It’s a tale as old as time: taking your dog for a walk and throwing a stick for them. For all that it doesn’t really make any sense, it’s irresistible to see your pet overcome with a tail wagging furiously and a grin to match their excitement. And all that for a thin piece of wood.
So why do dogs like sticks? It’s one of those common dog behaviors that slip under the radar as something “normal,” but it seems a rather arbitrary relationship, to say the least.
As it turns out, there are a lot of things that can attract a dog to sticks, whether it’s an opportunity for a pleasurable pastime or the satisfaction of an ancient urge. Let’s take a deep dive into all the reasons why dogs like sticks and what motivates their behavior.
- 1 Why Do Dogs Like Sticks? 11 Reasons
- 1.1 1. It’s All Fun and Games
- 1.2 2. Taste
- 1.3 3. They’re Similar To Bones
- 1.4 4. It Cleans Their Teeth
- 1.5 5. It Satisfies Burying Behavior
- 1.6 6. They Love to Find Treasure
- 1.7 7. Attention-Seeking Behavior
- 1.8 8. They Might Be Anxious
- 1.9 9. They Could Be in Pain
- 1.10 10. Nutritional Deficiencies
- 1.11 11. They Might Have Pica
- 2 Is it OK for Dogs to Eat Sticks?
- 3 Should I Let My Dog Play With Sticks?
- 4 What Should I Do if My Dog Likes to Play with Sticks?
- 5 Conclusion
Why Do Dogs Like Sticks? 11 Reasons
Sometimes it’s boredom; sometimes it’s a breed instinct. But apart from that, there are several reasons why dogs like sticks. Here are the most common ones.
1. It’s All Fun and Games
Dogs love toys, and owners love to spoil their favorite cuddle buddies with plenty of them. At least, nowadays that’s the norm. In the not-too-distant past, puppers didn’t have as many engaging toys available to them, so they made do by finding their own things to play with, including sticks.
This information was passed down the generations, and that’s why even today sticks are the common choice for a plaything. Even though your dog may be the owner of several dozen chewy and fluffy toys at home, they have an instinct that bringing just one more home can’t hurt.
Most of what we taste is actually attributed to our sense of smell; as much as 80%, surprisingly. This is why we have trouble tasting our food when we get a blocked nose. A dog has 300 million olfactory receptors, though, and so they taste things completely differently from us.
Certain types of wood may be especially appealing to them, as well as the scents of any wild animals or delicious moss attached to the bark of that stick.
3. They’re Similar To Bones
Having a good chew on a stick satisfies those ancient urges to gnaw on the bones of their prey for the juicy marrow inside. Even when there is no tasty reward hidden within, the act of chewing or simply carrying a stick is no less pleasurable to your pupper.
It also turns out that as smart as dogs can be, their brains can’t tell the difference between a stick and a bone when one of either is in their mouths. The size, texture, and even weight of sticks can be pretty similar to those of a bone, and their brains release the same endorphins when they chew or carry either one of these.
4. It Cleans Their Teeth
Many dogs develop dental issues as they grow older. Because of the increased risk of disease that poor dental hygiene can promote, more owners are brushing their beloved companions’ teeth these days with pet dental kits.
Doggy toothbrushes don’t exist in the wild though, so dogs developed their own natural way to keep their plaque and tartar in check — by chewing on readily available sticks. The spongy wood is soft enough to pierce gently and firm enough to scrape at the tooth, removing the layers of tartar build-up from eating soft food.
Not every owner likes their furry friend chewing on sticks, though, so a dental chew toy is the next best option for helping to keep their teeth squeaky clean.
5. It Satisfies Burying Behavior
Burying things is a part of dog behavior that can be annoying for fur parents to deal with (not to mention devastating for their gardens). Dogs bury something to protect it from competitors by keeping it hidden until such time as the dog plans to use or eat it.
In modern times this can be food, a bone, a toy, your shoe, or a possessively claimed stick. Perhaps it’s better for Fido to work out their burying habits on something that doesn’t belong to you or a food item that may go rotten and induce sickness.
6. They Love to Find Treasure
Some dogs can be trophy hunters. They love to scour the house for all manner of odd things to claim for themselves and carry triumphantly to their beds for safekeeping, or they forage in the wild for similar treasures.
Sticks smell like woodlands and wild animals, so they’re an attractive choice for a trophy to our canine companion and they’ll carry their chosen stick with pride. Some even insist on bringing it back home with them, even though sometimes the stick in question is out of proportion to their size.
When it comes to choosing these treasures, it turns out that some dogs like a challenge and will grab one that’s far too big. No one can doubt the adorable hilarity of a small dog carrying a huge stick several times their size, though. It makes for a great TikTok, at any rate.
Investing in a good backseat cover for your car will allow your buddy to bring home their prize without compromising the cleanliness of your upholstery.
7. Attention-Seeking Behavior
It’s possible they learned to love sticks from you. It’s not that you’re likely to have a stick in your mouth when your pet is around (although if you’ve done it, no judgment).
But if you give them plenty of praise when they do grab a stick or bring one over, they may be seeking that positive reinforcement from you. If you rewarded the action with some playtime by throwing the stick and encouraging them to bring it back, this will be doubly reinforced in their minds.
If the reward they’re seeking isn’t positive attention, then perhaps your doggo just feels the need to socialize and is asking you for some playtime.
8. They Might Be Anxious
If your furbaby seems stressed, they may turn to chewing on a stick to help relieve their anxiety.
Not only is chewing pleasurable for them but calming as well because it triggers the release of those happy endorphins that counteract stress hormones. So it’s self-medicating for a dog to chew something as a way of looking after their wellbeing.
