“Why do dogs carry sticks?” It is a question that many of us have asked ourselves while watching our furry friends happily trotting along with a stick clamped firmly in their jaws. But have you ever stopped to wonder why dogs are so drawn to sticks in the first place?
Is it just a random behavior, or is there a deeper meaning behind it? As it turns out, dogs’ love for sticks is rooted in their instincts and has both physical and psychological benefits.
In this blog post, we will explore the science behind why dogs carry sticks, the risks associated with stick play, and even the cultural significance of sticks in canine folklore. So, grab a stick (or a cup of coffee), and let’s dive into the fascinating world of why dogs love sticks.
Why Do Dogs Carry Sticks?
1. Alternative to Bones
Dogs have the instinct to chew on things, so they may be drawn to sticks as a toy. Sticks remind dogs of bones because they are similar in size and shape. The texture and hardness of sticks also make them an ideal substitute for bones, which are not always readily available for dogs. When dogs chew on sticks, it provides them with a sense of satisfaction, fulfilling their natural need to chew.
2. Good Texture
Dogs love carrying sticks because they enjoy gnawing on them, and the wooden sponge-like texture of sticks makes them the perfect item to chew on. When dogs chew on sticks, it helps to clean their teeth and massage their gums, which promotes healthy dental hygiene. Moreover, the act of gnawing on sticks can be calming and soothing for dogs, providing them with a sense of comfort and relaxation.
Additionally, the texture of sticks can provide a stimulating sensory experience for dogs, as they can feel the roughness of the bark and the hardness of the wood. This tactile sensation can be a source of enjoyment for dogs as they explore and interact with the world around them.
3. Foraging Instincts
Dogs have a natural instinct to forage and explore their environment, so they are often drawn to sticks as a toy. Sticks are readily available in most outdoor environments, making them an easy and accessible item for dogs to find and carry. When dogs find a stick, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, as they have successfully foraged and discovered a “treasure” to carry around.
Additionally, the act of carrying a stick around can make dogs feel like they have a purpose and a job to do, which can boost their confidence and sense of fulfillment. This behavior is also linked to the fact that dogs are natural predators, and carrying around an object like a stick may mimic the behavior of carrying prey back to a den.
4. That Smell!
Sticks carry a distinct musky, earthy smell that is attractive to dogs. This smell is associated with the woodlands and wild animals, stimulating a dog’s natural instincts and providing them with a sense of comfort and familiarity. Dogs have a keen sense of smell, and the scent of sticks may be especially appealing to them. When dogs carry a stick around, they are carrying around a piece of the outdoors with them, providing a sense of security and reassurance.
Moreover, the scent of sticks may trigger happy memories for dogs, such as playing in the park or going on a hike with their owner. Furthermore, the scent of sticks may be associated with other animals, which can provide a source of intrigue and excitement for dogs. Dogs are naturally curious and may be drawn to the scent of other animals, which can provide them with a sense of adventure and exploration.
5. Having Something in the Mouth
Dogs have a natural affinity for carrying objects in their mouth, and this behavior is especially prevalent in certain breeds, such as retrievers and labradors. These breeds are known for their love of retrieving objects, whether it is balls, stuffed animals, or sticks.
The act of carrying an object in their mouth may provide dogs with a sense of security and comfort, as well as a way to satisfy their natural urge to chew and explore their environment. For some dogs, carrying a stick around may be a way to engage in this behavior and fulfill their need to have something in their mouth.
Is it Safe for Dogs to Carry a Stick?
While dogs carrying sticks may seem like harmless behavior, there are some hazards to be aware of. One of the main risks associated with dogs holding sticks in their mouth is the potential for injury to their mouth (which can cause pink spots on the lips) or the digestive system. Some sticks may splinter or break apart, which can cause cuts, punctures, or blockages in a dog’s mouth, throat, or digestive tract. This can be a serious medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. Additionally, dogs may accidentally swallow pieces of the stick while chewing or playing, which can also lead to digestive problems or blockages.
Another hazard to be aware of is the potential for choking. If a dog tries to swallow a too-large stick or gets stuck in their throat, it may choke or experience breathing difficulties. This can also be a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
To avoid these hazards, it is important to supervise your dog while they are playing with sticks and choose safe sticks for them to carry and chew on. Look for sticks that are free from any signs of rot or decay, and avoid sticks that are too large or small for your dog to safely carry or chew. It’s also a good idea to discourage your dog from playing with sticks altogether and provide them with safe, dog-friendly toys instead. By being aware of the potential hazards and taking steps to keep your dog safe, you can help ensure that they continue to enjoy a happy and healthy life.
Should You Let Your Dog Carry a Stick?
While it may be fine for your dog to carry the stick, Dr. Mehboob Ur Rehman Joiya advises against letting them chew on it. Although chewing is a natural way for dogs to clean their teeth and maintain good oral hygiene, sticks are unsuitable. They have a porous texture that can easily splinter into small pieces that are big enough to cause an obstruction in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract but too small to pass through.
Chewing on sticks can also cause small pieces to become lodged between teeth, leading to oral pain and infection. Therefore, reserving chewing for dental chews and other products designed to promote your dog’s oral health is best. Furthermore, playing fetch with a stick can be risky due to the sharp edges. Furthermore, the impalement by a stick, especially at the base of the tongue or the roof of the mouth, is a common injury seen in veterinary emergency rooms, often resulting from playing fetch with a stick.
Bringing a ball or a toy for fetch instead and leaving the stick behind in nature is advisable. As always, if you have any concerns or questions about your pet’s behavior, it is recommended to consult your veterinarian.
What to Do if Stick Injures Your Dog’s Mouth?
If your dog has a stick injury in its mouth, act quickly and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Here are some immediate steps you can take:
- Remain calm: Your dog may be in distress and pain, so it is important to approach them calmly to avoid making the situation worse.
- Stop bleeding: If there is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth or gauze to the affected area. Be careful not to obstruct your dog’s airway or breathing.
- Remove the stick: If the stick is still in your dog’s mouth, do not attempt to remove it yourself. It’s best to leave it in place until you can get to the vet.
- Transport your dog safely: If possible, use a muzzle to prevent your dog from further injuring itself. If not, carefully wrap your dog’s snout with a towel or cloth to prevent it from biting you during transport.
- Get to the vet: Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Stick injuries in the mouth can be serious and may require immediate treatment. Your vet may need to sedate your dog to remove the stick safely.
- Follow your vet’s instructions: Once your dog has been treated, follow your vet’s instructions for post-treatment care. Your dog may need pain medication or antibiotics, and you will need to monitor the injury for signs of infection.
Dogs carry sticks due to their natural instincts and behaviors. The texture and shape of sticks provide dogs with an object to chew on, forage and carry around, which can provide them with a sense of satisfaction and comfort. However, as with any activity, there are risks associated with dogs playing with sticks, such as choking, cuts, punctures, or blockages. To keep your dog safe, it is important to supervise them while playing with sticks and to choose safe sticks for them to carry and chew on. Alternatively, you can provide them with safe, dog-friendly toys to play with instead. By understanding the science behind why dogs carry sticks and taking steps to keep your dog safe, you can help them continue to enjoy a happy and healthy life.