I have a 5-year-old Golden Retriever who eats dirt. Why does he do that?
Your Golden could be eating dirt for many reasons. This behavior is called “pica”—eating non-food things like dirt, rocks, etc. Behavior-based pica can stem from boredom or mimicking other dogs; physical reasons could be anything from anemia to gastrointestinal problems, including a disease that doesn’t allow food to be properly processed, so nutrients don’t get absorbed.
Look at your dog’s day-to-day routine. Does he eat just once a day? Dogs need to eat twice a day; if he’s not, he may just be trying to satisfy hunger. Is he eating dirt located in just one area? Could be something yummy was once buried there, like an old bone or animal carcass or, if it’s soil purchased for planting, the high mineral content could be tempting to him. Do you feed him a high-quality food? Is he exercised at least 1/2 hour every day? He’s a Golden; they’re extremely social and need to be with their people in the house.
Backyard time should be on his terms so he doesn’t suffer from social isolation. I recommend taking him to his veterinarian for blood work and a checkup to rule out any physical problems leading to the pica.
If he gets a clean bill of health, your next step would be having a trainer come out to your home and work with you on remedying the problem. Be sure you contact someone who uses gentle methods—positive reinforcement and motivational techniques are the way to go. Any harsh methods would backfire and cause your dog stress, which would encourage the pica even more.
A great place to look for a trainer is the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Just click Trainer Search, then type your zip code to find trainers near you. Call at least four people before making a decision on who to work with, making sure you’re comfortable that no punishment-based methods are used.