We’ve all seen the pictures of the dogs trotting through the yard, large sticks in their mouths, enjoying their time spent chewing. What you don’t immediately see is the dangerous aftermath of this habit and the havoc it can wreak on your furry family member’s well-being.
If your dog is consistently eating wood or other debris, this can definitely cause issues ranging from small to severe. Some common issues include tooth problems that may cause your pup to need a root canal or other digestive issues depending on what it is that they actually ingest. Alternatives you can provide your pup include teething toys for puppies or tougher toys for grown adult dogs.
Do twigs and wood really pose a serious threat to your dog’s health? Let’s dive in and discuss the potential dangers of wood chewing and ways to get your pup to stop.
Why Dogs Chew Things
Chewing is normal behavior for a dog. Their need to chew goes back to their primal instincts and their own unique way of keeping their teeth healthy. While our furry companion is no wild dog, their domestication has not removed their desire to chew and bite the objects in their presence. A dog’s love to chew is instilled in their DNA.
Chewing is also a dog’s way of exploring the world around them. “Chewing, for a dog, is like a human opening a door and looking into a room,” says the chairman of the U.K. Canine and Feline Behavior Association. Your yard is essentially their playground to explore, and sticks and wood are extremely satisfying objects for a pup to chew during their adventures.
While we can’t eliminate the need to chew in our pups, we can understand the reasons behind the desire and try to provide them with safe chewing options.
Reasons Your Dog May Be Chewing Wood
There are several reasons why your pup might be resorting to chewing sticks and wood in your yard. This instinctual behavior can be enhanced by other conditions, so it’s important to educate yourself on the issues behind canine chewing. Ranging from teeth pain to boredom, here are a few of the most common reasons below:
- Tooth pain: This is an especially common reason in young puppies and growing dogs. Just like children, puppies will experience pain with growing teeth. The shifting and growing of their teeth can cause major discomfort, whereas chewing on objects can help to alleviate this pain. It provides the same relief for them as a cold teething ring does to a teething toddler.
- Boredom: Boredom can cause our dogs to engage in destructive behavior. When your pup is overcome with boredom, he may look for something to occupy his time. Chewing on a stick might be the perfect solution to that problem, no matter how risky it is.
- Separation anxiety: A lot like boredom, separation anxiety will lead a dog to participate in destructive behavior. A stressed pup may feel the need to chew, and the chewing and eating of wood may act as their outlet for stress.
- They like the taste: Oddly enough, your dog may find the twigs and bark in the yard incredibly tasty. They very well might be eating the bark for their dietary pleasure. Some kinds of bark are known to be tasty to dogs, so don’t be surprised if your pup seems to enjoy snacking on your tree.
- Need to chew: Some dogs just have more of an inclination to chew than others. Some dogs require constant chewing stimulation and will chew anything they can get their paws on without a proper distraction.
- Pica: Pica is a condition that drives dogs to eat non-food items. Truly, anything can cause a dog to experience pica. Nausea, stress, anxiety, hunger, or underlying medical conditions can cause this strange disorder. If you find your dog constantly chewing and eating random objects, you may need to talk to your vet about this possible disorder.
Some dogs may chew on wood because they like the odor, flavor, or texture. A dog may eat a certain wooden stick or may develop a taste for specific kinds of wood, or may choose to nibble on a piece of furniture that smells particularly good. Additionally, some dogs may chew up sticks and bits of wood on a walk or out in the yard without reprimand, so they will think that chewing up all kinds of wood and wooden objects is ok.
Why Dogs Chewing Wood Is Dangerous
When dogs chew wood, their teeth break the wood into several sharp pieces that can cause damage to their body in a number of ways. Think of these pieces as hundreds of little splinters, looking to wreak havoc on any part of the body that they come in contact with. Something similar happens when your dog plays with foxtails, and trips to the vet get extremely expensive. Some of the risks of chewing wood include:
- Tooth damage: When a dog is chewing on sticks, they may be putting great force behind each bite. Chewing something with a tough exterior, such as wood, can cause a tooth to chip or break. Broken teeth can cause pain and possible infection. This can even lead to dental abscesses.
- Abscesses: When sticks and wood are chewed, hundreds of tiny pieces are floating around the mouth. These tiny pieces can become lodged in the gums, causing an infection to brew under the tissue. If these splinters remain in the mouth, the infection can grow to the point of an abscess. Abscesses are incredibly painful and can cause severe swelling in the area that is affected.
- Damage to the esophagus: Pieces of sticks and wood can be incredibly abrasive to the esophagus when swallowed. This can cause damage to the esophagus and severe pain. Imagine swallowing a large chunk of wood and how uncomfortable that would have to be.
