Some dogs have high energy levels and a strong prey drive. If you share your life with such a dog, you already know that a good game of fetch is one way of tiring them out. Many dogs like to play with sticks; they’ll drop it at your feet and wait for you to throw it, and then bring it back for you to do it all over again. Is this a good idea?
According to the British Veterinary Association, dog parents should stop throwing sticks due to the risk of serious injury. Should your dog catch the stick before it hits the ground, it can penetrate their mouth and throat, causing horrific lacerations. If the stick gets stuck in the ground at just the right angle then your dog could impale itself on it as they run to it and grab it in their mouth.
Even after the lacerations have been sutured and your dog is back home from the vet, their problems may not be over. Sometimes small splinters of wood remain in their body and further surgery is needed to find and remove them. These splinters are also a source of ongoing infection. There have been cases where dogs have died or been euthanized due to stick injuries.
There are so many advantages to throwing sticks for your dog. They’re cheap, replaceable, and easy to find wherever you take your pup. However, all it takes is one serious injury and those advantages fall by the wayside.
A much safer alternative to a stick is a rubber toy, Frisbee, or a ball. You can even buy soft rubber toys in the shape of a stick for those dogs that like nothing else. A stroll down the aisles of your local pet store will reveal a huge variety of toys for playing fetch. If your dog is a chewer, choose something that is strong enough to withstand their teeth and jaws.
What about the dog that picks up sticks on their walk and repeatedly drops them at your feet? It’s so tempting to just pick it up and throw it, just once or twice. The best way to handle that situation is to teach your dog a reliable “leave it” command and pair it with some of their favorite treats and a much safer toy. A toy with a squeak is often much more appealing than even the nicest stick. After all, it’s very likely that your dog doesn’t care what toy they play with, they really just want to play with you.
There is no safe way to throw a stick for a dog. The combination of an excited jumpy dog, an irregularly shaped stick that may bounce in unexpected directions, and a timely gust of wind means that there’s no guarantee a stick will go where you want it to go. While you may argue that injury isn’t common and dogs have been chasing sticks for years, when that injury happens, it’s serious. Play safely and leave the sticks on the ground where they belong.