How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Sticks

Easy
1-2 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

As a dog lover and owner, you’ve probably seen those idyllic shots of someone else’s precious pooch, romping across the yard, beach or path with stick in mouth. Maybe you’ve even exchanged in a game of fetch with your own Fido. While playing with sticks is all fun and games, the problems begin when your dog decides to upgrade from retrieving into chowing down on these chunks of wood.

Defining Tasks

Many owners may find stick chewing harmless, but in reality, this habit could prove troublesome for the long-term health of your dog. Splinters of wood could break off in your dog’s mouth or become stuck in his teeth, causing cuts, abscesses, infections and more. Large portions of sticks can become stuck in your dog’s windpipe or esophagus, creating obstructions and sharp portions can cause similar issues in the stomach and intestinal tract.

Teaching your dog not to eat sticks is an important part of essential training for your pet. Depending on your individual dog and their love of chewing, you may need to keep vigilant until Fido is completely broken of the habit. It will be important to be patient through the process and avoid yelling or agitating your dog when you catch him chewing.

Getting Started

For the most part, teaching your dog not to eat sticks won’t require any special setting or tools. In fact, it will be important to train your dog “in the field”, meaning the locations where he normally would encounter sticks in his daily routine, to establish the correct associations and build strong aversion and avoidance to sticks. You’ll want to purchase several quality chew toys, treats, and snacks, as well as get your gardening and yard maintenance tools ready. Once you have these items gathered, it’s time to select your method or methods of choice.

The Eliminate Access Method

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Step
1
Patrol
First, you’ll want to clean up your yard of any and all debris on the ground. Be thorough in your search for sticks, branches and shrubbery. Your yard will be doggie proof and look sharp.
Step
2
Trim and prune
Next you should spend some time looking up in your yard. Overhanging trees can drop branches and sticks and should be thoroughly pruned to prevent future access to sticks.
Step
3
Broaden your scope
Next it’s time to talk to your neighbors. Sticks in neighboring yard or overhanging trees can also fall into Fido’s space, creating easy access. Ask your neighbors if they can clean up trees or overhanging brush.
Step
4
Keep an eye out
Once you’ve cleaned up your own yard you should focus on areas where you and your dog frequent. Dog parks should be free of sticks or other debris that could pose a health risk to yours or another person’s pooch. These spaces are often maintained by the city or local organizations so be sure to get in contact if they need a little stick or branch upkeep.
Step
5
Training yourself
Once you’ve eliminated access to sticks, the final step is to set yourself up for success by maintaining good habits and controlling future exposure. If your dog is not allowed to come into contact with branches and sticks it will be much harder to develop or re-develop habits of chewing.
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The Distract & Redirect Method

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Step
1
Observe
Start off this method of training with increasing levels of difficulty to set your dog up for success. First, observe your dog in the back yard and watch for him to start chewing on a stick.
Step
2
Trade
When you see your dog chewing, immediately offer to exchange the stick for a safe toy, bone or other chewable item.
Step
3
Monitor and repeat
Carefully monitor your dog’s behavior. If he tries to pick the stick back up, immediately offer another treat or toy in its place.
Step
4
Pre-empt
As your dog gets used to exchanging toys for sticks, up the difficulty by distracting him before he can pick up a stick in the yard. Offer a stick or toy immediately before your dog starts to pick up the branch, wood or stick.
Step
5
Stay stocked
Finally, as your dog learns to avoid sticks and exchange them for toys, ensure that your pooch has access to plenty of alternative healthy sources of chewables. Consider leaving a box full of toys, knot ropes and bones where your dog has access at all times.
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The Leave It Method

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Step
1
The flexibility of 'leave it'
Teaching your dog to 'leave it' is a helpful method for getting an object--such as a stick--out of his mouth. The command can be used to teach him to avoid picking up sticks to eat in the first place.
Step
2
Lure
Start off with a treat in your closed hand. Make sure your dog knows the treat is visible or that your dog can smell it is there. Pieces of cheese or hot dog work well for this.
Step
3
Wait
Keeping your hand closed, allow your dog to sniff and mouth, trying to figure out how to get the treat out of your hand. The first time your dog backs up, pauses or stops licking at your hand, immediately open your hand and give your puppy the treat.
Step
4
Add commands
Soon your dog will learn that he only receives the treat when they don’t mouth at your hand. When your dog starts waiting patiently, add in the “leave it” command and “take it” command when you allow him to eat the treat.
Step
5
Open hand
Once your dog is doing this with your closed hand, it’s time to move to an open hand method. Place the treat on your open hand and say “leave it”. If your dog tries to eat the treat, close your hand. Do not give your dog the treat until he waits patiently while your hand is open. Once this occurs, say “take it” and allow your dog to have the treat.
Step
6
Practice
Repeat ‘leave it’ and ‘take it’ in a variety of situations and treat levels. Graduate to using ‘leave it’ with objects placed on the floor, out in the yard or in the dog bowl. Remember to always provide a ‘take it’ command and follow up with plenty of praise and bonus treats for long term training success.
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Written by Kimberly Maciejewski

Published: 01/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Teddy
Corgi
1 Year
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Question
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Teddy
Corgi
1 Year

He eats sticks compulsively. We live in NYC and on walks have to avoid sticks on sidewalk, when we take Jim’s one where off lead all he does is eat sticks.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gina, I recommend starting by teaching pup Leave It, and working up to practicing that command with Sticks. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite I would also practice walking pup on a long leash, giving the leave it command when pup approaches a stick, and reeling pup in with the long leash if they don't open, and giving a treat if they do obey. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Remi
Cocker spaniel mix
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Remi
Cocker spaniel mix
10 Months

I just moved into a house from a condo where I have been since I’ve had Remi. Having a yard is wonderful since she has so much energy, but it also creates a few new problems.

