Dogs & their toys

Does your dog play with toys?

What makes a good dog toy? One which squeaks? One which rolls? One which can be retrieved? One which can be torn apart? Your dog may answer yes to all of these but you, the dog owner, may think differently. Perhaps you would like a toy that can’t be ripped apart? One which doesn’t roll under the sofa and get stuck there? One that is not too expensive?

Some dogs like all toys but these dogs are rare. Most dogs have one or two favourites, getting excited every time they are produced. Other toys are played with once or twice, then ignored. Most dogs find a new toy fascinating – for a little while. This can make it tricky for owners to know which toys to buy, which to give to their dog when left alone and which to use when interacting and playing with their dog.

Science is now shedding light on playtime in dogs. Summed up recently in an ABC post and published in full in Animal Cognition, researchers have examined how dogs use toys, giving us vital clues in canine toy use.

Some finding include:

  • dogs enjoy novelty in toys, immediately attracted to anything new, including a new toy. This interest may or may not be short-lived.
  • dogs tend to like those toys that can be ripped apart, those that squeak or those that taste of food, possibly mimicking the predator experience.
  • dog toys should be soft and easily manipulated by your dog but should not be able to be torn apart
  • dogs lose interest quickly in toys that are hard or those that make no sound
  • dogs also lose interest in many toys over time and this does not depend on the smell, sound, colour or texture of the toy. More like familiarity breeds content.
  • Owner involvement in play added to the dog’s enjoyment of the toys.

Much of this may appear like common sense to the dog owner who is attuned to their dog’s behaviour and pleasures in life. For many owners, however, this research will make a huge difference to their understanding of dog play.

To help your dog get the most of his toys, I suggest that you:

  • Purchase as many toys as you can as dogs love novelty but ensure that you rotate them around, as this will ensure your dog retains interest.
  • Let your do play with soft (as durable as possible) and/or squeaky toys but supervise their play and remove the toy if it is ripped apart.
  • Leave your dog with toys that are durable. Treat balls are perfect for this. Alone, they may not interest a dog (as most are hard to chew) but with treats inside, they are a winner for occupying your dog when alone.
  • if your dog loves toys and you have small children, you will need to supervise both. Having readily recognisable dog toys eg. treat balls, may be essential to prevent crossover of toys between canines and little humans.
  • Those toys that your dog does not appear to like, do not discard but produce less frequently and only for short periods of time. Even if your dog loses interest within 30 seconds, they are probably glad of the novelty value every now and again.
  • When your dog is not interested in a particular toy (or any toys at all), make them exciting by introducing a game with the toy. Play with it yourself or with a human friend and get your dog interested. Then allow them to play for a short time before removing the toy. Produce again after a day or so.
  • If your dog refuses to give up a toy, swap it for something equally or more exciting – their dinner, a tasty treat, another toy.
  • Remember that your dog loves interaction with you so play with your dog and their toys, in addition to those times that you leave your dog alone to play.
Enjoy playtime with your dog! And let me know what your dog’s favourite toy is?

Read more:
ABC article: Why dogs find some toys boring
Animal Cognition: Habituation and dishabituation during object play in kennel-housed dogs
More about your pet’s behaviour

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  1. I’ve always found variety is the key. I have a dozen or so toys that i keep in a box inside and i take two out each day for him to play with. This way he seems to think that he’s getting a new toy to play with each day and he loves it.

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