With an ever-expanding range of enrichment toys to choose from, pets these days are spoilt for choice - but many dogs still enjoy the classics. Just as cats love cardboard boxes, dogs love finding sticks to play with.
Whether they’re proudly parading around with their latest find or playing fetch with it, the humble stick is one dog toy you can’t get at the store - although you can pretty much find it anywhere, so long as there are trees nearby.
Many pet owners are curious about some of their pet’s more unusual behaviours - yet some are so commonplace, we rarely give them a second thought. Why do dogs like sticks? If you have ever wondered why, here is why - plus a few reasons it might not be safest for them.
Regardless of their shape, size or breed, almost every dog has an inbuilt drive to hunt and forage for food inherited from their ancestors. This may be more prominent in dogs such as retrievers, pointers, beagles and terriers which have historically been bred to hunt.
Playing fetch with a stick stimulates your dog’s foraging and hunting behaviours - otherwise known as hunt or prey “drive”: the instinct to chase something. This explains why many dogs feel compelled to play with sticks when you throw them.
But why do dogs like sticks - especially ones they can carry home as “trophies”? This is due to another instinctive behaviour: dogs carry sticks home in much the same way they would bring back prey for the rest of the pack - which is why a dog doing this will often look very proud of themselves!
In some cases, your dog’s behaviour when carrying a stick may point to some behavioural issues. In most cases, dogs who play with sticks tend not to tear it apart. If they do, this is known as an active kill/bite instinct, which can potentially make them unsafe around others.
Some dogs may also exhibit resource guarding, which is where dogs find certain items which they become possessive over. If you notice any of these signs in your dog, speak with your vet. Your vet may refer you to an animal behaviourist, who will also be able to advise on certain training techniques to help your dog.
Chewing and Health Risks
Dogs have a keen sense of smell, and love to use this to forage and find treasures. Since objects found outside can pick up a variety of scents, the unique smell and texture can be especially enticing to them. But why do dogs like sticks in particular?
Due to the texture of wood, dogs also enjoy chewing on sticks - although this should be discouraged. If dogs carry sticks, this is relatively safe; however chewing them could lead to choking and allergic reactions, in addition to a number of other potentially life threatening health risks such as:
● Oral infection or damage to the mouth due to splinters
● Picking up sticks can also lead to your dog picking up infection through Ingesting harmful bacteria or toxins, especially in some native UK trees such as cherry, walnut, red maple, apple, beech, horse chestnut and yew.
● Internal or external puncture wounds due to the sticks’ sharp edges (these may then become vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections)
Chewing on sticks may be an indicator of pica (indiscriminate chewing) - where a dog eats sticks or other non-food items. It may even show up as coprophagia (eating faeces).
Pica can have a number of underlying causes including anxiety, nutritional deficiencies or certain medications. If your dog has eaten a non-food item, contact your vet as soon as possible as ingestion could lead to potentially life-threatening digestive issues.
All dogs love to play - and this can include a determined mission to find the perfect stick for you to play fetch with them. Playing with your dog helps strengthen the relationship between you and your pet and can even be used as part of training.
Whether you are playing fetch with a stick, a ball or a dog toy, they’re likely to associate it with something that feels good, i.e. fun with their owner - especially if they receive positive feedback from you. That said, all dogs love sticks, but they’re not the safest - nor the only option when it comes to playing fetch.
There are safer ways for your dog to engage with their hunting instincts - for example swapping a big stick for a dog chew toy they can play fetch with. A good place to start is with our range of pet products, which include our dog harness selection, plus a wide range of dog leads to bring with you on walks.