'Playing fetch' is the old faithful when it comes to thinking of games to entertain your canine companion, especially when out on walks, but what do you use to play this game? A ball, a dummy, a frisbee? Or do you pick up the nearest stick and throw that? Please don't. Here's why.
Have you ever had a splinter in your finger? It can be quite painful, can't it? Now consider how much more painful that might have been had the splinter been in your tongue, cheek or roof of your mouth (soft palate). (Bear in mind also that a 'splinter' can be anything from a millimetre to over six inches in length). A dog's mouth contains a fair amount of soft tissue and crevices that broken bits of stick can embed, causing pain, loss of appetite and/or infection. Playing with sticks can encourage your dog to chew the stick, causing splinters and small, sharp pieces of stick to break off and potentially cause injury. You may not even know that your dog has suffered such an injury until days, or even weeks, later when infection has set in and your dog loses appetite and an awful smell emits from his/her mouth. Even without the act of chewing, there's no reason that a loose splinter couldn't dislodge in their mouth. If swallowed, this seemingly innocuous piece of stick could travel along the digestive system and at any point pierce a vital organ, causing untold damage.
When you throw your chosen stick, can you guarantee that it will always fall flat on its side parallel to the dog so that your dog can easily pick it up halfway along the shaft? I don't think so... If you're playing a game of fetch with an increasing excitable and keen-to-retrieve dog and that stick lands slightly propped up on the end facing the dog then you've potentially got a recipe for disaster. Your dog could go bounding eagerly over to grab the stick only for him/her to pick it up end first and for that sharp stick to pierce his/her soft palate or back of the throat, causing considerable damage. There have also been instances of this scenario occurring and the dog running over the stick, the stick then punctures the throat or soft underbelly, again causing substantial damage.
It might seem like scaremongering, and there will be plenty of people who will say they've been playing fetch with sticks for years without any issues but is it really worth the risk when a purpose-built retrieval toy for dogs can be barely more than a pound? It only takes one incident to cause your dog, and your bank balance, significant damage - not to mention the real possibility of losing your dog altogether.