stones, there are things that can be done to redirect the behaviour.
First and foremost, provide plenty of alternative options. Invest in dog toys of different types and textures, and pay attention to your dog’s favourites.
If your dog continues to go back to chewing inappropriate items outside, make sure you are supervising play outdoors, and keep those alternatives available. It is important to catch your canine in the act, and to not just take away the object he shouldn’t chew but to replace it with something that is OK to chew.
If you are finding redirecting the behaviours is not enough, consider that this may be stress or boredom. Take a step back to examine things. Does your dog get enough exercise? Is he left for long periods alone in the yard? Does he chew because he is nervous or upset about something? Are his teeth bothering him?
Playing with things outside isn’t too worrisome. However, when your dog is chewing on things like sticks and stones, it can lead to problems — and some very large vet bills!
If you are having trouble with a behaviour like this, consider contacting your vet or trainer for further advice.
Dana Grove is an animal lover who works with several pet organizations in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 6, 2012