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Don't let your dog have sticks because they are harmful

Why Do Dogs Like Sticks?

Why do dogs like sticks? Dogs love sticks. It’s a fact of life. If you’ve ever been on a walk with your pup and they’ve come across a stick, you know what we’re talking about. They’ll pick it up, carry it around proudly, maybe even chew on it  for a bit. But have you ever wondered why dogs are so obsessed with sticks?

17 Reasons Why Do Dogs Like Sticks?

Every dog loves sticks for different reason. If your dog likes sticks it is probably for one of these 17 reasons. Since playing with sticks is not recommended you need to find out which reason your dog has. Only then, can you address fixing his stick addiction. 

Dog have a much keener sense of smell than we do, so they like sticks. Sticks have all sorts of aromas, including the scent of other animals, rain, moss, and bacteria which can be attractive to dogs.

Eighty percent of taste is our smell. Since dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors, they can taste things we can not. The amount of receptors dogs have explained why they eat “disgusting things” like poop. To them, they are not disgusting. They can taste all the little things that we can not.

Sticks also have exciting textures. They are smooth and rough and sometimes have bark on them which can feel good to dogs.

Dogs like to chew on sticks because it is a physical activity that uses up some of their energy. Dogs need to be active and want to soothe boredom. Playing with sticks relieves this pent-up energy.

Playing helps dogs learn motor skills, practice valuable skills, and stimulate their minds.

Sticks are nature’s toys. Before the pet industry grew, the multibillion-dollar industry today, a dog was lucky to have a bone and one toy. So they had to make their own toys. Sticks are plentiful and easy to find, so they have always made good toys. In addition, people used to play fetch with sticks long before pet toys came about.

While dogs are smart enough to know the difference between a stick and a bone, their brain chemistry does not. The size, texture, and weight of sticks are similar to a bone. However, a dog’s brain has developed release chemicals when they have a bone. These chemicals encourage more of the behavior. When dogs have sticks in their mouths, it releases similar hormones as a bone. Therefore it is physically enjoyable for them to have it in their mouth.

Similar to brain chemistry, the act of chewing releases stress hormones. The act of chewing has a calming effect on the adrenal-pituitary axis in the brain. It triggers the release of endorphins. Chewing is a tool that the dog has at its disposal to ‘self-medicate’ for anxiety and stress.

There is a term called contra freeloading in animal behavior science. Scientists have heavily studied contra freeloading in zoo animals. Researchers found that animals choose to ‘find’ their food over ‘freeloading.’ This is why zoo animals get their food in puzzle tires or balls. Finding food in new places releases hormones to encourage the behavior. These hormones dissipate over time. In other words, a new location lights the brain up, and old ones do not. The brain manipulates animals to feel good when they find a new food source. Feeling good encourages them to find new food sources more often, ensuring survival.

When your dog is testing or has sore gums, they may chew sticks. They are essentially adding pressure to their gums and teeth. The act of pressure-relieving pain is called Gate Theory. Gate Theory is the act of overpowering your brain neurons with good signals to outcompete bad signals. Gate theory is why you hold onto a stubbed toe. The touch sensation of you holding your toe overwhelms the pain neurons shooting into your brain. In other words, you are flooding the gate with positive signals, thus diluting the pain signals.

When animals lack nutrients, including vitamins, they crave food. Plants and moss grow on branches, so they have nutrients. Dogs will chew sticks to try to satisfy their cravings.

There are three reasons your dog uses a stick to get your attention.

  1. They Are Inviting You To Play
  2. They Need Social Interaction
  3. You Reinforced It Before with Praise, Play, Or Food.

Chewing bones helps clean your dog’s teeth. The constant gnawing scrapes plaque off of teeth.

Your dog may identify sticks as a valuable resource. If so, they may carry sticks around to prevent other dogs from having them.

Dogs bury food, chew bones, toys and prey. This behavior is essential for dogs’ wild ancestors to survive because it allows them to protect food while keeping it hidden and then return to eat it later.

Pica is an uncommon neurologic disorder characterized by the persistent chewing and ingestion of non-nutritional items that provide no physiologic benefit to the animal. The causes of pica are often challenging to pinpoint. Still, they can include gastrointestinal illness, anemia, liver disease, pancreatic disease, appetite-inducing diseases (such as diabetes), neurological disorders, nutritional deficiencies, prednisone usage, anxiety disorders, or a sick home environment. Pica might also be an indication of typical exploring behavior.

All dogs have prey instincts. The level of their intuition is based on how humans bred them. Humans bred dogs to do jobs based on how strong their prey drive was. Prey’s drive consists of 8 significant behaviors. Search-Orient-Stalk-Chase-Bite-Kill-Dissect-Consume. Humans have bred dogs to stop at specific stops in this chain. For example, guard dogs are bred to search and orient but not chase. Herding dogs will search-orient-stalk-chase but not bite. Retrievers are bred to search-orient-stalk-chase-bite but not kill. Terriers do everything, including kill; they do not dissect and consume. But if you noticed, the search-orient is common in most dogs which is why most dogs like to find sticks. It may cause dogs to shake and throw the stick up in the air as if to “kill” it. Playing with sticks is more common in terrier and retrieval breeds since humans breed herding and guard dogs not to kill.

Which Dogs Are More Likely To Like Sticks?

Do all dogs like sticks? Yes and No. It is highly probably that your dog likes sticks because they are very attractive for different breeds. However, the two main reasons is boredom and breed type. Therefore you can assume that your dog will play with sticks if they are high energy or breed to “kill” prey. 

