Why Do Dogs Like Sticks?
[Full Guide]

By kropek2021. • Updated June 29, 2021

Dogs like sticks for a variety of different reasons. The most common being due to their similarities to bones and dogs following their natural instincts of hunting and gathering. They are also attracted to sticks because of their unique smell and texture.

Most dogs enjoy carrying and chewing on sticks. Even though it is completely normal, there are some essential things you should know and take into consideration.

They are Fun

I don’t usually carry around a basket of my dog’s toys when we go out for a walk; you probably don’t do it as well. And what are dogs left to do when there are no toys? They improvise.

There are so many different things dogs can do with a single stick. They can chase, catch or chew on it for hours. Sticks make for perfect toys and a great way to release energy from an afternoon nap. 

They are Similar to Bones

This is probably the most popular theory you will find. It is also the most obvious one. We all know how dogs feel about bones; they are crazy about them. Sticks are similar in shape and size to bones. After all, no matter how cute your dog looks, it is still a carnivore. Therefore, a stick for your companion will most likely resemble an appetizing long bone.

But make no mistake, though; your dog is definitely smart enough to tell the difference between these two objects. Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely to stumble upon a fresh bone in your local park, so a stick becomes the second-best option for your dog.

They Relieve Pain

You may have noticed that dogs start chewing on sticks from a very young age. For a puppy experiencing teething, a stick provides a perfect opportunity for something to chew on.

However, adult dogs may also experience sore gums or gum diseases and thus an amplified desire to chew on something to relieve their pain. To expand on this further, sticks from certain trees may have pain-numbing effects. For example, as mentioned by Healthline, willow tree bark juice contains salicylic acid, which works in the same way as aspirin for humans.

I can’t say with certainty if your dog is aware of these anti-inflammatory properties, but I think it truly highlights our nature’s beauty and how everything is connected. 

They Smell Good

As we all know, wood has a unique smell to it. You can’t confuse it with anything else. We even like to have a bit of a woody scent to our perfume. Well, dogs think the same. Given their advanced sense of smell, sticks (or anything wooden) become a huge point of interest for your dog. The nose is a crucial tool for a dog’s world exploration; smelling for dogs is like reading a map for us.

When your pet picks up a stick, it can sense complex environmental smells associated with it, which helps them explore the world around them. 

Taste and Texture

A stick may not taste and feel as good as a big bone with meat attached to it. It may not have nutritious and tasty bone marrow. But it has its own particular appeal. A stick will have a unique, earthy taste with chewy bark. Just like we use our hands to explore and interact with the surroundings, for dogs, the main tactile tool is their mouths. Mouth exploration drives dogs to chew and lick everything they consider interesting, including sticks.

When your dog carries a stick around you, it might be looking for somewhere to chew on it. My dog will suddenly run off into the bushes as we walk along, only for me to discover it chewing on its precious stick. But there is no need to discourage your dog from chewing on sticks (unless it harms their health), as it is all very natural. 

Natural Instincts

Dogs were initially domesticated and bred to help humans hunt more efficiently. While your chihuahua may not look like an intimidating predator, rest assured its ancestors had to hunt to survive. The hunting instincts of most modern dogs are very strong. No matter how domesticated they become, there will always be this natural instinct. Your dog may not even realize it. It just feels right. This provides our friends with something to run down.

When your dog brings a stick to you, it mimics bringing a hunted animal to you. Your dog might be proud and want to show off its hunting skills, so it is best to play along and pet your little (or big) carnivore. This instinct to gather and bring the hunter’s kill is more prevalent in certain breeds. Such as golden retrievers.

Now you know why they are called retrievers. No wonder my basenji always brings me a toy whenever I come home that he so proudly hunted down. At the end of the day, your dog will be happy that it made you happy. 

Potential Nutritional Deficiencies

Dog’s desire to chew on a stick can be a sign of potential nutritional deficiencies. Some experts believe that dogs and other animals will start eating things like dirt, feces, or other organic matter in some nutritional issues. It may even be a way for dogs to tell that they have something wrong or feel sick. 

Potential Health Concerns

When faced with the question of “Is it ok for dogs to chew sticks?” I usually struggle to give a concrete answer. Even though it is indeed normal (due to the reasons discussed), you should be mindful and pay attention to your pet when playing with a stick.

From a safety point of view, sticks may cause certain health problems. Shards of wood may get stuck in a dog’s throat or gums which can be very dangerous. The amount of wood your dog ingests may cause damage to the digestive system. It is also essential to pay attention to which sticks your dog chooses to play with. The stick should not be so small that it can get into your dog’s airways. It shouldn’t be too large, as it can cause severe injuries like jaw damage.

Some sticks can be toxic. Trees such as apples and pears can give your dog an upset stomach. It is important to know that damage caused by penetrated tissue is not the main point of concern. Veterinarians worry about the secondary infection that may arise. Not only that, but wood may simply be left unnoticed in your pet’s body.

This happened to my friend’s dog when veterinarians did not see a leftover piece of wood after surgery, as it did not show up on an X-ray. But I think it is enough with the horror stories.

If you are interested, Millcreek Vet goes further into detail about potential health problems that stick chewing can cause.  

How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Sticks

If eating sticks during your daily walks becomes a problem for your dog, there are a few methods (from my experience) to prevent it that you should try. Most of them revolve around paying more attention to your dog when you are outside.

  1. Identify the moment in which they pick up a stick and firmly tell them “No!”
  2. If ignored, put them on a lead and take away the stick.
  3. Monitor your dog and repeat step 2 if it happens again.
  4. When your dog listens to your command, reward with a treat.

However, I only advise training your dog not to pick up sticks only if it becomes a problem. The benefits of allowing your dog to play with sticks outweigh the negatives for me. 

Alternatives

In a case where stick eating remains a problem, there are alternatives you can look forward to. Your dog won’t even have all of those sticks lying around in your backyard if you supply it with new and fun toys.

Make sure to replace sticks with many toys and chew bones as a safe alternative. This will keep your dog entertained both physically and mentally.

Final Thoughts

It is fair to say that dogs like sticks for several reasons. They resemble bones, they smell good, and they have a nice texture. Not to mention that on an instinctual level, dogs are used to hunting and fetching.

Sticks serve as an excellent way for your dogs to release their energy and live a healthy dog life. In my experience, stick chewing has never been a problem.

However, you should be mindful of this activity and pay close attention when your dog does play with sticks. Always remember that every dog is different and requires a unique approach.