If you’ve ever taken your dog for a romp along the beach or even for a walk in the woods, it is inevitable that he will come across a stick that catches his eye. For the remainder of your walk, your dog will proudly carry his treasure, even trying to sneak it into your car when you’re not looking! But dogs don’t just like to carry sticks, they also enjoy chewing on them or finding another dog who is keen on using the stick for a rousing game of tug. It’s hard for us to understand what the appeal is. After all, sticks are dirty, don’t smell that pleasant, and if you had to hazard a guess, they don’t taste great either. You can’t help but ask yourself this question—why do dogs like sticks?
While we can’t definitely say what it is about a stick that makes your dog think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, we can definitely pull together some logical conclusions. Firstly, if you analyze the size and shape of a stick, it certainly resembles one of every pooch’s most favorite things: a bone! Though a stick may closely resemble the proportions and outline of a bone, it does fall short on some of the other key elements: taste and smell.
Consider this: the stick serves a different purpose for your dog than that of the bone. The shape of both a bone and a stick makes it easy to fit in your dog’s mouth. It is also lightweight enough for your pooch to carry as far as his imagination and energy will take him.
Your dog doesn’t think the stick is a bone; he’s far too smart for that. His nose let him know the minute he picked the stick up that this was an item that was not to be eaten. However, the stick’s soft, spongy texture is the perfect thing for Fido to sink his teeth into to have a satisfying chew! In fact, you may find puppies also gravitate towards sticks. Why is this? Because the soft, porous material of wood soothes teething pain when a puppy sinks its teeth into it.
Yet another reason why your pooch might rate sticks highly on his list is the fact that procuring the very best stick is a fun game! Dogs naturally love to search through wooded areas in search of their own treasures. Since our dogs originally lived in the wild and had to fend for themselves to survive, they became experts at the art of foraging. Though your dog has no need of sourcing his own food or toys, the urge remains powerfully strong in him. Today, there is no longer a need to struggle to survive. Instead, the art of using Fido’s nose to find interesting things is an exciting and rewarding game. He who ends up with the most sticks wins!
Dogs love to use their noses. It is an intensely gratifying exercise. Sticks are a particularly great “find” because they contain a variety of smells, a rich reward after the hunt is over. Some dogs also like to gather piles of sticks. This mentality may draw its origins from the wild dog who would need to accumulate resources then to store them for later use. Your pooch knows he can only carry or chew one stick at a time, but it’s always a good idea to stockpile for later. Kind of like us with chips when we know a storm day is on its way!
We must always bear in mind that dogs are opportunists. If they can’t find a bone, they’ll find the next best thing, and a stick would certainly fit the bill! Couple that with the fact that sticks bear their own distinctive musky smell, and your dog gets a double whammy of sensory input: new smells and chewing satisfaction!
Some Concerns about Dogs and Sticks
Though carrying around a stick is not inherently harmful for your dog, chewing them can pose some serious health risks. Of course, if your dog likes to gnaw on sticks, the stick will eventually break down and splinter. These little shards of wood can become embedded in your dog’s gums or mouth causing pain and possible infection.
But it’s not just tiny slivers that can be a problem. Chunks of sticks can get caught in your dog’s throat causing choking and even asphyxiation. Thankfully, most dogs prefer to chew sticks rather than swallow them. If your dog thinks that a stick might make a nice snack, it’s likely best that you not permit your dog access to sticks at any time to prevent potential injury or even death.
Another consideration is the fact that not all woods are safe for pets to chew on. Some types of wood are actually poisonous, and some of the mosses and molds that grow on them can also be problematic if licked, inhaled, or ingested. Here is a list of some of the types of trees with poisonous bark and which must be avoided at all times:
- Black walnut
- Black cherry
- Red oak
- Black locust
- Red maple
Experts say that dogs who like to eat sticks may be suffering from a more serious medical condition. If you find your dog does more than simply shred or chew his wooden “finds,” it may be time to visit your veterinarian for a routine wellness exam and to run Fido’s blood work. It is always better to err on the side of caution than to assume something is just one of your dog’s quirks and discover your pooch has a serious health problem when it is too late to treat it. Among the issues stick eating might be a symptom of are:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Deficiencies in diet, minerals, and/or vitamins
- Dental concerns
- Behavioral problems
- Inadequate nutrition
If your pooch loves to chew sticks, you will want to teach him a solid “leave it” command. This will help if he decides to try take off with a stick that you think is too small for him to safely chew. The “leave it” command essentially communicates to your dog that he must relinquish whatever it is he is planning to abscond with when asked to do so. Whenever you issue the “leave it” command, always replace the item you are asking your dog not to touch with something extremely high value. In this manner, your dog learns that every time he obeys the “leave it” command, he will be given something even better than what he started with. This is a great and fun way for your dog to learn to trust you and not to simply follow his own instincts wherever they may lead him!
Yes, dogs do like sticks.
Of this there is no doubt! You don’t necessarily have to ruin Fido’s fun by forbidding any stick play. Just be sure to carefully supervise all stick chewing time and steer clear of any wooded areas which might contain poisonous barks, and sticks and stones don’t have to break Fido’s bones!