Tossing a stick for your dog to fetch seems a harmless enough game. It’s probably been in practice since dogs and humans first bonded. But is using sticks for play or training such a good idea? Your veterinarian can tell you how many injuries s/he has treated when dogs play with sticks.
Dogs naturally use their mouths for things other than eating. For example, chewing is a natural behavior and vets have told numerous stories of odd objects they’ve known dogs to swallow. Not all the stories end well. And incidences involving sticks pose a number of dangers.
Sticks can cause splinters in the mouth which become embedded in gums, between teeth, on the sides and roof of the mouth, tongue and further back in the throat. When a stick is tossed, it continues spinning for a time when it lands. A dog running at full speed to catch it can become impaled on the stick. Sticks can wedge themselves in a dog’s mouth causing distress, pain and infection. And sticks can be swallowed, perforating internal organs and causing blockages.
There are many toys that can be substituted for a stick and that present a more harmless alternative. Your dog can still enjoy chasing and catching a thrown object safely. When purchasing a toy, make sure it’s appropriate for the size of your dog.
On a personal note: One day I saw my GSD, Quanah, pawing at her mouth and acting very agitated. I investigated and found a small stick wedged across her mouth. Fortunately Quanah being very cooperative and knowing that help had arrived, I was able to remove the stick without causing any injury.
A valuable lesson was learned – I don’t leave any broken branches in my garden for later cleanup. They are disposed of before any of my dogs can reach them.