Dogs Prey Behavior: Sear, Orient, Stalk, Chase, Bite, Kill, Dissect and Consume

Due To Boredom

  1. Border Collies
  2. Shelties
  3. Australian Shepherd
  4. Australian Cattle Dog
  5. Corgis
  6. Dalmations
  7. Huskies
  8. English Springer Spaniel
  9. Poodle
  10. German Shepherd

Due To Breed Instinct

  1. Labradors
  2. Golden Retrievers
  3. Jack Russell
  4. Beagles
  5. Boston Terriers
  6. Bull Terriers
  7. Irish Setters
  8. Pointer
  9. Weimaraner
  10. Yorkshire Terriers

Should You Allow Your Dog To Play With Sticks

You should not allow your dog to play with sticks. There are alternatives available. The risk outweighs the benefits at this point. Here are the following issues that can arise out of playing with sticks

Don't let your dog have sticks because they are harmful
  1. Foreign Object Obstruction
  2. Injury To Gum, Tounge & Esophagus
  3. Impalement
  4. Broken Teeth
  5. Toxicity (Red Oak. Black Locus, Black Walnut, Yew, Black Cherry, Red Maple)
  6. Allergies (Pollen, Dust, Dust Mites, Grasses, Weeds, Molds)
  7. Parasite (Coccidia, Roundworms, Whipworms)
  8. Fungus (Blastomycosiss, Cryptococcus, Aspergillosis)
  9. Bacterial Infection (Actinomycosis & Nocardiosis)
  10. Locking Jaw Open

What To Do If Your Dog Loves Sticks?

  1. Leash Your Dog When In Public
  2. Remove Temptation From Yard
  3. Teach Drop It
  4. Teach Leave It
  5. Watchfully Ignore It
How to manage a stick addict dog

What Not To Do If Your Dog Likes Sticks?

  1. Punish
  2. Teach Drop It The Wrong Way
  3. Chase Them
  4. Play Fetch With It

Yard Alternatives

You need to give your dog alternatives that are pet safe. Bones and chew toys can fill this gap. While risks are minimized with bones and chew toys, they are not risk-free. Even antlers cause teeth to break. Some toys can be swallowed and cause obstructions. However, it is unlikely a toy will impale your dog, and a bone will have fungus on them. However, old bones can harbor bacteria. So make sure to buy new bones every year.

The objective of this activity is to eliminate boredom and loneliness. Sticks fill a basic need for physical, mental, and social activity. Training and dog sports can provide all three.

If your dog is teething or is having anxiety, you can use the act of touch to relieve pain. Earlier I talked about how touch overpowers the nervous system with good signals—this is why chewing has a calming effect. You can massage your dog’s muscles to achieve the same result.

If your dog finds sticks to satisfy his foraging behavior, you can hack into his brain by giving meals through different mediums. This includes snuffling mats, food puzzles, and slow feeders. Make sure to rotate your methods every month or two so that the brain continues to light up.

If your dog finds sticks to satisfy his prey drive, you can play tug. First, you need to teach your dog the game of tug. Most dogs are not natural tuggers. To teach Tug 1)hold rope by both ends 2) Say get it 3) Swing right to left never up and down 4)Let dog dig backward by pretending to lose but never let go of toy 5) hold toy completely still and say “drop it” 6) The minute they release even just a bit, say “get it” and repeated. Over time your dog will release bigger and bigger. A bonus is you just taught your dog to not only get it but to drop it.

Having specific toys for the yard helps prevent yard boredom. I usually use plastic products as rope tends to get soggy. I specifically use the wobble ball. I have even used this to teach drop it. My dogs know not to bring outside toys inside.

Walking Alternatives

Many people let their dogs hold sticks in their mouths on walks because it prevents reacting to the neighborhood dog. However, my favorite alternative to a stick is the leash. There is little risk of a foreign object, bacteria, or impalement. In addition, if the dog drops it, you still have it in your hand—no need to stop and pick it up again.

Leash pulling is not as bad as people think. People don’t want their dog chewing the leash because “they want to be the one walking the dog.” However, the dog is either playing or relieving the stress caused by the owner pulling. Both are reasonable. So I harness this. I teach my dog how to play tug with his leash correctly. The dog only grabs it when I give the command, and he releases it immediately when I say Drop It. My dogs have a reliable drop because I taught him how to play tug. The best part is I do not have to bring treats on the walk. The reward is playing tug. My dog does not mouth the leash unless given the command, and it prevents leash reactivity because I engage in the game anytime I see a dog

Some owners have their dogs carry the ad newspaper every day. However, this is usually bulky, and very few dogs will do it. Those who do drop it a hundred times make it not worth it for owners.

These toys are great for dogs, but the noise might set off a neighborhood dog which could cause reactivity with your dog. In addition, there is a risk of your dog dropping it every few feet, which becomes annoying for owners.

Frisbees have similar benefits to squeaky toys, but they do not squeak, making them better for preventing other dogs from reacting to you. However, there is the risk of picking it up every block.

Frisbees have similar benefits to squeaky toys, but they do not squeak, making them better for preventing other dogs from reacting to you. However, there is the risk of picking it up every block.

Dogs love socks because they are soft and smell like their owner. It also tells them a lot about your health and where you have been. It also soothes loneliness & separation anxiety because the smell gives them familiarity. While a sock does solve many of the issues associated why chewing sticks, it is still possible they could swallow the sock and have a foreign object obstruction.

A non-squeaky toy is similar to a Frisbee or a ball. It does not have the danger of a stick nor attracts the attention of other dogs. However, it tends to get dropped a lot. Those dogs who do drop it a hundred times make it not worth it for owners.

Avoid Sticks At All Cost

It is best to avoid sticks. This is because of the risk they pose. There are so many healthy options we can provide with our dog they should no longer rely on sticks for entertainment, pain relief, or dietary needs. 

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