She eats and digests sticks like CRAZY. I try to pick up all the sticks in the yard but we have so many trees there are always sticks there no matter what. I try to get them from her but she thinks it’s a game cause she just runs with them. How can I train her to stop chewing on them so much? It’s her favorite thing and it drives me nuts cause I know it’s dangerous.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Olivia, I recommend teaching pup Leave It and Out. Practice that inside first until pup is consistent, then practice outside on leash. Once pup is better at Leave It and Out, I recommend purchasing a long 20 foot training leash and padded back clip harness, then take pup outside on that regularly for a while, giving pup Out and Leave It commands when pup tries to get sticks, and calmly reeling pup in, holding onto the stick very calmly until they get bored and drop it, then letting pup have more slack in the leash again once they drop it - so that more room and freedom is the reward for obeying your command. Additionally, I would provide pup with some save, durable outside chew toys to focus their chewing on instead and practice Drop It also. Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Drop It - exchange method: https://wagwalking.com/training/drop-it Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Remi
Cocker spaniel mix
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Remi
Cocker spaniel mix
10 Months

I just moved to a new house from a condo where I have been since I got Remi. It’s so wonderful to have a yard for her to run around but it also has made some new problems.

1. She eats sticks like CRAZY. I try to remove all sticks from the yard but we have a lot of trees so there are always gonna be treees and sticks. She doesn’t just chew them, she eats them and it’s dangerous so I want to find out how to deter her.


2. She also digs a lot. We have a new yard with new grass and I really don’t want her to dig it up, and everytime I catch her I try to get her to stop but she just goes back there 5 minutes later. How can I train her to not dig?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Olivia, I answered your first question about the sticks separately in your first inquiry, so you should see that. For the digging, I also recommend teaching the Leave It and Out commands. For a while go outside with pup on the long leash so that you can use the leash to calmly enforce your Leave It and Out commands. Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite If pup is spending a lot of time outside without you out there to enforce training, you will need to enforce your training another way too. This usually means using an electronic outdoor pet barrier device, or setting up some fencing like chicken fencing to protect that area from pup's digging, while also working on the Leave It and Out commands when you are outside with pup, and providing pup with something else to do outside, like Fetch with you, a durable safe chew toy, training games like hide n seek come with you, treat finding, or training practice. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Remi
Cocker spaniel mix
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Remi
Cocker spaniel mix
10 Months

I just moved to a new house from a condo where I have been since I got Remi and as much as I am so pumped to have a yard, it has made some new problems.

-She digs a lot. We have a yard with new grass and I really don’t want her to dig it up, and everytime I catch her I try to get her to stop but she just goes back to the same spot 5 minutes later. How can I train her to not dig?

-Also, Is there a good way to train her to come inside when called? She loves outside which is so fun and cute but sometimes I need her to come in on command and she won’t come in unless prompted with treats and I don’t want to always have to do that forever cause it starts a bad habit. Any tips?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Olivia, I answered your digging question separately already in reply to your earlier inquiry, so you should see that. As far as coming inside, I recommend teaching pup Inside. Check out the article linked below and the Reel In method. Using the same steps as you would to teach Come with that method, use the word inside instead of come. Once pup is doing well coming on the long leash when you way inside, have pup go outside with you on the long leash and padded back clip harness each time for a while - This will also help with the other behaviors you have previously asked about with stick eating and digging too. When it's time to go in, command inside. If pup comes willingly, give several treats as soon as pup gets inside (keep a bowl of treats out of pup's reach by the door inside). If pup doesn't come, calmly reel them in with the long leash - to stop the keep away game pup keeps trying to play with you. This combination of treats for coming and the leash, helps pup learn that obeying isn't optional, but if they come when called something great happens. All of this should be done calmly, with the leash doing the enforcing and the treats the rewarding, to help pup stay calm and learn to focus better also. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Terrance
Golden Retriever
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Terrance
Golden Retriever
6 Months

Hello! We have a 6 mos old golden retriever puppy and he is very well behaved and a quick learner. He potty trained and crate trained with zero problems and has mastered sit, shake, lay down, wait. We have been working VERY hard on leave it because whenever we are outside he wants to eat everything and I mean everything. It has caused stomach issues so it’s been a focus. We have tried everything: bitter apple spray, replacing sticks with a toy, he is even understands leave it and knows he gets a treat be leaving or dropping it, but that doesn’t stop him from going back to the sticks/rocks time after time. Any suggestions? Is this something he could grow out of some after teething is over? I understand he may do it some but it’s so excessive right now

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shannan, Right now you are at the height of the destructive chewing phase. Even though pup may be done teething by now, there is a seconds chewing phase that's often more destructive due to pup's jaws developing somewhere between 5-9 months, depending on the dog and breed age can vary. With the right training, and especially management to prevent the chewing from turning into a long-term habit, it typically does get much better with age. Check out the article I have linked below. Continue with your Leave It practice, but also try to limit pup's access to the sticks when you aren't there to remind them to leave them alone. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-not-to-chew/ Retrievers are especially known for chewing and mouthing since they were bred to have such a strong desire to hold and fetch birds, so you aren't alone in this. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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