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What Makes a Dog Go Crazy for One Toy Over Another?

You might not like the conclusions of a U.K. study, but they probably won't surprise you. What's your experience with your dogs?

 |  Jan 10th 2014  |   17 Contributions


Have you ever wondered why your dog favors one toy over all others? Maybe this past Christmas, you bought your dog a toy that you thought would be sure winner, only to see it sit neglected by the wayside. Is it just a matter of behavior, or is their some training aspect involved? 

Researchers in the U.K. conducted a study published in Animal Cognition on how dogs play. These scientists discovered the clues to what types of toys dogs like best, and what toys they quickly tire of. Not surprisingly to dog parents, the toys that dogs like best are also the toys with a short life span.

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Once Sasha opened this toy on Christmas morning, she ignored it.

There were 16 Labrador Retrievers used as guinea pigs in the study. This breed was chosen because of its playful nature, according to an article in Discovery News. During the study, all of the dogs quickly lost interest with toys that didn’t make sounds or had unyielding surfaces.

John Bradshaw, one of the researchers in the study, said in the Discovery News article, “Dogs perceive toys in the same way that wolves perceive prey, they prefer toys that either taste like food or can be torn apart.” He emphasized that toys that break apart and can easily be swallowed and could pose a health risk for dogs. Anne Pullen, co-researcher in the study, recommended buying dog toys that are soft, malleable, and can be chewed easily or make a noise.

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Here's Sasha eating the "Everlasting" Treat Ball.

The only problem with this advice is that soft toys or squeaky toys die quickly and easily in our household. Our dog Sasha, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, is a top-notch toy destroyer, and she sees every new toy as a challenge to be conquered. For Christmas, we bought her an Everlasting Treat Ball and the type of rope toy that has held up well in the past. Her pet sitter gave her a plush squeaky toy. As you can imagine, the plush squeaky toy lasted about five minutes before the squeaker had been punctured, while the “Everlasting” Treat Ball lasted 10 minutes before she had finished eating the treat portion. Once the treat was gone, she wanted to eat the orange plastic. The durable rope toy was untouched.

 

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The toys on the left didn't last very long on Christmas morning, while the rope toy on the right was ignored.

So, how do you keep your dog interested in toys that will last longer than one day? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers tips including a suggestion that you play games such as tug-of-war and fetch with your dog in order to pique your dog’s interest in a toy. I’ve tried this with Sasha, and it helps. You could also remove the toy for a while and have it reappear later, making it seem novel again.

How about you? What tricks do you use to get your dog to play with durable toys? Tell me in comments.

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About the author: Cathy Weselby is a purple-lovin’ ambivert who enjoys exploring new places and ideas, the arts, humorous memoirs, collecting old magazines, and making collages. She and her husband live with Sasha, a rescued Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

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