Why do dogs like sticks? We buy our furry friends the best quality chew toys, that are clean, hard-wearing, and suitably squeaky enough to drive us mad when chewed on for a ridiculously long time.
So why do our dogs happily abandon their favorite squeaky toys for a big muddy, half-chewed stick?
Fortunately, in this article, we tackle that very issue, as we answer this burning question “Why do dogs like sticks?”
Many dogs like to carry stuff, and sticks are often one of the most favorite things to carry all the way home from a walk. Often the bigger and more unwieldy the stick, the more valuable it is to your dog, especially if it’s several times the length of your pup.
When dogs find treasures like the humble stick, it becomes an extra special plaything to carry home and protect.
Why do dogs like sticks so much?
To us, dogs seem to be fascinated with sticks, and for some strange unimaginable reason, they prefer to play with sticks, carry sticks, chew sticks, and chase sticks more than anything else. But what could be so special about a dirty, brown, slobber-covered stick?
To our canine friends, the magical relationship of dog and stick is a very real, and complicated one.
A dog may pick up a stick for various complicated purposes, and in this section we’ll reveal the many common reasons why sticks seem to be attracted to your dog’s mouth, or the other way round.
Just like wild animals, the hunting instinct is still strong in domestic dogs. Yes, even an out of shape pug that likes to toast their belly by the fire while gently breaking wind, has a prey drive buried deep inside them.
The stick they pick up in the park triggers their inner hunter or forager instinct.
It’s a way for your dog to show off to you, their pack leader. Your hairy sidekick is attempting to impress you with their amazing hunter/gatherer skills.
Instinctively, they’re mimicking what they would do in the wild. The stick in your dog’s mouth represents prey. They chase the stick down and then kill the stick. It’s the reason why dogs sometimes like to tear their sticks apart.
Tearing a stick apart can have very serious consequences for your dog, but we’ll talk about this in more detail later in the article.
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It Looks Like a Bone
It’s not hard to imagine that the sticks that dogs carry, can appear like long bones to our slobbery best friends.
Dogs love to chew bones because of their texture but they also like the taste and nutrition found in the bone marrow.
When gnawing or chewing bones are not possible, a wooden stick is a convenient alternative to a dog.
In the same way that we explore new objects with our hands to hold, touch, and learn about them, dogs do this with their mouths.
Some dogs just like holding objects such as sticks, they like the feel of it in their mouth. It can also be reassuring for some dogs to know that they’ve always got something to play with while they’re on their travels.
Essential nutrients missing in your dog’s diet
Some dogs will eat things that aren’t regarded as food such as, dirt, plants, feces, and sticks. This could be a sign that key essential vitamins or minerals are missing from their diet.
This could also be a sign of a potentially dangerous condition called pica.
Pica disorder is a condition in which a dog feels the need to eat non-food items. These objects can include:
- Rocks and Stones
Pica is a compulsive or psychological disorder in dogs. However, it could also be caused by poor nutrition or medical problems. We have written a highly detailed article about Pica in dogs that you can find here.
Soothing Sore Gums from Teething
Sticks are a natural attraction that begins at an early age. For a puppy who is teething, wooden sticks are a great choice for your dog’s teeth to get a workout.
Dogs love to be able to play and chew on something while also being able to destroy it. Dogs chew on sticks as a natural way to relieve pent up energy, stress and frustration.
While there are some things you need to be aware of when letting your dog chew sticks, overall it should not be considered a problem.
However, If your dog gets possessive of the stick and begins to disobey you, chewing and carrying sticks may become a problem, and this activity should be discouraged.
Sticks Smell Amazing
Dogs have an astonishing sense of smell, as most people are probably aware. Your dog’s super-sensitive nose can pick up the scent of things we can’t begin to perceive.
While dogs get excited by the smell of food, it doesn’t stop there, dogs can learn all sorts of things from interesting smells, especially the scent of other dogs.
Scent can transfer onto objects such as sticks, making the stick with a unique smell a highly prized item for your furry friend. Not only have they discovered a brilliant new plaything, but they can find out about any previous doggie owners of the stick.
