After moving to a home with 4 plus acres,my husband and I thought that time had finally come to adopt two puppies. We always wanted two dogs but we wanted lots of space for them to run and play so that they could lead a very happy life. Little did we know though, that once we got them and they were left free to roam around, all they thought about was to chew and eat sticks.
Our land was full of sticks from the bushes and trees that were cleared months earlier. These sticks were everywhere and our dogs seemed to have a sixth sense of where to find them even when we thought we got rid of many. It was an endless job, and even when our dogs did not find any on the ground they would get some themselves directly from our trees and bushes. Our dream of purchasing land and dogs had turned out to be a nightmare...Here is my ordeal, hopefully it may help somebody with the same problem!
First of all, as owners, we must realize that eating sticks may be dangerous, they may cause an intestinal obstruction, or worse, the sticks may splinter and cause damage as they pass through the digestive system. I have witnessed my dogs painfully poop pieces of sticks mixed in theirstools and there was blood mixed in it from injuring the rectum on the way out. Not a nice thing to see!
Now to methods:
1) The squirt bottle
Squirting the dog every time he picks up a stick may work short term. If your dog will not get squirt for a couple of times, he will forget about it and the pleasure of chewing on a nice stick will make him go back to the habit.
2) The "drop it" command
Teaching the "drop it" command can be a life saver should your dog grab something he is not supposed to. This worked great when I caught my dogs in the act of picking up sticks, since it prevented them from ingesting the sticks. Only problem? My day was like a broken record: drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it, and drop it. Got the idea?
3) The "no" command
For some reason the drop it command worked for me only once the stick was in the mouth but not to prevent my dogs from getting the stick in the first place. I think they simply were unaware of the fact that what they were doing was something bad. They only learned that they had to drop the item several times and that when they did they got something else to chew on. No big deal! They did not have a clue that what they were doing was something I did not like. I guess in their little minds they must have thought "I can pick up this stick but then I need to spit it out on command" or in other words "my owner does not care if I pick up the stick, all that matters is that I get it out of my mouth quick" So I upgraded to "No" as soon as I saw them approach sticks. My dogs have known since a tender age that no is no. So when a no is said they stop doing what they do. And look at me for directions.
4) The "stick party"
So one day I gathered a bunch of sticks and sprayed them with bitter apple spray. I placed them in my dog's favorite play area. They must have thought it was a party ..until.. they tasted them. In this case, I did not have to say no, since the flavor itself did the job, but I still said it so they would learn to associate the no with the bad flavor. I also tossed them the bitter appled sticks. They spit out the sticks as I handed them a kong with peanut butter. Now they knew that sticks were no longer good as they thought.
4)The overlasting impression I had to invest in a lot of bitter apple and supervision. All it takes for a dog to get back to the bad habit is getting a couple of stones or sticks with no bitter apple on them. It's like "oh, this was what I was missing.. I need to try my luck for a tasty one.." and back to their antiques they go. So try to surround your dog with only bad bitter apple sprayed sticks and good peanut butter dipped toys. Your dog will know what the right choice is, and hopefully it may work.
This is just a sample of what has worked for me.The steps are: dog picks up stick, dog tastes bitter apple, you say no, dog spits it out, you hand tasty toy.
In a dog's mind this translates to: oh a rock, yum need to eat it, oh no! It tastes awful, my owner is also saying no to alert me it is bad, better chew my toy.
Trial: oh a rock, I am going to give it a shot, OK tastes bad, I learned my lesson
Further thought: rocks taste bad, don't like them any more, no thank you!
Even today, one full year later, I cannot trust my dogs 100% when left alone unsupervised. All it takes is some frustration or boredome and they go back to their stick chewing antics. My personal opinion? This is a big challenge. Best shortcut? Fence a stick free area and let your dogs stick to it! Best of luck!