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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a 9 week old Labrador puppy who picks up pieces of rock chippings/ gravel when he goes outside for a potty break, which is many times a day. Is he likely to swallow one or just doing his puppy thing of taking anything and everything into his mouth. Trouble is virtually all of my back yard is this gravel. Will he grow out of it. At the moment I can sometimes distract or persuade him to drop it or open his mouth with some difficulty. Any suggestions welcome.
 

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Unfortunately, whether he'll try to swallow the gravel - or chew on it hard enough to break his teeth - is going to be completely dependent on the individual dog. I would be extra careful, as Labs in particular are known for swallowing foreign objects. Puppies do explore the world with their mouths, so it's fairly normal behavior, but that doesn't mean it's safe in this instance.

You could try either raking up the gravel to make a potty space, or putting down something like a square of sod to help prevent the behavior (take him out on leash so he can't leave the area, that makes it super easy to reward when he potties outside anyway). Ideally you do need to prevent it, because every time he does it, there's a risk of him making a bad decision (like swallowing the rock), and it creates a habit that may become harder to break with time. Additionally, he may find you trying to get it out of his mouth a fun 'game' that gets him lots of attention, which will accidentally reinforce the behavior. With luck, he'll be less interested as he matures and start ignoring the gravel.

In the meantime, work on trading games with his toys and low value chews - offer him a higher value treat, take the toy/chew while he eats it, then give the toy/chew back. Practice often and work up to higher value items, so that he learns trading is fun and that 95-99% of the time, he gets the original item back. Then it will be much easier to convince him to trade in those incidents when you can't give him back whatever thing he's picked up that might be dangerous/expensive/gross/etc. But prevention is still key for the gravel thing to keep it from becoming a long-term problem.

Incidentally, I made the mistake of making it very fun for my younger dog to pick up gravel. He's two and will still occasionally bring a piece inside when he feels he isn't getting enough attention. We know by now that he'll just carry it around, stare at us, and drop it repeatedly and loudly to try to get us to engage, so I'm not too worried he'll actually chew/swallow a piece. But if I'd focused more on preventing the behavior rather than trading for treats/attention, he likely would never have created the 'game' in the first place, and I wouldn't have to worry at all.
 

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Cat-dog, GSD spayed female and Tornado-dog, JRT mix, neutered male
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Labs are notorious for eating everything. My sibling's 11 yr old lab got very ill once. She called the vet and he said to bring him him and the vet would run a bunch of tests to see what was going on. My sibling brought him in and when the vet saw the dog he said " you didn't tell me he was a lab. He ate something. I'll do surgery and remove it and he'll be fine." The lab had eaten an oak ball and it was poisoning him and blocking his intestines.

When my sibling picked him up, she noticed the poster on the exam room wall - it was of a lab surrounded by the 100 tennis balls he had eaten and had surgically removed.

So always assume that whatever your lab puts in his mouth he will likely swallow. Teach him "drop it" (drop what he has already picked up) and "leave it" (ignore what he is showing an interest in). Do this by having him trade the rock in his mouth for a better tasting treat. Use the drop it command every time. He'll figure out that dropping the rock will get him something better. For leave it, as soon as he starts showing an interest in the gravel, re-direct him to something appropriate (toy, chew) and give him a treat when he ignores the gravel.

Make sure there are appropriate dog toys and chews for him to focus on instead of the gravel.

If he starts to obsess on rocks, you might want to de-gravel an area of the yard and confine him to that area when you cannot keep a close eye on him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Unfortunately, whether he'll try to swallow the gravel - or chew on it hard enough to break his teeth - is going to be completely dependent on the individual dog. I would be extra careful, as Labs in particular are known for swallowing foreign objects. Puppies do explore the world with their mouths, so it's fairly normal behavior, but that doesn't mean it's safe in this instance.

You could try either raking up the gravel to make a potty space, or putting down something like a square of sod to help prevent the behavior (take him out on leash so he can't leave the area, that makes it super easy to reward when he potties outside anyway). Ideally you do need to prevent it, because every time he does it, there's a risk of him making a bad decision (like swallowing the rock), and it creates a habit that may become harder to break with time. Additionally, he may find you trying to get it out of his mouth a fun 'game' that gets him lots of attention, which will accidentally reinforce the behavior. With luck, he'll be less interested as he matures and start ignoring the gravel.

In the meantime, work on trading games with his toys and low value chews - offer him a higher value treat, take the toy/chew while he eats it, then give the toy/chew back. Practice often and work up to higher value items, so that he learns trading is fun and that 95-99% of the time, he gets the original item back. Then it will be much easier to convince him to trade in those incidents when you can't give him back whatever thing he's picked up that might be dangerous/expensive/gross/etc. But prevention is still key for the gravel thing to keep it from becoming a long-term problem.

Incidentally, I made the mistake of making it very fun for my younger dog to pick up gravel. He's two and will still occasionally bring a piece inside when he feels he isn't getting enough attention. We know by now that he'll just carry it around, stare at us, and drop it repeatedly and loudly to try to get us to engage, so I'm not too worried he'll actually chew/swallow a piece. But if I'd focused more on preventing the behavior rather than trading for treats/attention, he likely would never have created the 'game' in the first place, and I wouldn't have to worry at all.
Thank you for your advice and suggestions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Labs are notorious for eating everything. My sibling's 11 yr old lab got very ill once. She called the vet and he said to bring him him and the vet would run a bunch of tests to see what was going on. My sibling brought him in and when the vet saw the dog he said " you didn't tell me he was a lab. He ate something. I'll do surgery and remove it and he'll be fine." The lab had eaten an oak ball and it was poisoning him and blocking his intestines.

When my sibling picked him up, she noticed the poster on the exam room wall - it was of a lab surrounded by the 100 tennis balls he had eaten and had surgically removed.

So always assume that whatever your lab puts in his mouth he will likely swallow. Teach him "drop it" (drop what he has already picked up) and "leave it" (ignore what he is showing an interest in). Do this by having him trade the rock in his mouth for a better tasting treat. Use the drop it command every time. He'll figure out that dropping the rock will get him something better. For leave it, as soon as he starts showing an interest in the gravel, re-direct him to something appropriate (toy, chew) and give him a treat when he ignores the gravel.

Make sure there are appropriate dog toys and chews for him to focus on instead of the gravel.

If he starts to obsess on rocks, you might want to de-gravel an area of the yard and confine him to that area when you cannot keep a close eye on him.
Thank you for your advice.
 
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