- GI obstruction: Wood and sticks are not meant to be eaten. Therefore, they are not easily digestible. Twigs can remain in a pet’s stomach or intestines, leading to GI obstruction. If not surgically resolved, a GI obstruction or blockage can be fatal.
- Airway obstruction: Due to the irregular shape of the wood and sticks that your dog may swallow, pieces of sticks can become lodged in their throat. This can lead to extreme distress and even difficulty breathing. Anything that affects your pup’s ability to breathe is a serious medical emergency.
Each of these complications can be incredibly painful, cause severe infection, and can even be fatal if left untreated. If you believe your dog has consumed wood or sticks and fear any of the above scenarios, contact your vet ASAP.
How To Stop My Dog From Eating Wood
Owners can take some steps to prevent and discourage wood chewing. Your pup should be trained from an early age not to chew on furniture, dishes, art, or any other wooden objects in the home and yard. The best way to prevent this behavior is to stop it early and teach your dog that wood is not safe to be chewed up or eaten. Owners must be ready to work with their dogs through training and behavior modification to stop chewing behavior.
Block Off Areas With Mulch And Sticks
In the discussion about sticks and wood, we often forget about mulch. Many forms of mulch are filled with chunks of wood and sticks and can be just as damaging for a pet when it’s consumed. Mulch can even be more tempting to a dog due to its potent smell. It’s safest to block off any parts of your yard where mulch is present in order to prevent your pup from being tempted. Mulch poses as large of a threat as sticks and wood of other kinds. Dogs should eat wood chips or pellets, either. These can be a choking hazard, a potential bowel obstruction, and may have added chemicals.
Provide Other Entertainment
When it comes to training your pup to stay away from wood and sticks, you’ll need to provide them with a safer alternative to chew. By giving them another outlet for their boredom, or another object to relieve their mouth pain, you can hopefully deter your furry friend away from the dangers of stick chewing. Some helpful chew toys include Kongs, rope toys, Nylabones, and any toy that puts an emphasis on how indestructible it is. Give them plenty of options, so they no longer feel the need to turn to their old habits or seek out more wood. If it can stand up to powerful chewing, then it is perfect for the job. If your dog is an aggressive chewer, look for a chew toy that is indestructible or will at least take a while. Keep in mind that the odor and smell of wood are sometimes what attracts dogs. Look for chew toy alternatives that are scented as a way to increase your pup’s interest in these safe chewing alternatives. Also, understand that puppies chew more and may need different chew toys.
Play With Your Dog
Simply getting your dog some new chew toys and telling them no is not going to stop chewing behavior. Owners are a big part of this process and need to interact with their pups to help teach better behavior. Dogs love to chase things, so try and introduce them to a new toy by using a chase game. This will help them bond with the toy and create a desire to play with it more. Make sure to give your dog plenty of playtimes and positive attention to help steer away from chewing behavior and provide them with a fun alternative they will look forward to.
Clear The Yard Of Sticks And Wood
Trying to teach your pet not to chew on wood while having a yard filled with sticks is like torture. Imagine trying to stick to a diet while being in a room filled with your favorite treats. It’s too tempting, and we cannot expect our pups to have that self-restraint. Try your best to go through your yard and clear out any sticks and wood pieces so you can make your companion’s training process a bit easier. Repeating this process every few days is best for maintaining a stick-free yard.
Do Not Encourage The Behavior
If you are trying to break your dog from the dangerous habit of chewing on wood, make sure to never use twigs as a form of play. It can be tempting to throw a twig at the park, but keep in mind just how confusing this could be. A dog will not be able to understand why a stick is acceptable to play with in certain places and not others. Training takes participation from both parties, so make sure you are making this learning experience as easy as possible for your furry friend.
You could also try an online dog trainer like Doggy Dan for an affordable solution that fits your schedule.
We have all seen dog toys that are made to look and feel like sticks and chunks of wood. This seems too similar to the real thing and could possibly confuse your pup when learning to stay away from the real threat. Try not to get toys that look like real wood.
Keep Them Active
Dogs tend to act up when they have an excess amount of energy. A bored dog with pent-up energy is a recipe for disaster and can resort to anxious chewing. A tired dog is much less likely to experience boredom or restlessness. Spending more time with your furry friend and helping to expel their energy will result in a more well-behaved dog, who is less likely to turn to stick chewing. Taking your pup on walks, to the park, playing catch, and other activities that keep them moving are great options to entertain an energetic companion.
