The Reason Dogs Love to Grab Sticks

The bigger the stick, the better.
Bark softly and carry a big stick.
Bark softly and carry a big stick. / Anita Kot/Moment via Getty Images

Dogs exhibit a lot of puzzling behavior, from stealing shoes to eating dirt. The odder the task, the more the dog seems to enjoy it. Case in point: proudly seizing a stick and carrying it home on a walk.

According to veterinarian Antoinette Martin, who spoke with Southern Living, a pet’s desire to haul a stick is innate: Because they explore the world via their sense of smell and taste, a smelly stick is an attractive proposition. For some animals, a giant stick is the best kind—they want the challenge of toting the awkward prize back home.

Having an affinity for sticks could also be breed-dependent. “Retrievers and lab breeds, for example, love to have a toy, such as a ball or stuffed animal, in their mouth at all times,” Martin said.

Sticks may also satisfy a dog’s “prey drive,” or desire to hunt. Outdoors, they look to search and forage for material. Capturing a stick is a kind of reward, and one that should be brought home to their “pack,” or the family living room. That’s one possible reason a dog seems very satisfied upon dragging one back: They’ve proven themselves to be valuable retrievers.

But why a stick and not a rock or random object? Sticks might be the closest thing to a bone they can find to gnaw on. (The wooden texture is appealing for that reason.) Dogs may also have learned to value a stick based on times their owner has played fetch with one.

If you find their hauling of an enormous stick amusing, you’re partly to blame. If a dog senses their owner is pleased by their behavior, then they’re more likely to repeat it on a future walk.

While the habit might be amusing, it’s one that needs to be monitored carefully. Dogs shouldn’t be encouraged to chew on wood because of the potential for an intestinal obstruction from swallowing it or the risk of getting splinters in their mouth. So while you can indulge their foraging instinct, you should give them something else to chew on.

[h/t Southern Living]