Why Do Dogs Play With Sticks

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If your dog is like most dogs, he loves to play with sticks. In fact, you might even have the beginnings of a healthy looking stick collection in your home or backyard. How many times have you taken your dog for a run in the woods or along the beach only to find him dragging along the biggest stick he could find? Just try to take it away, and you'll find out very quickly how Fido feels about the stick! On the surface, this action seems compulsive and odd, but dog behavior is nearly always rooted in logic. What is the appeal that sends Fido searching for sticks time and time again? This apparent fascination with hoarding sticks makes little sense to us, but it is incredibly rewarding behavior for our dogs. What do dogs get out of gathering sticks? Playing the dog's version of "pick up sticks" is a healthy and natural activity that most dogs enjoy, but like most of our canines' favorite pastimes, the reasons behind it can be more varied and complex.

The Root of the Behavior

It has been suggested that dogs love to gather and chew sticks because they are similar in shape and size to bones, and we all know how dogs feel about bones! While it is difficult to argue with the theory regarding the similarities, there are several key components missing from the equation. Bones taste good and they smell good. The same can hardly be said about a tree branch or weathered stick, so the appeal has to be slightly more complex than the obvious. Dogs are very intelligent beings. They aren't fooled by a stick's similarities to their favorite thing to chew. They are well aware that a stick is just a stick. Still, sticks possess a magnetic draw for our dogs. Even puppies seem to love them. What makes sticks so special? There is little doubt that size and shape do play a role. Wood is also a material that is soft and easy for newly acquired puppy teeth to chew. Couple these qualities with the fact that it is relatively simple to find and have a unique, woodsy smell that is all their own, and you have a recipe for something most dogs want to investigate further. 

Dogs naturally love to source their own toys. They possess a curious nature that compels them to forage for unique treasures. Often, the things they find are items we wish they had just left where they found them! Foraging is gratifying way for our dogs to fulfill several different needs at one time. Because the wild dog needed to procure his food through dedicated searching and hunting, it is only natural for our more domesticated canine friends to possess the same urgency for sourcing valuable items. Foraging allows our dogs to explore and follow where their noses and curiosity take them, and it also affords the opportunity to claim prizes to enjoy later. Because they are plentiful in nature, sticks play a prominent role in prize gathering. Depending on their location, they can carry smells that are particularly enticing to the sensitive canine nose, making the treasure that much more special. Another theory indicates that many dogs chew bones to alleviate dental-related pain. Puppies love to chew things when they are teething, and a stick is an excellent choice from a puppy's perspective. After all, what could be more fun than chewing AND destroying something at the same time? 

Encouraging the Behavior

So, it's easy to see that dogs and sticks are a natural combination. But is there a time when our dog's penchant for chewing sticks should cause us concern? The truth is, it depends on what Fido does with all of the sticks he rounds up. Chewing is a natural stress reliever for dogs. The act itself provides many health benefits for our beloved canine friends. Still, as with chewing bones, there are some aspects that can give cautious owners cause for concern. Because sticks are made of soft wood that deteriorates through weathering and age, they can be an ideal solution to chewing. However, sticks also splinter and should splinters or wood shards become embedded between your dog's teeth or in its gums, this could be problematic and necessitate an expensive trip to the vet. But dental issues are not the only problems our dogs can encounter from gnawing on a good stick. Many dogs choose not only to chew but also to eat, sticks. This can lead to tears or ruptures in the dog's esophagus or even blockages requiring surgery. As with any foreign body, there is also the risk of infection.

Should particles of sticks travel into the intestinal region, the risk of punctures or blockages is highly possible. The only viable treatment for problems of this nature is surgery, and there is a risk of permanent damage and possibly even death. Care must also be taken to ensure that the branches in your yard do not belong to trees that are toxic to dogs. Among the most poisonous tree types are Red Maple, Black Cherry, and Yew. Should any of these lovely trees grace your yard, promptly remove any fallen limbs to ensure that Fido doesn't get a taste of something that could be harmful to him. Are the risks too great to ignore? That's a very personal decision that only you can answer. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

If you feel you would like Fido to focus on other equally rewarding chew toys, there are steps that you can take to help you with this quest. The most effective way to curb the behavior is to simply remove all sticks, tree branches, and limbs for your yard. Fido cannot chew on what is not there! Just as with other disciplines, the simplest method for breaking a habit is to replace it with something else. If you ensure that Fido has lots of other suitable and engaging toys to play with, he will not even notice the missing sticks in the yard. Remove the sticks, but be certain to replace them with toys and bones to keep your dog happy. Chewing is a healthy activity that our dogs love. It greatly enhances their mental and physical well-being. Providing safe chewing alternatives is key to helping our dogs break the stick habit.


Has your dog's backyard stick pile gotten out of control? Worried that Fido is not just chewing on sticks but might be eating them too?  Only you can determine if your dog's stick play is something you want to allow in your home. Follow the few simple tips in this article to break an old habit and build a new one!