I live with a dog that has PICA. I am here to tell you that when a client says their dog eats rocks, sticks, just about everything, address it like it is PICA instead of it’s a puppy who will outgrow it. I never had experienced this disease until I got my second household dog, Henry, and he will eat anything! This disease can be life threatening and the added challenge for me was Henry had a secondary cleft palate so depending on what he ate it had the chance of going up into his nasal cavity. Here are 5 behaviors that I have found helpful in dealing with a dog with PICA.
This behavior is important so that your dog responds to you when you call his name. It also works to gain your dog’s attention so that you can then cue him for another behavior. Using an actual interrupter noise or attention noise like a kissy sound will work to get your dog to focus on you. This is sometimes a better choice than name response because it is easy to abuse their name by over using it. Both the name response and the attention noise should be charged using a very high value, delicious treat.
Once your dog is focused on you, you can then cue him to leave the item he is thinking about eating. This will be one of the most crucial behaviors to train. It does require you to be present with the dog who wants to eat everything but it is possible that the use of leave it over time will help decrease the intensity of the behavior. While Henry still eats things or tries to eat things he shouldn’t, it has improved over the past 3 years.
There will be times when the dog is able to pick up something it shouldn’t and it is crucial to have a fast drop it to prevent him from eating it further.
Coming When Called
If you trust the dog off leash because you have worked hard on teaching the leave it cue, a reliable recall is another essential behavior. Even inside the house recall can work in your favor. If the dog is considering eating something leave it works to stop the behavior and then calling your dog back to you moves him further away from the object.
In the end this is one of the most important behaviors to teach. Teach the dog with PICA to accept wearing a basket muzzle. This allows the dog to have freedom with you outside without being restricted to a leash and allows the dog to be a dog. I would not advise using a muzzle in a heavily dog populated area when your dog is off leash as it does restrict your dog’s natural way of defending himself. This is also important to use when you have a reliable recall.
It is difficult and frustrating to be an owner of a dog with PICA. Management is crucial in preventing unwanted chewing and eating of objects. Having food dispensing toys, nyla bones, raw meat bones, etc. available to your dog will help satisfy some of the chewing desires. You never know what a dog with PICA is going to chew next so keeping a house cleaned of small items like socks and small kids toys will help. Crating the dog when you are unable to supervise will help prevent the undesired behaviors and keep your dog safe. Be certain to keep the crate free of blankets and only provide toys that have been proven to stand up to the chewing demands of your dog.
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