Thurber with one of the many sticks he dragged out of the woods!
There’s a pile of them outside my door: Big sticks, small sticks and pieces of big sticks that Thurber broke into small sticks. He knows he is not allowed to chew them or bring them into the house, and he drops them into his ever-growing pile before he enters the house.
My challenge: Every time he goes outside — every time he goes out the door running at full speed because he knows I will use my Chuckit Ball Launcher to toss his beloved ball deep into the yard — he can’t help but stray into the woods to forage for yet another stick.
If you have a stick-loving dog, don’t worry — retrieving and chewing sticks is one of a dog’s most natural tendencies — but there are some stick-related safety issues and stick alternatives you should be mindful of to keep your stick-crazy pup healthy, safe and happy.
Stick Hunting Is in a Dog’s DNA
To your dog, hunting for sticks is an expression of hunting for prey, which their distant relatives, wolves and coyotes in the wild, must do to survive.
I live high on a hill on the edge of the country. We have a large yard surrounded by woods and Thurber loves to forage on the forest floor.
Just as coyotes bring down their prey by chewing on the “stick-like” legs and ankles of their victims, our canine companions are exhibiting the same instinctual behavior by “hunting” for and chewing sticks, as they resemble bones.
If your pup brings you a large stick — Thurber prefers six or seven footers of late — make sure to make a fuss at how impressed you are, because your beloved pup is trying to show off his hunting acumen for you.
He is bringing you a prize, so be sure to show him how grateful you are!
Sticks Smell Good to Dogs
Different woods have different tastes, textures and smells — real gastronomic delights to our canine-crunching companions.
The truth is dogs have an inferior taste-bud capability when compared to humans. Whereas we have 9,000 taste buds to determine whether or not something is desirable to eat, our canine pals only have about 1,700.
This is why dogs can enjoy the same bland mix of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whereas humans crave variety.
It is the superior sense of smell that dogs have that gets them excited about the dirty socks, rocks, sticks and goodness knows what else they put in their mouths, according to Wag.
As odd as it is to humans, the smell of sticks is delectable to our pups, which is another reason sticks so quickly end up in their mouths.
Playing with Sticks Can Pose a Danger to Our Pups
When Thurber was three or four months old, he already exhibited his daily love of sticks. I saw no harm in tossing a small stick 30 feet into the yard, as he enthusiastically chased after it, retrieved it and brought it back.
Until my trainer visited one day and warned me of the dangers.
One of the dogs she had been training was chasing after a stick that had a sharp edge on it. He slipped as he as running after it and the point of the stick when into the flesh beneath his snout.
A trip to the vet got the pup the care he needed, but all of this pain could have been avoided by having the dog chase and retrieve a safe toy or ball, such as the large- or medium-sized Chuck It ball that my pup Thurber loves.
(Note: I learned also from my trainer that tennis balls pose their own danger. First, a large dog, such as a Lab, can ingest and choke on a ball that small, so always use larger balls. Second, chewing on a tennis ball can grind your pup’s teeth down over time. Third, the fuzz on a tennis ball can plug up your pup’s intestines; most of the time it will pass without harm, but why take the chance?)
Chewing Sticks Can Also Be Dangerous
Thurber’s brother Chief — and all of Thurber’s siblings, for that matter — is a smart, happy, wonderful dog.
His human parents, Maryanne and Mike, are also the human parents of Tank, Thurber and Chief’s father, and Sunny, Thurber and Chief’s mother. Mike and Maryanne are also like family now and we communicate frequently about our wonderful dogs.
Well, Chief has the identical desire to chew sticks that Thurber does. He gave Maryanne and Mike a scare when he was out in his fenced-in yard and — unbeknownst to his humans — he found, chewed and ingested enough stick pieces to warrant a trip to the veterinarian. (He recovered without issue, but, much like Thurber, is now under constant stick-chewing surveillance!)
The moral of the story: If your pup retrieves a stick and plays with it, that is acceptable behavior, but be very cautious if you see him chewing the stick, as he could ingest pieces of it.
Stick splinters may also cause damage to the roof of the mouth or cause cuts and tears in the digestive tract, according to Dr. Jess at vetexplainspets.com.
It’s Best to Replace Sticks with Safe Chewing Alternatives
Dogs who are stick crazy are exhibiting normal and healthy behavior, so there’s no need to worry about their endless desire to forage for sticks — and toss them about in a playful manner, as Thurber loves to do in the video below.
In the above video, Thurber “sings” about his love for sticks to a blues beat!
But it’s best to dissuade stick chewing by always replacing the stick with a safer alternative to chew, which can include a variety of stick-like toys, such as a few of Thurber’s favorites that go under the brand name Nylabone® and Kong®.
The Humane Society offers tips on what to look for, and avoid, when searching for safe stick alternatives.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go outside to toss Thurber his Chuckit ball, then, after he plays with his newest stick for a while, remove it from his jaws to keep him healthy, safe and happy!