Your dog likely loves to play with sticks when he’s out walking with you. If he doesn’t play with them, he might pick one up in his mouth, carry it around, or even bring it home. But why do dogs like sticks?
One suggestion that doesn’t make sense to me is that it reminds a dog of a bone. Dogs are pretty intelligent animals, and even if a dog wasn’t that smart, it makes no sense dogs will mistake a stick for a bone. A stick may be somewhat similar in shape, but that’s where any comparison ends. A bone smells like a bone, tastes like a bone, and a stick tastes well, like a stick.
Dogs don’t just pick up and carry sticks, though. They try to pick up and carry the most oversized sticks they can find. Some of them look more like a branch of a tree than a stick.
We’ve all seen videos of a dog holding a branch in his mouth, trying to navigate through a space narrower than the branch. Comical, the dog cannot figure out why he’s not getting through.
It appears to be a natural behavior for dogs to carry around sticks, and dogs thoroughly enjoy the activity.
Why Do Dogs Carry Sticks On Walks?
A stick could be just good old fashion fun to a dog. Dogs can pretend to hunt it, creep up and pounce. Then tear the stick to pieces – chewing it and trying to splinter the wood all in the name of fun.
While it might be fun for your dog, it carries some inherent danger, which I’ll further discuss in the article.
Why Do Dogs Like Sticks And Want To Carry Them In Their Mouths?
I have come up with a few reasons why I believe dogs love to carry, play, and chew on sticks.
1. Your Dog Sees A Stick As A Toy
A stick could be the alternative to a toy. Dogs love toys, and it doesn’t matter what age they are. Even better is a toy they can chew on for a long while. If your dog is an aggressive chewer and his goal with every toy you give him is to chew it to shreds, he might enjoy a stick because it can last for hours, depending on the thickness.
2. Natural Instinct For Dogs To Hunt For Sticks
Most dogs still have remnants of their hunting instincts intact. Even the tiniest breed of dog believes himself to be a brave and ferocious hunter.
Hunting for sticks may be an outlet for those instincts. If you watch closely enough when your dog is foraging, he will pass up sticks until he finds the stick he is looking for; either that or your dog wants the fun of foraging to last longer.
He’ll often bring the sticks over to you, this is a way of showing you how clever and resourceful he is, and you should be equally impressed and praise him.
Picking up and carrying a stick might be such a natural habit, your dog doesn’t realize he’s doing it. If I think about my Havanese for a moment, whenever we return home, he’s naturally excitable, but his first action is to run around to find and pick up something to bring to us; and he’s not even a retriever.
3. Dogs Like The Taste Of Sticks
Could it be dogs love the taste of sticks? Not having eaten one myself, I can only surmise a dog must like the taste. Or perhaps it’s the texture that appeals. They smell earthy and lie on the grass or shrubs; they probably pick up some kind of mossy taste and smell.
Sticks do come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. Young twigs are green and supple, moister, I suspect. Older and thicker twigs are going to be crunchy. Then there are the sticks that crumble as soon as the dog bites down on them.
4. Dogs Like The Smell Of Sticks
Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Dogs will first smell an item, and then if the scent is encouraging, will lick the thing. Dogs react this way to anything that has an appealing smell. When a dog finds a particular stick attractive, it might be because the scent is so inviting, he cannot avoid it. If he smells, licks, and puts the stick in his mouth but leaves it behind, he might be transferring his smell to add to all the other scents on the stick.
5. Dog Mouth Play
Many dogs love to hold toys or other things in their mouths, not even to chew them, either. Sometimes they grab something to show off to their owners. Or they are so excited they must have something in their mouth.
Dogs who behave this way are more than likely to want to carry sticks in their mouth. It would seem a reasonable assumption. Most humans pick up objects with their hands and fiddle with them when they are nervous or excited, so it’s not too much of a stretch that dogs may do something similar with their mouthing habits.
6. Dog Teething Or Sore Gums
We know puppies love to chew on just about anything to relieve the ache in their mouths when teething, just like human babies. But even as they get older, some dogs may suffer from sore gums, mainly if they don’t get their teeth cleaned regularly.
If they never have a bone to gnaw on or a hard enough toy to chew, something is missing from their lives. Dogs love to chew and bite; it’s in their genetic make-up. So a dog chewing on a stick seems quite natural for a dog that never gets the opportunity to chew or bite on other things.
7. Nutritional Deficiencies In Dogs
Numerous sources claim dogs eat certain substances because of a lack of crucial nutrients in their diets, which they can get by eating things such as dirt, feces, and grass. I find this difficult to believe, mostly if you feed your dog a healthy balanced diet, then why do they lack in their nutrition?
It is more likely due to an underlying illness in the dog, for example, parasites, malabsorption syndromes, diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease, or other conditions that could be causing an increase in appetite.
Over 80% of dogs that eat poop do not eat their own. They are far more interested in eating poop from other dogs. Also, if a dog is the only one in a home, there is only a 20% chance of him eating poop, whereas that figure rises to over 33% when there are two or more dogs in the same home.
If something is missing in your dog’s diet, or you have concerns, there might be, then try giving your dog a multivitamin. Vitamin B seems to be a suspect in the missing nutrient theory.
Sticks Can Cause Injury To A Dog
There are two ways a dog can suffer injury because of sticks. The first is by chewing and swallowing pieces of a stick that are too large. The second way is running or jumping with a stick in their mouth.
Generally, more severe injuries occur from the dog having the stick in his mouth and having an accident. Injuries to the inside of their mouths and throat being quite common.
