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D2005-25

Dear Daisy Dog

Mugsy, our nine-month-old pug, eats everything: rocks, mulch, paper, plastic, bugs.

He doesn’t just chew these things; he swallows them when he gets the chance. How can we break Mugsy of this habit?

Daisy Responds

I am a delicate eater and abstain from eating non-food items.

So I consulted my golden retriever brother, Sam, who chews rocks, and my good friend Chickie, a pug with dozens of pug friends.

Their advice is as follows:

Ensure that Mugsy gets plenty of exercise and eats two to four small meals of high quality food every day.

Try a high-fiber diet or an orally stimulating food, like Science Diet Oral Care.

Give him a toy that dispenses tiny food treats when he rolls it around the house.

Ask your veterinarian to conduct blood tests, urinalysis and a fecal exam to make certain Mugsy has no metabolic, parasitic or other diseases contributing to his abnormal eating behavior.

Consider using a basket muzzle that allows Mugsy to pant and drink, but prevents him from ingesting unsafe items. Some pugs have breathing difficulties, so check with your veterinarian first, to be sure a basket muzzle is safe for him.

If Mugsy eats unsafe items while you are away, crate him. If he eats them when you’re around, teach him other ways to get your attention.

Engage his brain with obedience training, agility and other activities.

Teaching Mugsy to "leave it" will give you more control over what he picks up. Start by walking him on leash near a toy or rock. Tell him to "leave it" and offer him a tasty treat instead; when he looks away from the toy, praise him and give him the treat. As Mugsy progresses with his training, he will "leave it" even when he's off leash.

Use the same kind of positive reinforcement to teach Mugsy to "drop it," a cue that's useful if you miss the opportunity to tell him to "leave it."

Let Mugsy know what he can chew by offering him a safe toy and telling him to “take it.” Praise him when he takes the toy from you and begins to chew it.

If these techniques don’t work, request a referral to a veterinarian who specializes in behavior. Medication and behavior modification are often effective.

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