Bringing home a new puppy is such an exciting time, but it can also be quite overwhelming! Still, imagine how your puppy must feel: They have left the only home that they have ever known, along with their litter mates and mother.
This is the reason that heartbeat toys are available—the warmth of the toy and the sound of the heartbeat can help some puppies transition to their new homes a little more smoothly.
If you’re unsure if these toys will work for your dog, we discuss the pros and cons here and offer a few tips to make your puppy’s first few nights happy ones.
What Exactly Is a Heartbeat Toy?
A heartbeat toy is one that’s supposed to simulate a puppy’s mother or littermates. They are typically a stuffed toy with a machine that vibrates or makes a sound similar to a heartbeat. Some may have removable warmers to give the toy a more lifelike feel. The toy is typically shaped like a dog, but can also be different animals, such as sheep, or as pillows.
The Snuggle Puppy is one of the first heartbeat toys, having been around since 1997. It’s a soft, plush toy that has a plastic “heart” that repetitively vibrates like a heartbeat and is placed in a pocket inside the toy, sealed with Velcro. It also comes with a heat pack (a one-time-use hand warmer).
How Do Heartbeat Toys Help?
The intended use for these toys is to help comfort puppies when they are brought to their new homes. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact between human mothers and babies reduces stress and the babies tend to cry less.1 The reason that these heartbeat toys were created for dogs was partly based on this kind of evidence.
The softness and warmth of the toy, in addition to the sound and feel of the heartbeat, may allow them to feel comforted because it mimics how they felt when they were with their mother and littermates.
Not Just for Puppies
Heartbeat toys definitely have the potential to ease the stress of adult dogs as well. It likely won’t do much during particularly anxiety-ridden events, such as thunderstorms and fireworks, but if a dog gets nervous going into their crate, for example, the toy might make a difference.
What Are the Issues With Heartbeat Toys?
These toys should only be given to a puppy while under supervision. The heart contains batteries, and a puppy’s rough play could potentially expose them. Also, since puppies chew everything, like with any soft toy, there’s a risk of ingesting the material.
If a heat pack is inside, there’s a risk of a chemical or thermal burn. If your puppy starts chewing on it, take it away from them, and try again later. Give them chew toys in place of the heartbeat toy. Repeat this process until your puppy stops chewing it and only uses it for snuggles.
Another consideration is how dependent the puppy will become on the toy. If it’s being used to ease separation anxiety, what happens when you take the toy away? Will the separation anxiety get worse? If your puppy is becoming too dependent, you may want to look for additional ways to create calmness.
How Do You Wean Your Puppy From a Heartbeat Toy?
You can simply leave the toy itself with your puppy or dog and take out the “heart” and heat pack. But if you want to wean your pup entirely, you’ll need to do it slowly.
Start by taking the toy away when you’re around, so separation anxiety isn’t as much of an issue. After a while, you can try taking it away at night but letting your puppy have it when you’re away. Eventually, you’ll be able to take it away permanently.
Other Methods to Comfort Your Puppy
Many experts will tell you that crate training is one of the best ways to help soothe puppies. When puppies are scared, they’ll seek out comfortable, small spaces which the crate can provide. Ensure that the crate is full of soft blankets and dog toys, maybe even a heartbeat toy.
If you do opt for a crate, bring it into your room, which can help your puppy’s separation anxiety. If it’s your puppy’s first night, hopefully, you have a blanket or clothing with their mother’s scent. If not, use one of your own pieces of clothing or a blanket that smells like you.
You’ll also need to have a bedtime routine:
- Feeding about 4 hours before bed
- Playtime 1 to 2 hours before bed
- Outside for a bathroom break right before bed
The first few nights will be rough, but following a routine may help comfort your puppy.
Are All Puppies Comforted by Heartbeat Toys?
No, heartbeat toys will not work for every puppy. In fact, they might actually stress out some dogs. Destructive, aggressive, or overly anxious pups might not do well with this type of toy. The vibration and sound might be triggering and lead to increased aggression or anxiety.
What Sounds Do Puppies Find Soothing?
White noise can add a certain level of comfort for some puppies, so a sound machine might help. Classical music has also proven to have a calming effect on dogs, with an emphasis on classical music featuring solo piano.
You can find playlists on Spotify and YouTube meant to relax and calm canines. There are also apps available. You just need to search online to find the music or sound that will help calm your puppy or dog.
Should I Play Music During Thunderstorms and Fireworks?
This might not work for all dogs or puppies, but it might be an effective way to help distract your pet when they are stressed by loud noises. The music might also mask some of the sounds that are making them nervous.
But don’t blast the music! Keep the volume low to moderate, and start playing it while your puppy is still young. While classical music has been proven to work for dogs, try different genres to figure out what kind of music is the most calming for your pup.
Finally, you should play music for your dog when you’re at home and when you’re away. This will help prevent your dog from associating the music with your leaving. The music will become a stressor rather than helping to soothe them.
Heartbeat toys can be effective for some puppies, particularly when they have just moved into a new home. They may also be effective for adult dogs that might be mildly anxious.
Just keep in mind that heartbeat toys are not a cure-all and won’t help dogs overcome serious anxiety issues. They also aren’t a good idea for dogs that will likely tear them apart.
Introduce your puppy to the toy slowly, and supervise them at all times until you are confident that your puppy won’t chew it.
Featured Image Credit: Catherine Murray, Shutterstock
- What Exactly Is a Heartbeat Toy?
- How Do Heartbeat Toys Help?
- Not Just for Puppies
- What Are the Issues With Heartbeat Toys?
- How Do You Wean Your Puppy From a Heartbeat Toy?
- Other Methods to Comfort Your Puppy
- Are All Puppies Comforted by Heartbeat Toys?
- What Sounds Do Puppies Find Soothing?
- Should I Play Music During Thunderstorms and Fireworks?