If your dog is constantly chewing on wood and does not seem to respond to other actions taken, you may need to include negative reinforcement. Start by firmly saying “no” when they head toward a stick, chair, or other wooden items. This can also mean spraying furniture or wooden objects with bitter sprays, a noise maker that you can alert during these bad habits, and a firm no when you catch your pup chewing inappropriate objects. Everyone’s training style is different, so this can vary greatly for each doggo.
What Not To Do To Stop Your Dog From Chewing Wood
It is important never to get angry or too upset with your dog. While using some negative reinforcement may be necessary, that should not be your only or even a highly used method. Never yell at, or push your dog away, nor should you yank the stick out of their mouth. This may scare them or cause injury if they try to run off. Scaring a dog will not get the intended result and may cause fear-aggression, stress, or other long-term issues. Yelling at a dog can confuse them, scare them, prevent learning, and can even encourage more bad behavior. If you need help with getting your dog to stop chewing wood, contact your vet or a professional trainer for advice.
Story Of A Dog Who Ate Wood
Below is a story of a beloved dog named Mervyn, who was lost to the ingestion of mulch, which also contained sticks. Mervyn’s family wants to spread awareness of this potential threat that could be in your yard and hopefully prevent any heartbreak for other pet owners who weren’t aware of the dangers.
Mervyn was a happy, healthy hound mix. Hounds are motivated by smell; Mervyn loved rooting around the backyard. A small flower bed containing mulch provided hours of entertainment. Mervyn wanted to catch the tiny lizards as they buried themselves in the mulch. One day, he even dug up the sprinkler system, trying to catch one. It didn’t seem like a big deal when he walked through the dog door with mulch on his nose. We didn’t know he actually ingested the mulch.
The next day, he didn’t want to eat as much and seemed a little tired. He started having diarrhea and just didn’t seem like himself. By the time he went to surgery, it was too late. His intestinal tract was too damaged to save. The mulch caused severe irritation to his intestines; it rubbed through in several places. His intestinal contents had leaked into his abdomen. Mervyn was euthanized on the operating table to end his suffering. It was truly heartbreaking to lose such a special pet over something so common. Mervyn seemed like a normal dog wanting to dig for lizards, we never thought it would end his life.
Mervyn experienced a devastating complication of wood ingestion affecting the gastrointestinal tract. His intestines were severely damaged by the abrasive sticks and the obstruction that resulted in the build-up of foreign material in his intestines. Though his owners rushed him to emergency surgery, it was too late for this sweet pup.
Mervyn’s story represents just how dangerous this hobby can be for your dog. We all want the absolute best for our four-legged companions, so it’s important to make sure we are aware of the risks and how to keep their environment safe.
Stick chewing can seem like a harmless pastime for your dog, but it has proved to be extremely dangerous for so many unknowing pups. When there is an array of alternatives for our furry friends to chew, it is never worth the risk to allow your pup to chew on sticks or wood.
Make sure to keep an eye on your pup in the backyard and stop this dangerous habit of chewing wood in its tracks.
October 20, 2022 at 10:07 pm
We’ve just adopted a 2 year old golden retriever/lab mix. He’s beautiful and sweet, but so very hard to train. He counter surfs, will run circles in the house, jumps on people and digs, chews!!! In one day he chewed bag strap off the boat, his choker leash, 2 tie outs, and a rope toy. We’ve had lab mixes dogs before, and have never had this hard of a time trying. Our dog was also neutered a week ago. How long before he settles down from being neutered? Is there any supplements that will calm the walking circles in the 2 rooms that he’s allowed in, and how can we train him for off leash and not to chase deer and squirrels? I have medical issues so I cannot walk him as much? But my husband is does jut he does not wear out
September 17, 2022 at 11:14 am
very informative and helpful
September 1, 2022 at 11:10 pm
I've been reading these articles and comments and they mostly talk about sticks and mulch... things outside. I have a 7 month old German Shepherd that is eating the wood flooring and wood panel on the walls. I've bought all the chew toys but she destroys those in a matter of days. I've told her "no" and put her in her kennel as a "time out" but nothing works. I need help and suggestions to make her stop.
September 2, 2022 at 10:43 am
Shannon, it may be wise to meet with a local dog behavior expert who can offer specific advice for your dog and your home. Meeting in person can often reveal things that you might never notice that could make a big difference.
May 22, 2022 at 4:55 pm
The stick chew ing article was very helpful, going to ensure my pup doesn’t do this anymore
April 12, 2022 at 7:32 pm
I found this article in the nick of time! Something in my gut told me to look it up. Thanks for the information.
Debora Kay Zumwalt
March 31, 2022 at 10:59 am
We have a 8 month old Rottweiler puppy who ate mulch and threw up violently and then refused to eat, he dropped about 20 lbs in a matter of days, we finally got him to eat a bland diet and he is eating well now but he has diarrhea and now we're trying to get his stools more solid. We almost lost him forever due to the toxic mulch!