Dogs See Sticks As Toys
Toys are great fun for dogs, they love nothing better than to play fetch and chase, shake, or chew on their own toys for hours.
When dogs play with sticks as toys, it can be a fun way for your dog to release excess energy, making them feel happy and content.
Sticks: Common Injury And The Hidden Dangers
The common belief regarding sticks is as long as your dog isn’t getting beaten with one, they’re fairly harmless, right? I mean, they’re not going to explode, or spontaneously leap up off the floor and assault your furry friend.
No, they won’t, but…
Believe it or not, sticks can actually be dangerous and cause all sorts of health issues. In an article about how dogs carry sticks and how much they love them, it would be remiss not to mention the real danger that sticks pose for our unsuspecting dogs. Take a look at these two instances where sticks can literally attack:
Sticks from fruit trees like apples, pear, and other fruit trees can cause various problems for dogs.
The problem starts with the wood from these trees being quite tasty. This can be deceiving for most dogs as these trees can also be very toxic and cause severe stomach upsets.
Other trees to avoid include:
- Red Oak
- Cherry trees such as Black Cherry
- Red Locust
- Black Walnut
- Red Maple
Sticks come in different shapes, weights and sizes. This means that they can travel unpredictably and bounce off the ground in multiple directions when thrown.
This combined with the risk of chewing sticks containing thorns or sharp branches makes it potentially hazardous.
Sticks can inflict a range of minor to deadly injuries on your unsuspecting dog, here’s a list of possible problems you could encounter from playing with, or letting your dog chew their stick.
- Splinters in dog’s gums
- Swallow pieces of the stick causing choking and injury from a foreign body of the digestive tract
- Obstruction caused by a blockage of the GI tract
- Eye injuries
- Cuts to the dog’s body
- Bacterial infections
- The stick could impale your dog
There are incidents of dogs catching sticks on the end before accidentally impaling themselves in the throat. This can cause intense pain and permanent damage to their soft tissue, leaving splinters embedded deep in the throat.
If your dog likes to carry sticks home, and they have a stick-related accident, call the vet immediately.
Sticks: Providing Safe Chewing alternatives
There are many other ways that you can initiate play with your dog, not to mention other options to chewing sticks.
Safer ways to play chase:
- Taking advantage of a dog’s penchant for balls is a wonderful way get your dog off chasing big sticks, and into a running after balls. Make sure the ball is big enough to be comfortable for your dog. A ball toy that has two balls and a rope attached is ideal.
- Rope toys – If your dog likes playing tug with you, these are a wonderfully safe toys for that very purpose.
- Fake stick toys – These are made of rubber and plastic, so they are safe and soft to play with.
If you get the right engaging toys to suit your dogs personality and interests, they won’t be missing sticks so much.
So to answer our initial question, Why do dogs like sticks?
A stick is more than just a lump of wood, dogs like sticks for many reasons, but the number one reason dogs love sticks has to be because they’re so incredibly versatile.
When a dog is carrying a stick, it’s like they’re holding dog version of a smart device, or a Swiss army penknife.
A nice big stick can do loads of amazing interactive things, it’s a natural stress reliever, a makeshift toy to play tug, or chase when playing fetch. A dog’s special stick helps a dog hone their skills for hunting wild animals, or to remove tartar and ease sore gums when teething. It’s a dummy, a chew toy, a comforter, and a great smelling multipurpose boredom breaker….
…and you thought it was just a smelly old stick!
Just be vigilant in the unlikely event that a stick-related accident occurs, or your dog should accidentally swallow small shards of wood splinters.
Remember, these risks aren’t typical, and if you are worried about it, you can seek out some great alternatives to sticks.
On the whole, sticks are safe.
A dog loves nothing more than playing with a well-chewed stick, and as long as you keep a close eye on your furry friend, both of you will have many happy hours of fun playing together.
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All information in the article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian’s advice.
Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of experience, holistic healing, and diplomas in canine anxiety & therapy.
Founder of Anxious Canine and proud CMA member.