I’m willing to bet we’ve all seen a dog carrying a big old branch like it’s the premier league trophy, or at least a pooch playing fetch with a stick. We take it for granted that pups and sticks go together like ducks and water, but we don’t often think about why dogs like sticks.
But why do dogs like sticks so much when our other pets don’t seem slightly interested? Let’s find out why sticks seem to make your dog tick, and explore all the other “twiggy” to answer questions you might have about why your pup’s barking mad love for branches.
Why do dogs like sticks?
Until we can teach a dog to talk or learn to read their minds, we’ll never know exactly why dogs love sticks. Some dogs don’t have any interest in sticks at all, while others are barking mad over them and try to drag around the biggest branch they can find. So why do dogs like sticks?
Some people think it’s because sticks are shaped a bit like bones. Although similarly long, that’s about all they have in common. Sticks won’t taste like bones or have the same texture, but maybe carrying a stick around taps into your dog’s primal hunting instinct.
They do carry them around like trophies, so maybe they think they’re a prize. Your pooch has been expertly sniffing and stalking the park ready to pounce on their prey, the perfect stick. It could be that they’re satisfying their own hunting instinct and desire to play with whatever they find, and sticks are pretty plentiful in most parks.
The reasons why dogs like sticks could be learned too. On walkies, we will often pick up a stick and throw it for our furry friends to fetch. Your pooch will soon learn that getting a good stick will get you to play a game with them, so they start finding their own sticks to bring to you.
When considering why do dogs like sticks, the most compelling answer is that to your dog, sticks = fetch = fun!
Dogs love to play and given the opportunity, they’ll turn anything into a toy or a game. Sticks are everywhere, and their size and weight probably feels satisfying for your pooch to hold. Add in the fact that their human seems to throw any stick they’re offered, and it’s easy to see why they learn to love these twiggy toys.
Why do dogs carry sticks?
Some dogs just enjoy the weight and feeling of something in their mouth, and sometimes, it can be a compulsion to carry something. When your dog also knows that a stick means fetch, they’ll want to hang onto their new toy for as long as possible so you can keep playing.
Your pooch might have been picky about finding the perfect stick too, and they might hang onto a particular stick because it has a certain weight, texture, or shape that they prefer to hold.
Many breeds of dog were bred to retrieve game, like Labradors and Springer Spaniels. These dogs were selectively bred to inherit the desire to fetch and carry things for their human, so it’s perfectly natural for them to exhibit this behaviour by fetching and carrying things like sticks.
Sometimes, your dog might just be hanging on to a stick so they can chew it later. Although dogs have a tendency to chew and gnawing on toys is natural and soothing, it’s not a good idea to let your dog snack on sticks.
Why do dogs fetch sticks?
Why do dogs like sticks? Because sticks make fetch happen. But then why do dogs fetch sticks?
Dogs fetch sticks because they love to play, and sticks are easy to pick up and make a handy makeshift toy. Most of the time if a dog brings you a stick, you throw it, so your dog will learn that sticks mean fetch, which ingrains the behaviour and makes sticks a valuable toy for them out on walks.
As mentioned above, many breeds of dog also have a built-in desire to chase things and bring them back to you because they were bred to help humans chase and retrieve prey. Humans have been using dogs to help us hunt for thousands of years, so most dogs have some prey drive and a deep desire to chase anything that moves.
Playing fetch lets your dog use up energy and exhibit their natural desires to chase and retrieve. Fetch is also a form of play, which your dog loves, and it usually earns a lot of one-on-one time with you and praise. You might not give them a treat for fetching a stick, but I bet you praise them, pet them, and throw the stick again.
All of these things count as rewards in your doggy’s eyes, so they soon learn that fetching sticks is great because it gets you playing with them and praising them.
Even the first time your dog ever picked up a stick you probably took it off them and started a game of fetch, or maybe even grabbed a stick yourself and lobbed it across the park. Your pup soon learns you like it when they bring you the stick back and does it more often to please you.
Plus, it just feels good to play fetch in the same way we humans enjoy playing games or sports. Dogs fetch sticks just because it’s fun and it’s an easy game they can play anywhere, anytime. So it’s no wonder your pooch keeps trying to make fetch happen!
Is it safe for dogs to play with sticks?
It’s perfectly fine for dogs to play with sticks as long as they don’t start chewing or eating them. There are few things that seem as natural as a dog bringing you a stick and there’s no harm in making use of a stick as a makeshift toy while you’re out on walkies.
However, it isn’t always fun and games when it comes to playing with sticks. As well as injuries associated with eating sticks, which I’ll talk about below, your pooch can cause themselves puncture injuries.
This is usually caused by the dog running and stumbling with a stick, impaling their body or their mouth. That’s why it’s sometimes best to “stick” to using a dog toy instead because there’s no worry about your dog hurting themselves.
Why do dogs eat sticks?
Your furry friend uses their mouth like we would our hands, which is why they like carrying and chewing things so much, including sticks. These twiggy toys have a range of textures from hard and tough wood, to that crumbly half-rotten kind that falls apart in your hands.
Chewing is also perfectly natural for dogs, and they’ll chew their toys to work their jaw muscles, soothe sore teeth and gums, and just because they enjoy it. In this case, sticks are just another “toy” to chew.
Plus, sticks must carry all kinds of smells we humans cannot sense but your dog loves, like the aroma of the tree, dirt, maybe a bird that’s sat on it, or even another dog that’s carried it. To a dog, sticks are a sensory smorgasbord of interesting smells, tastes, and textures to explore.
Is eating sticks bad for dogs?
Eating sticks can be bad news for your furry friend, even though it’s a natural and common behaviour. Although most pooches will spit out shards of wood as they chew, some may accidentally - or deliberately - swallow some splinters of wood.
These splinters can get stuck inside your poor pooch and cause all kinds of problems. We all know how much a splinter in the finger hurts, now imagine one getting stuck in your dog’s gums.
Splinters and broken wood could also pierce or scratch their throat and digestive tract, causing injury and potentially leading to infection. These bits of wood could also create a blockage in your dog’s throat or gut, which often requires surgery to remove.
If you have a pup that takes to chewing on sticks rather than chasing or carrying them, it’s a good idea to distract them with another toy or take the stick away when it looks like they’re going to try tearing the twig apart. You might feel like a killjoy, but it’s the safest thing to do and will prevent any injury to your pooch as well as preventing any stressful (and expensive) vet visits.
Stopping your pooch from chewing a stick doesn’t have to end their fun though, just replace it with a safer, less splintery toy like a ball. That way your pooch can enjoy all the fetching, carrying, and chewing they like without any of those nasty splinters.
Some sticks are potentially poisonous
Eating sticks can also pose a problem depending on what tree the stick has come from. Many trees native to the UK like Yew, Beech, Horse Chestnut, Apple, and Cherry trees are all considered toxic plants for dogs with the potential to make your pooch poorly if they chew on their sticks.
Other than the type of wood, sticks and branches that have been sat around could be harbouring any number of fungi or bacteria. This isn’t normally a problem provided your pooch doesn’t start eating them but could make any pup ill if they snack on a stick.