You all have probably seen that meme on Facebook of an old looking dog in a flat cap, reminiscing aboutwhen he was a pup he had one toy, and it was a stick.
Throwing a stick for your dog is one of those iconic images that movies and TV shows are filled with. But it's not as harmless a pastime as you may think, and as many dog owners have found out to their horror it can be one of the most dangerous things to do with your dog pal.
Time and time again we are warned of the risks of throwing sticks. Apart from chewing and swallowing sharp splinters, the risks include a stick landing and poking up from the ground like a spear. A running dog can easily impale their body or throat on it, especially if the ground is wet and slippy, leading to horrific and life threatening injuries.
The danger is so real that the Kennel Club have banned images of dogs holding sticks in their mouths in their annual Dog Photographer of the Year competition, and say on their website: "We believe in happy and healthy dogs. Dogs playing or chewing on sticks may cause serious injury so we only want to see dogs playing with dog toys that are considered safe by vets and Kennel Club Accreditation Scheme dog trainers and instructors."
"I've thrown sticks for 35 yrs without a problem."
Look, here's Ben Fogle disagreeing with us and most of the vet world:
Even if, like Ben Fogle, you have thrown sticks for your dogs all your life, you should still stop now. Just because nothing bad has happened, doesn't mean nothing will - is that a risk you are really willing to take with your dog?
Oh Ben Fogle. What a diddy.
The dangers of your dog impaling themselves on a stick is real and documented and if your stomach can take it, a quick Google will show some of the terrible damage a simple piece of oak can cause.
It's a manageable, recognised risk, so let's look at alternatives.
Rubber Balls and Launchers
Our go-to outdoors toy has always been the rubber ball. We use the smaller foamy balls rather than tennis balls because Sprocket and Indie have teeny totsy mouths and can't manage a big tennis ball. We tended to use ball launchers like this Chuckit one, but it got to the stage where Barky McBarkerston wouldn't let us walk in peace so it has been quietly retired to the cupboard, coming out only on special occasions.
The K-9 Kannon
We invested in a Hyperpet K-9 Kannon Mini bought from the excellent Harry's Treats in Portobello. It's a small gun that shoots out a ball using the science of a humungous elastic band, as demonstrated by the handsome young man of a model in the image.
It can fair blast the ball some distance, and would save a heck of a lot of shoulder-aching from using a launcher. You can also shout "Get to the choppa" in a terrible Austrian accent and people will accept you for it. The only problem for us is that Sprocket is afraid of the Kannon, so it has had limited usage recently.
Sprocket is afraid of many things which pop, so this came as little surprise to us. However, the Kannon is very useful for when we have high-energy boarders staying with us (we just have to distract Sprocket with something else!)
We just bought one of these the other day to give it a try as a safer alternative to sticks. It's called a Kong Wubba and is described by its own blurb as a "...fun, interactive toss and tug toy" which is one of the rudest descriptions of a dog toy I've come across, but I guess not everyone has the mind of a teenager.
The idea is that it is tough and durable, with a tennis ball and a smaller, squeaky ball covered in a hard nylon cloth that should hold up to a good game of fetch or tug-o-war.
So far so good - in that it's seen some action between two energetic dogs and has come home in one piece. i'll update the blog when we have used it a bit more, and see how durable it really is.
There are loads of alternatives to sticks, of course, and we haven't tried most of them. Have you?
From rubber fetch sticks to throw, to knotted ropes for tug-o-war, all the way to the top of the range i-Fetch ball launcher for the more laid-back dog owner amongst us, there is surely an affordable option that would allow everyone to move away from the pointy sticks and danger of a nasty and avoidable stabbing of your dog.
Let us have your recommendation for alternatives to sticks below. And if we've learned one thing from this blog, it's clearly don't listen to Ben Fogle.