Everyone knows dogs love to chew on sticks, and seeing your pup dash away and proudly trot back with a prized tree limb in his mouth is always adorable. But when your dog starts using sticks as everyday chew toys, you might have a problem.
Sticks are around the same size and shape as bones, and your pup’s instincts make those natural chew toys seem like a tasty treat. It’s common for dogs to want to chew on sticks, but as their owner, it’s up to you to think through how safe that behavior really is.
Is Stick Chewing Safe?
The answer to this question will depend on what kind of stick your dog is chewing and exactly what they’re doing with it. In general, however, letting your dog chew on sticks isn’t a good idea. Walnut, black cherry, and yew trees are all toxic to dogs, and chewing on sticks could lead to stomach issues and difficulty breathing. But besides basic toxicity, sticks pose other health risks. If the wood splinters in the dog’s mouth, those shards will poke holes in their gums and cut their cheeks. If they happen to swallow the splinters, they could choke or suffer internal injuries throughout the digestive tract.
Even if your dog’s intent isn’t to eat the stick, those skinny, pointy objects can still do damage. The stick could become wedged in the dog’s mouth with the pointy ends digging into the palette and preventing him from closing his mouth. And if your pooch’s favorite game is fetching sticks, he could be impaled by his prey when he goes in for the pounce.
How to Teach Dogs to Lay Off the Sticks
It’s possible to teach your dog to leave sticks alone, but it’ll take patience and vigilance. The best thing you can do is prevent temptation by keeping your yard clean. Play your own game of pick up sticks on a regular basis and cut back foliage to keep your dog from plucking sticks straight from the source. If you miss a stick and your dog gets a hold of it, try turning the situation into a fun “drop it” game. Every time your dog drops the stick on command, he gets a treat.
When you take something away, you need to make up for it by giving your dog a better (and safer) alternative. Provide him with plenty of chew toys that make sticks look like amateur hour. If you see your dog head toward a stick, use a toy to get his attention. It may take several weeks, but your pup should start preferring the toys being offered to him over the ones he has to fight to keep.
For a curious dog with a forager’s appetite, chewing on sticks is completely natural. Seeing them nibble on the occasional stick is nothing to panic about, but curbing your pup’s stick-chewing appetite will help keep them safe. Taking the wrong bite at the wrong time could result in a pricey vet bill.