Sticks can cause a wide range of injuries to dogs that chase them, catch them, chew them, or carry them around; but stopping dogs from picking up sticks in a park that is full of them can be a challenge. This article will tell you how to discourage and stop your dog from picking up sticks, and explain why they might want to get a stick in the first place. Read on to learn more.
The vast majority of dogs that like sticks and that will deliberately try to find one to play with or bring back for you to throw do this because they’ve learned this behaviour, in the large part from us humans, but to a degree, from other dogs too.
If you got an adult dog, they probably already learned about sticks before you got them, and for some dogs (commonly those of retrieving breeds) they’re absolutely mad for sticks, or to have something in their mouth, and will make a big fuss until they find something suitable. Puppies pick this up quickly, often because as mentioned, we start them off on this path.
However, even if you’ve never thrown a stick for your dog or deliberately tried to encourage them to play with one, they will almost certainly have seen other dogs with sticks in the park, and this can be enough to cause them to emulate the behaviour.
This is particularly common when it comes to social play with a stick as a shared toy, which one dog might try to take from another, or that they might take hold of on each end and pull between them.
After all, dogs don’t know what an actual toy is versus something scavenged; ownership of a resource in dog terms is based on who has it and can defend or retain it, not where it came from in the first place!
It is not just sticks that dogs will pick up when out and about of course, and much of the things they seem to think worth carrying about are things we’d immediately tell them not to. This means that even a dog that has never played with a stick or seen another dog doing so might like the smell or feel of a stick and decide to take it, even with no other frame of reference.
Also, something else to bear in mind is that puppies that are teething need to chew, and at times they might seem to be chewing things almost constantly. They need to do this, and if they don’t have something appropriate to hand to chew on they’re quite likely to find something for themselves, and wood has the right sort of resistance without being completely hard to be rewarding as a potential chew toy.
There are a lot of different things to factor in here and you may well need to use several approaches, depending on what your dog wants from the stick in the first place and how well they respond to your various attempts to redirect them.
Here are some of the things to do to discourage your dog from picking up sticks.
Avoiding having your dog learn to pick up sticks in the first place obviously goes a long way, but this may not be possible if your dog already has the taste for sticks, or they learn this behaviour from other dogs. However, when you do walk with and explore with your dog, try to divert them from sticks in general.
A dog that has a toy is far less likely to go looking for something else, so take toys on walks with you to use for retrieving games, or simply to give your dog something to carry if this is important to them, so that they don’t look for something else.
Many dogs will only really go into overdrive trying to find or play with a stick if there’s no alternative, so you can often avoid this problem by simply taking a ball to the park!
On which note, using a ball is a good idea because it’s not stick-shaped. A stick has a unique smell and mouthfeel to a dog and even an artificial stick-shaped toy will not in any way pass for or become associated with sticks for your dog, but by using a ball for carrying and retrieving, they’ll get used to the sort of shape and mouthfeel of this and not immediately think of a stick as a substitute.
If your dog does pick up a stick, use the “leave it” command or other command you use to curtail the dog’s activity immediately; you may need to work on refreshing this command but it is a very important one for dogs and well worth teaching, both to stop them playing with sticks and in general.
If your dog has got a stick, use commands; don’t try to pull it out of their mouth or wrestle them for it. Doing this will not only greatly increase the chance of the stick splintering and causing injury, but will also make your dog see it as a game and so, make them more likely to hang onto the stick.
A teething puppy will chew on absolutely anything to get relief, and so always ensure they have plenty of chew toys of different types and textures to prevent them targeting sticks.
Finally, if your dog’s determination to get hold of sticks is really hard to control to the point that it is virtually impossible when out on walks, you might need to consider using a cage muzzle on your dog to prevent this. This should be a short-term solution, while working at home to train your dog in proper compliance with the “leave it” command, and substitution with other, more appropriate toys.