Both types of injuries can be severe, so they must go to a vet as soon as possible.
Dogs Having Sticks Create Medical Concerns
Dogs are pretty smart creatures, and they instinctively know what they should and shouldn’t do with sticks. Yes, chewing is one thing but swallowing what they are chewing is not a good idea. Yet it happens, whether the dog gets too excited and forgets himself, or a dog just wants to be naughty, dogs sometimes do swallow pieces of stick.
There are so many nasty problems arising from dogs swallowing pieces of sticks, having an accident running with a stick in their mouth, or picking the wrong stick to chew.
I have put together a list of common medical problems associated with dogs and sticks; beginning with the dog’s head.
- If you have ever run your finger down a rough piece of wood and got a splinter in your finger, then you know how painful, difficult to remove, and how quickly they turn septic if not dealt with quickly. A dog can get splinters in their gums, tongue, or esophagus. If they don’t get a splinter, they can just as easily get a puncture wound.
- The dog may be susceptible to punctures in the roof of the mouth, in the hard or soft palate. Or further down the throat in the pharynx if the dog attempts to swallow a piece of stick.
- Inhaling a tiny piece of the stick into the trachea can cause a blockage that leads to respiratory tract infections. Possibly causing chest infections, respiratory infections, and even worse, heart, nerves, and blood vessels can see real damage.
- Swallowing stick pieces that find their way via the esophagus into the digestive tract will cause irritation, possible bleeding, and an obstruction if the piece is big enough. If the piece of wood is stuck in the dog’s gut, the only way to remove it is surgery, along with all the inherent risks that it creates. Poisoning from a stick that has some toxic substance on the surface.
- Parasites, fungus, or other unpleasant microorganisms may be growing on the stick. If the dog chews on such a stick, the dog will most probably become ill.
- In the dog’s excitement to play with the stick he may misjudge its size and impale the stick in his eye, mouth, or face.
- If the dog is playing or running with a sharp stick, there’s always the possibility of the stick impaling the dog’s chest. The seriousness of that happening doesn’t take much imagination.
Sticks May Be Toxic To Dogs
Fruit trees like apple and pear have wood that’s attractive to dogs; they seem to like the taste. But they may be toxic to dogs causing severe stomach upsets.
Other trees that can also be toxic to dogs are Azaleas, black walnut, red oak(and leaves), yew trees, red maple, and black locust.
The Dangers Of Dogs Playing With Sticks, Small And Large
It’s not the size of a stick that creates these issues. As we mentioned, a dog can chew down smaller sticks to even tinier pieces and get them stuck in various areas; even if the stick starts more like a branch than a twig, it can soon become much smaller fragments.
Stick impalements seem to occur more frequently with larger sticks. If the dog is trying to get his jaws around a stick that’s way too big, he might injure his jaw.
Further Medical Complications From Dogs Playing With Sticks
The initial damage of swallowing or impalement from a stick may only be the beginning of the health issues.
When the pieces of a stick that penetrate the dog’s insides are so tiny, it’s easy to miss some of them. Once they get inside the dog’s body, they can become smaller and wet from the dog’s blood and become hidden in other parts of the dog’s insides. X-rays have a difficult time picking up tiny pieces of organic matter like wood.
Then there is the real risk of infection from the foreign body inside the dog.
Alternatives To Dog Sticks
Try to keep your dog happy with as many alternative toys as you can rather than letting him play and chew sticks. Your dog might very well love to play and shred sticks, and it’s just a game to him. But there is a real danger to him. If he gets plenty of other toys, he won’t miss the sticks especially, if you buy him toys that he can play with on his walks.
My advice is never to allow them to play with or chew sticks. The dangers outweigh whatever enjoyment your dog gets from the habit.
As we mentioned, different toys can take his mind off any stick fetish he may have.
If your dog is still too interested in sticks, then you need to teach him the “Leave,” “Leave it,” or “Drop it” commands if he doesn’t already obey them.
When he drops the stick, call your dog over to you and give him a little treat and praise him. There needs to be more motivation for him to leave the stick than chew it or even pick it up. You don’t want him to pick it up and run to you for praise; that’s when an accident could happen.
As a kid, I grew up with lots of dogs in my family. My earliest recollection was a Labrador mix called Bruce, and I must have only been about three years old.
When I was around seven, we began to move around frequently, so having a dog was very difficult until we adopted a baby long-haired Dachshund. I was thirteen by then. We called him Pepe; I have no idea why; all I can say was it wasn’t my idea. But he did seem to grow into the name.
I’ve personally been the parent of a Great Dane called Lady, a French Bulldog we called Spike. I have also had the privilege of being the parent of one of the gorgeous cats on the planet; a British Blue Shorthair called Ellie. Right now, we have an amazing little Havanese in our family; we call Biscuit; he’s four years old.
I pride myself on being the very best dog-parent I can be. I refuse to bring a dog into my life without investing as much time as possible to understand that dog’s particular needs. Every dog I have parented has been an experience, and they are all different with incredible personalities.
To understand dogs as much as possible, I have taken several courses regarding dog care and training. The most recent course is The Truth About Cats And Dogs, offered by The University Of Edinburgh.
My dogs and cat have been the funniest and most unique animals I have ever been privileged to spend my life with. They can teach human beings so much if we take the time to watch and listen to them. My ambition is to share what I have learned with other passionate dog lovers.
I am obsessed with writing and researching everything I can about dog health, care, psychology, and finding the best dog products available to help ensure a dog’s life is as happy and contented as possible.