Did you know dogs look at toys the way their wild ancestors looked at prey?
It’s true. That’s why dogs like toys they can tear apart, that taste good, and/or makes noise. Think about it. If you have a dog, chances are you have one or several battle-weary toys lying around the house - stuffed animals missing eyes, noses, faces or limbs; balls flattened by canine teeth; rubber toys missing their squeakers … not to mention chewed shoes, clothing or furniture your dog may have destroyed!
It’s hard to believe a little fluffy dog that looks so cute pouncing on its stuffed bunny really wants to kill it. But instinctively that’s what it is doing. When a dog shakes a toy it is re-enacting a wild canine action designed to snap a prey’s neck or back. When a dog carries around a stuffed toy in its mouth it is part of its instinct to retrieve prey. It all goes back to dogs’ evolutionary role as hunters and retrievers.
In modern times dogs’ toys serve many purposes, depending on a dog’s age, personality and its needs and lifestyle. Foremost among them is a dog’s need to chew, which is good for its physical and mental health.
Young puppies chew to explore their world and to relieve the irritation and pain of teething. Mature dogs need to chew to exercise their jaws, clean their teeth and massage their gums, and to reduce stress and boredom.
For some dogs, chew toys also provides comfort. Dogs that have experienced trauma may treat a favourite toy like a baby or best friend and carry it everywhere. Why they do this is a bit of mystery. Experts speculate dogs choose favourite toys based on smell, texture, shape, colour, or size. But no one knows for sure.
If you take a look at the mechanism of chewing, dogs’ jaws are quite remarkable. Dogs have average bite strength of 269 pounds of pressure compared to humans, who only have 120 pounds of bite pressure. A dog’s jaw can’t move side to side, only up and down, and its back teeth are pointy, which is optimal for eating and tearing meat. Dogs are naturally inclined to be carnivores although they can be omnivorous as well. Those little stuffed toys don’t stand a chance against a dog’s jaw.
All this is fine, you say, but how do you choose the right toys for your dog? The quick and easy answer is “ it depends on your dog.”
Let’s take a look at several different dog types and needs and how to find the right toy for your dog.
1. The destroyer: if your dog likes to destroy its toys then stuffed toys are probably not a good idea. Look for more durable toys made from canvas or rubber, such as a Kong.
2. The cuddler: if your dog likes to cuddle and sleep and play gently with soft toys then cute little stuffed animals are the right fit.
3. The mover and shaker: if your dog likes to explore toys that move, then let it play with rubber balls or Frisbees. It might like a toy that makes it work for a reward.
4. The chewer: if your dog is a chewer then it would benefit from rubber or rope toys made for chewing. Just make sure it doesn’t eat its toys.
Pet stores have several aisles devoted to toys so there is no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a toy for your dog. However there are a couple of rules of thumb to keep in mind:
Make sure the toy is the right size for your dog. For example, don’t give your dog a toy so small it could choke or one that is too big for its mouth.
Always supervise playtime with new toys, especially squeaky toys because a dog may swallow the squeaking mechanism once it has found and destroyed the source of the noise.
Remove ribbons, tags, strings, bead or button eyes or parts of toys that can be chewed off and eaten.
Look for toys your dog will play with and not destroy in a few seconds.
Regularly check the condition of your dog’s chew toys and get rid of any toys that show a lot of wear and tear.
Dogs like the novelty of new toys so don’t be dismayed if your dog quickly loses interest in a toy. That’s not to say you should continually spend money on new toys for your dog. You can tuck old toys away for a while and then bring them out again: to a dog the toy will be new again.
Remember that dogs are more interested in playing with their toys when their owners participate. A rope toy is way more fun if someone is pulling the other end. Throwing a ball for your dog is more exciting for the dog than if you never pick the ball up. Playing hide and seek with a stuffed toy is more stimulating for a dog than if the toy stays in the toy box. Be creative and improvise and your dog will appreciate it.
And finally, and most important of all, remember that it’s also good for your mental and physical health to play with your dog and its toys! Have fun!
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