9. They Could Be in Pain
When a pup is teething, they’re more likely to gnaw on something to soothe those sore and irritated gums by adding pressure. The same goes for when your adult canine buddy is experiencing tooth or gum pain.
This type of pain relief by applying pressure is called Gate Theory, and humans do it instinctively as well. It’s the mechanism that makes you grab hold of your toe if you happen to stub it, or rub at a painful ache.
The physical sensation of touch floods the brain with positive signals, which helps dull out the negative pain signals. So if you find your furry friend chewing excessively, especially at hard things like sticks, it might be time for a trip to the vet to get their teeth and gums checked out.
10. Nutritional Deficiencies
Do you ever suddenly get a craving for a completely random food item and feel like you’ll go insane if you don’t get to eat it right away? Very often it’s attributed to a vitamin or mineral deficiency that your body is begging to be rectified.
Dogs can suffer from the same cravings, and the same cause of them. But they may be driven to eat odd things to satisfy those deficiencies, such as bits of bark, grass, or sticks.
Giving your pet a multivitamin can help get those cravings under control and stop them from eating weird things. If the problem persists, though, a vet visit might be on the cards.
11. They Might Have Pica
Is that a Pokémon? No, it’s a neurological disorder where the sufferer has a compulsion to chew and eat non-nutritive things like dirt, plastic, and — you guessed it — wood. It’s a rather uncommon disorder, though, and it has many possible causes that vary wildly from anxiety disorders to pancreatic disease.
On the other hand, it might just be an indication of typical exploring behavior where your dog is simply exploring its environment with the help of its mouth.
Is it OK for Dogs to Eat Sticks?
Allowing your dog the pleasure of carrying a tasty stick isn’t necessarily bad, though allowing them to chew on one does come with some precautions. Depending on the type of play your furry friend engages in with sticks or where they’re found, they could pose some harm.
Playing fetch with a stick that has sharp bits protruding from it is not advised, as they can pierce the tongue or roof of their mouth fairly easily. It’s actually a pretty common injury for dogs, so it’s better to play fetch with a ball and launcher.
If your doggo is attacking a stick viciously or over-enthusiastically, there is the potential that they might hurt their gums with the rough play. Not only this, but if the stick is quite dry, splinters may break off and get lodged in their mouths, causing them pain.
If you notice your dog is a bit too rough with sticks, buying them a safe alternative and encouraging play with that is probably a better idea.
Apart from the dangers to the oral cavity, there are some other risks associated with this activity, even for mellow chewers. If your buddy loves to chew at sticks, pull pieces of them off, and swallow them, you should definitely keep an eye on their bowel habits, particularly if they’re a smaller breed.
While this is tolerable in small pieces and infrequently, it can happen that a dog might break off and swallow a piece of stick that’s too big to pass safely through its gastrointestinal tract. This would then cause a blockage in your dog’s intestines called an obstruction, which can be a life-threatening condition.
It requires immediate veterinary care, so if you suspect your dog is suffering from one of these blockages, don’t hesitate. There are plenty of symptoms that a dog suffering from a blockage will exhibit, such as vomiting, lethargy, and an inability to poop, so you’ll know when something’s wrong. So even though it sounds scary, there’s no need to worry every time you catch your dog chewing a twig.
Not all sticks are safe for your pet to play with. Horse chestnut, apple, cherry, and beech trees are all toxic to dogs, and eating sticks from these trees can cause digestive problems or illness necessitating an immediate vet visit.
Even if the wood itself isn’t poisonous, if it’s been laying on damp ground for some time there’s a chance poisonous fungi or dangerous bacteria may have made their home on it. If your pupper happens to ingest a part that contains fungal or bacterial growth, they can become quite sick.
If you notice any of these issues arise after your dog has been playing with a stick, see your vet immediately.
Should I Let My Dog Play With Sticks?
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why dogs love sticks. They’re rewarding, they taste good, and it makes your dog feel great just to carry one around. However, the potentially harmful possibilities that chewing and eating them entail often outweigh the benefits of allowing them this seemingly simple pleasure.
These days there are plenty of safe chewing alternatives to offer your furry chum and satisfy their urge to chew.
What Should I Do if My Dog Likes to Play with Sticks?
This is simply a case of discouraging this type of behavior and limiting your dog’s exposure to it. Keeping your garden tidy and free from branches that might be tempting to pick up is the first step.
The second is to put your dog on a good leash when you go for a walk in public spaces to limit how far they roam and forage. You can encourage their foraging habits with a snuffle mat rather. Teaching them “drop it” is also fantastic for those times when they manage to grab a stick they love from nearby.
When teaching them to be discouraged from chewing or eating sticks, it’s important not to punish them or chase them away from the stick. You don’t want your dog to think it’s a game and want to continue the behavior, nor do you want them to become anxious and stressed.
The obsession that dogs have with sticks is legendary. A stick was probably one of the first real “toys” that man ever discovered for their canine companions, if we’re being honest. But the real question we should be asking perhaps is not why they like sticks so much but whether it’s alright to let them.
As it turns out, there are many modern substitutes for the behavior that drives their compulsion for sticks that is much safer for them. So it might be worthwhile investing in a few chew toys rather than risk those vet bills.
Are you interested in knowing more about your pet’s other common behavioral ticks? Look at this article discussing why your dog likes to sleep on you.
I covered all of the costs associated with writing this post on why do dogs like sticks. However, it does contain affiliate links. That means if you click through on some of the links in this article and end up making a purchase I may receive a small commission. It won’t affect the price that you pay. Just wanted to let you know.