Before tennis balls, chewy bones and other high-tech dog toys on the market, dogs were expected to entertain themselves with just the humble stick. This love of sticks continues to this day, so you’re probably familiar with how dogs love to play fetch.
What you might not realize though, is that dogs carrying sticks is a behaviour that our canine friends have engaged in for generations. But just why do they have this habit, and particularly when you see those viral videos of dogs that like to carry big sticks all the way home?
Why do dogs carry sticks?
Dogs like to carry sticks on walks and back home due to their instinctual desire to retrieve things, although there are also other reasons such as using sticks as a toy, the smell or texture, or even to relieve pain in their teeth and gums.
In short, if you find your dog carrying sticks on walks, you can be assured that it is a completely normal behaviour, so you shouldn’t worry about them doing so.
However, the issue of dogs carrying and chewing sticks is generally a very complicated question, and this is something I will aim to unpack here.
Why do dogs carry sticks on walks?
I mentioned earlier those funny videos you might see online of a dog carrying a big stick home. The reasons dogs like to do this are varied, and believed to be the following:
1. Retriever instincts
Even if your dog’s breed isn’t remotely similar to the Golden Retriever we know today, that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have inherent ‘retriever’-based instincts from their hunting days.
As hunting animals, dogs were traditionally bred to ‘retrieve’ their pray and deliver them to their master. It’s a behaviour that has been bred over countless generations, meaning that it is an instinctive and inherent part of your dog’s DNA, even if it doesn’t seem immediately obvious.
So, the next time you see your dog carrying a stick home, feel honored that he’s thinking of you, and what an amazing gift this will be!
2. Attention seeking behavior
If there’s something dogs love more than long walks and playtime, it is getting their beloved owner’s attention. As mentioned, a dog’s ‘retriever’ instincts may encourage your pup to pick up their wooden stick ‘prey’ and deliver it you.
As well as being instinctive, your dog may be proudly presenting their ‘catch’ to you in order to please you.
This is almost certainly the case if you find your miniature poodle dragging the hugest possible log three times its size across the park. To your dog, bigger is better, and they think that the more elaborate tree branch they present to you, the more impressed you’ll be.
So, if you find your dog nonchalantly carrying a stick on your walk, the reason could be that they are seeking your praise and approval.
3. They want to play with you
No matter the size, age and breed, it is difficult to find a dog that doesn’t love a game of ‘fetch’ with a good old-fashioned stick. With wide open spaces and the freedom to chase, a lot of dogs will carry sticks on their walks in order to initiate a game of fetch with you when the time is right, dropping the stick at your feet for you to throw.
With chasing being another characteristic of dogs that has been selectively bred for hunting purposes over generations, your dog likes to carry a stick on a walk as it’s usually a fair indication that your pup is waiting for the right moment to commence a game of fetch with you!
4. They can be a makeshift toy
Whilst your dog’s favourite toys are not available on the go, that will not stop them from fulfilling their desire to play! With their variable size, weight and ability to be carried, sticks can be the perfect toy for any dog to adopt on their travels with you.
No matter what kind of dog you own, you can be sure that they’ll be able to find a stick that suits them.
Why do dogs like sticks so much?
But what is it about sticks that drive dogs crazy and makes them want to carry them home from a walk? Well, there are many reasons why dogs are a fan of sticks specifically. I will go through some of the most common reasons below.
1. Sticks are similar to bones
Although your dog is obviously intelligent enough to tell the difference between a stick and a bone, similarities between the two – such as their size, weight and spongey texture – mean that your pooch probably sees it is a great makeshift to satisfy and chewing urges he may have!
2. Sticks can relieve sore gums and teething pain
Following on from this, your dog might be more attracted to sticks and others if they are suffering from sore gums, gum disease or are still at the teething stage. The hard texture of the wood makes it ideal chewing material, since if your dog is suffering from any oral issues, they may find themselves with an amplified desire to chew to numb their pain.
Further to this, some kinds of wood, such as the wood from willow trees, have pain relieving properties that can actually work to help relieve your dog of teething and gum pain if they chew it.
It makes sense that your dog wants to carry a stick home if it means it gives him some relief later on.
Handy Hint: Many dogs even eat sticks, but it can make them throw up. Read this advice on what do to with a stick-eating dog.
3. Sticks can have interesting textures
Stick textures are variable, which makes them all the more exciting to your dog. Whether the twigs are damp from the rain, fresh and sprouting or old and crumbling, your dog will always find something different when investigating sticks to carry on their walks, which further adds to their appeal.
The same goes if the stick has begun to decay and has been taken over by mould, fungus and insects. This all adds to variety and subsequent appeal of sticks to your dog, many of which they will want to carry home.
4. Sticks can have interesting smells
With their advanced sense of smell, dogs can learn a lot about the world through their nose. With sticks being part of the outdoors, your dog will be able to pick up on the various, complex environmental smells associated with sticks, which helps them learn more and become more accustomed to the local area.
It’s like a history lesson through their nostrils!
Handy Hint: Does your dog love tennis balls too? I believe there’s an evolutionary and design reason for the tennis ball obsession!
What are the risks of dogs chewing sticks?
However, as common as sticks might be, there are some risks that come from dogs regularly chewing and interacting with them.
One risk to consider is the fact that some types of wood/bark are poisonous to your dog and can cause serious health issues. Some of the most toxic types of bark/wood are listed below:
- Red oak
- Black locust
- Black walnut
- Black cherry
- Red maple
If you believe your dog has eaten any of these types of wood, you should take them to the vet immediately.
Another danger is if your dog chews the stick too much. If they swallow small, sharp splinters, this can cut their oesophagus, stomach or other organs. These splinters could also be embedded in your dog’s mouth or gums, which could then cause an infection.
Of course, if your dog chews the stick into larger chunks, they could also accidentally swallow these chunks, which could get lodged in their throat and cause choking or asphyxiation.
By the end of this article, you should have a firmer idea of what drives your dog to carry sticks every time you go on a walk with them. Whilst your dog’s penchant for sticks is largely unproblematic, it is important to be aware of the risks.
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