March 26, 2022 at 10:57 pm
My dog is on a special diet and has enough to eat and will fossick for debris containing sticks. She has only 6 teeth left on because of gum disease. We have recently had floods so debris is abundant despite frequent cleaning. I have tried a soft mask but she removes it.
What else can I do ?
November 23, 2021 at 3:37 am
My Pepper is one year and she has ate the knobs off my dressers and the wood off the draws ? it was new when i got it but gone Now . sprayed the wood with glass cleaner stop her > too Late
October 19, 2021 at 10:46 am
Our Merlin is 16 weeks old and always manages to find sticks, wood, pine cones and poop to chew when out for a walk. We can’t spray down the neighbourhood with a deterrent. He’s very good with leave it and drop it at home when he knows he’s getting a treat. Outside is a different story. What do we do when he has the item already in his mouth? He just tries to run away, won’t open his mouth or tilts his head back and I’m worried he’s going to choke. I’ve tried treats but he will eat the treat and stick at the same time.
October 20, 2021 at 12:43 pm
While this may not work for everyone, our dog trainer recently told us that most dogs will do just about anything for a higher value treat. So, perhaps consider keeping a high value treat (maybe slices of cheese, spray peanut butter, or a ball/toy?) on hand during walks. Then show it but do not give it to him unless he drops the "bad" item first and you are able to take it from him. This may not work for Merlin, but it has certainly worked well with our 2 year old rascal!
October 6, 2021 at 3:47 am
I am having a lot of trouble with 7 month puppy chewing wood. He breaks branches of shrubs. Where do I get "bitter apple"?
October 6, 2021 at 12:01 pm
Hi Joan, you can purchase bitter apple spray from Amazon here.
August 27, 2021 at 3:38 pm
Our pup wants to chew on bark. Does this splinter like sticks and wood? We still don't let him chew it Im just curious.
August 30, 2021 at 11:10 am
Yes, bark splinters as well. So it is not recommended to let dogs eat tree bark either.
May 6, 2021 at 2:17 pm
My daughter didn't train her dog while young and it chews everything. She told me to take the dog. It's a pit lab mix. I got her bones to chew but found out later that she chewed my young tree I planted. I even had a wire fence around the bottom to keep her away but found out she propped herself up and chewed it down. She started on the other tree.
May 11, 2021 at 6:57 pm
Hi Karen! Have you considered using something like bitter apple to get her to stop? That has worked for many of our readers. Good luck!
March 13, 2021 at 2:00 pm
It's not all that easy to stop or take away what our 7 mo. old standard poodle pup is chewing on. From day one she liked earthly things. She would have her nose to the ground smelling and starting to dig then she'd eat the soil. She runs away not allowing us to remove the wood or stone she got a hold of, it's a game to her we know.
We play pitch and catch, has a lot of things to play with we're always playing but as soon as you start to do something other than play with her she goes for the wood, or stones we have around the house. We'll tell her to drop it but no way. She goes in the flower bed I tell her NO, get out of there she will but thinks it's a game now.
She's a loveable dog that would do anything and loves to learn new things but I can't play 24/7 and I'm afraid we might have to take her to vets because of what she's chewing on. Any advice?
March 15, 2021 at 4:17 pm
Hi Arlene! Some dogs are just more stubborn than others. Have you considered using bitter apple, which is a chew deterrent on those items? It's non-toxic and does the trick for many dog owners. Good luck!
September 28, 2021 at 12:47 am
I have the same problem with my puppy who is six months old. It’s impossible to spray every inch of my yard (which is caliche), bushes, plants, wood fence bark, etc. with a deterrent. I have tried cayenne pepper and other such things. He simply does not stop. So are you saying that he’ll never be able to be in the yard—or, for that matter, in the house, where he chews on walls—without my constant supervision? He doesn’t like any chew toys.
Apiffany Gaither Billings
September 28, 2021 at 4:45 pm
For behaviors to that extent, we would recommend speaking with a behaviorist in your area.
January 1, 2021 at 5:39 am
My 2 month old puppy gets into my fireplace wood and eats it all the time. I try to stop him but he does it no matter what! Help!!
January 1, 2021 at 7:16 pm
Hi Nancy! Unfortunately, there are no "easy" fixes. It all starts with consistent correction and training. You can try using bitter apple on your wood to discourage chewing as well. Just check to make sure it's not flammable before using that wood in your next fire! Based on a quick glance, it doesn't look like it is, so that would be a step to take while also being firm with training. Good luck!