Have you ever wondered the question, "does my dog really need toys?" In short, the answer is YES! We Love Pets Stroud and Tetbury's director, Sophie, explains why.
So yes, your dog needs toys. This is especially true if you don't want your dog to start picking up your own possessions. Most dogs are able to entertain themselves, but if they get bored or don't have toys of their own, they will go in search of something else to play with. And more importantly, dogs need the enrichment and mental stimulation that toys can provide!
It is important to keep in mind how dogs play with their toys in relation to what they were bred for. Many dogs like to carry things in their mouths or fetch objects - think gun dog breeds. Others enjoy toys that they can tug or rip apart - think terriers. Allowing a dog to express its breed instinct is the key to a mentally happy dog that does not have pent up frustration. Dogs that are entertained and enriched will be less inclined to pick up items in the house, such as shoes, and less likely to chew carpets and furniture.
Types of Toys
These types of toys allow a dog to express a natural behaviour without the need to harm wildlife or other pets. When playing with these toys on their own, dogs will clamp them in their mouths and shake them from side to side as if they are mimicking what they would be doing to their ‘prey.’
Dogs that are not protective of their toys may also like to use tug toys to play with another dog, but can become quite competitive. An interactive game of tug of war between dogs allows them to get to know each other and perhaps learn their limits of play. A dog that guards its resources and toys, however, is best not to be encouraged in a game of tug of war. Play will most likely spill over into aggression and we don't want to enhance this bad trait.
Playing tug of war with your own dog can help the bonding process and teach them rules and limits. We need to be able to teach them when to drop the toy and back off when they get over excited and unruly. Some dog trainers will advise staying away from these types of toys for certain individual dogs.
Tug games may be useful as high value rewards in training for dogs that adore the game and aren't particularly food orientated. We can teach them to pick up on a variety of cues and respond in an appropriate way. The reward is that they get their tug toy for an allotted period of time. Failing to respond means the toy is removed and the game ends. This can be a great motivator for some dogs to do the right thing.
Squeaky toys mimic the sound of caught prey and engage with your dog’s natural instincts. Good quality toys with squeaks inside should be sturdy and safe to play with. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for - so a cheap squeaky toy is likely to lose its squeak fairly soon, or the squeaking part could become dislodged and pose a threat as a choking hazard. It is best to regularly check all of your dog’s toys for signs of damage and dispose of them if they have become worn out.
Just as some of us have oral fixations if we feel stressed, which often manifest in bad habits like biting our nails or chewing on the end of a pen, dogs also find chew toys a way to alleviate mild anxiety and boredom. Some dogs will actually self-harm and do things like continually chew at their paws causing sore areas. If not licking and chewing at themselves they may pick up other household items such as shoes, handbags, cushions etc. Of course, it is best to treat the cause of the problem, and not just the symptoms. Speak with your vet for advice, but offering an engaging chew toy can help mediate some situations and also enrich a healthy mind.
Chew toys that can provide mental stimulation and make a dog think about problem solving usually involve a reward – like an edible treat. The rubber, beehive shaped Kong toys are great for this as they can be filled with something yummy and are extremely sturdy. If you have something you need to do and can't watch your dog (like a young puppy) giving them a treat filled Kong will keep them quiet and stimulated for a period of time.
The best way to fill a Kong with treats is to put some dried kibbles in the bottom and then fill the rest with something soft, like canned dog food or peanut butter. The dog then uses its tongue to try and lick out all the contents. The purpose of the kibble at the bottom is to further encourage problem solving. The dog’s tongue won't be long enough to get right to the bottom and so they may get frustrated but once they hit the kibble, but with a bit of play, shaking and chewing, the treats should eventually fall out of the hole where the Kong was filled. This method also makes it easier to clean the toy without soft food being stuck at the bottom.
Kongs need to be cleaned with warm, soapy dish water. Never put them in the dishwasher or use boiling water as this will cause the rubber to start to degrade and weaken. Kongs can also be frozen when filled with food and will defrost in about 45 mins. Great for the warmer weather or if you have them on rotation! Using something low calorie is best if you are going to completely fill them. A Kong completely filled with cream cheese or peanut butter is not always the best idea.
So what toy is right for my dog?
You may need to try several types of toys to find the right fit for your dog. If your dog doesn't get excited about toys it might simply be they don't see the reward in it. It is far more fun for them to have interactive play rather than playing on their own. Make playtime something you are an active part of rather than just providing the toys for them.
How should I use toys with my pup?
If your dog has a tendency to hoard their toys it is best to try and nip this in the bud. It may be a sign that they are getting slightly obsessive and can lead to a form of aggression if someone or another dog tries to take a toy away from them.
Picking up your dog’s toys and putting them out of reach so your dog has one toy at a time will help ensure boredom does not set in. It is bit like having a young child, so that certain toys only appear every few days out of their toy box. Of course, if your dog likes to have a certain toy to carry around for its own well-being and sense of security, it would be mean to take this away! Six to eight toys of different sizes, shapes and textures being rotated is a good way to keep your dog interested.
Some dogs are just happy to carry toys around or play hiding games with them in their bed. Many dogs will retrieve said toy when a visitor comes to the house and keep it with them as a security mechanism and keeping their mouth occupied if anxious. For dogs like this, that don’t tend to destroy soft toys and instead enjoy carrying them around, charity shops are a good place to pick up second-hand children’s soft toys.
The way your dog treats its toy is generally a good indicator and demonstration of how they are feeling. Taking the time to note this can give us a better understanding of what makes our dogs happy and allow them to fulfil their natural instincts.
Happy toy shopping!
Written by Sophie BaldwinMy area of expertise is veterinary nursing, so health and care of companion animals. I was in veterinary practice for 14 years and trained in Wiltshire, Suffolk and Berkshire. Now I’m a We Love Pets branch owner at Stroud and Tetbury after deciding I wanted to keep working with animals but also be my own boss. My horse Bertie has been keeping me busy for 21 years now along with Kizzy the cat who I got through Cats Protection. I get my dog fix from dog walking other people’s dogs every day! What I love most about having a pet is the companionship they bring along with their non-judgemental affection, no matter who you are. They love you for just being you!
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