Why Do Dogs Like Sticks?
Written by Kristian Porter
Does your dog love to bring back a stick trophy from every walk to add to their collection? Sticks seem to be nature’s dog toys, and many dogs find joy in toting around ones that are twice their size.
This attraction between dogs and sticks, like most things, stems from their natural instincts.
Read on to learn why dogs like sticks, the potential risks of your dog playing with sticks, and some great stick alternatives.
5 Reasons Your Dog Loves Sticks
What is it about sticks that dogs are naturally drawn to? There are actually a variety of factors that combine to make it a much-loved toy.
Here are the top 5 reasons your dog loves sticks:
1. Foraging Instincts
In the wild, dogs are natural foragers and scavengers. To find food, they have to actively sniff out, search, and problem-solve, which makes mealtime even more satisfying.
Your dog has these same instincts and desires to forage. This is part of the reason they may counter-surf when you’re not watching or pick up things on the ground while you’re out for a walk.
To find a stick, your dog gets to engage similar parts of their brains. They get to sniff and search for the right stick, and then bring it back to you like a prize they’re excited to show off.
Similar to their natural instincts to scavenge, most dogs also love to explore their surroundings. Any time they can veer off the beaten path, they love an opportunity to take in new smells and sights.
Often, finding sticks means exploring a new area and taking in new smells, especially in heavily wooded areas with lots of wildlife smells to experience.
3. Attractive Size and Shape
Sticks are a similar shape to bones, another one of your dog’s favorite chew toys. They are a familiar shape, but available in tons of sizes, so your dog gets to pick what they like best.
The long, cylindrical nature of sticks (and bones!) fit easily in your dog’s mouth and feel natural to chew on, even if they are of a different texture and taste.
4. Chewing as Naturally Calming Behavior
Sticks are a different texture than bones, so it’s not hard for your dog to tell the difference. The softness of wood and its natural give makes it easy and rewarding for dogs to chew on.
Chewing, in itself, is a rewarding behavior for dogs of all ages. Colin Tennant, the chairman of the U.K. Canine Behaviour Association, said that “Chewing for a dog is like a human opening a door and looking into a room.” Dogs use their mouth to interact with and understand the world.
Chewing is also naturally calming and stimulating for your dog’s brain. Dogs use it as a way to cope with anxiety, stress, and boredom.
5. Fetch is Fun and Rewarding
What pairs better with a stick than a game of fetch?
Fetching is a natural behavior for dogs, and one that many of them are already good at, even without any training. Certain breeds, like Labradors, have been bred with chasing and retrieving skills in mind.
Fetching is rewarding for your dog, both intuitively and because you, as their owner, praise them for it. It’s a quick win for your dog and a great way to flex their skills and feel satisfied at a job well done.
Fetch also provides exercise and a great way for you both to bond through communication and quality time together.
Potential Risks of Playing with Sticks
Despite how much your dog loves sticks, playing with them can be dangerous for your furry friend.
Mouth and Throat Injuries
Sticks can easily break and splinter, leading to painful injuries, infections, and obstructions in your dog’s mouth and throat.
Even small splinters can be dangerous, sometimes even more so, because they can silently cause damage without you knowing by lodging into your dog’s gums or jaw. In these cases, the splinters can rot your dog’s tooth, leading to extractions and infections.
Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC Chief Veterinary Officer, has said that sticks can seem harmless, but he’s “had dogs come into our hospital with sticks stuck across the roof of their mouths, stuck in their throat, or with deep penetrating wounds in their oral cavities caused by sticks.”
If your pup swallows one of the splinters from the stick they found, this can cause a blockage in their gastrointestinal tract. GI blockages can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, and without veterinary help, they can be life-threatening.
Sticks are also covered in dirt and bacteria, both of which can lead to upset stomachs and digestive issues in your dog.
Safe Alternatives for Your Stick-Loving Dog
There are lots of safer alternatives that give your dog the same satisfaction as
Durable Stick Fetch Toys
Fetch toys, like our Hive Fetch Stick, feature the same familiar stick shape, erratic bounce, and retrieving satisfaction as a real stick. Look for USA-made toys made from safe, durable material that’s easy to chew and easy to clean. (Ours are top-rack dishwasher safe!)
Plus, stick fetch toys are just as easy to carry around in their mouth if your dog loves the satisfaction of showing off their prize.
Dog Chew Toys and Treats
If your dog loves the chewing aspects of a stick more than the fetching, then chew toys like our Hive Chew Toys are a great alternative. These toys are made from a rubbery, durable material and a unique shape that makes chew satisfying.
Another great option is a chew treat that offers the same crunch with an even more delicious taste, like our Hive Chew Treats. They’re made from wholesome ingredients that are easy to digest, unlike stick debris and splinters.
DIY Chew Toys and Treats
If your dog prefers variety, don’t be afraid to get creative with chewing alternatives for your dog!
You can make homemade dog chews by dehydrating vegetables or meats, like sweet potatoes, chicken, or beef pieces. You can also blend foods like fruits, vegetables, yogurt, broths, and peanut butter and then freeze the mixture.
Old t-shirts, blankets, and towels make great materials for DIY chew toys for your dog.
Shop our Selection of Eco-Friendly Stick Alternatives
Your dog may be naturally drawn to the shape, smell, and search for sticks on your daily walks, but the potential injuries and digestive issues make them not a great option.
If you’re looking for alternatives to sticks found in the woods, our selection of toys and treats are satisfying, fun, and safe for your pup. 1% of every purchase also goes towards planting wildflowers and creating healthy bee habitat.
Shop our site today for safe, recyclable stick alternatives that also float!