Most dog parents know the indisputable joy on a pup’s face when given a new toy. After a careful sniff, prod and poke, the pup typically romps with the toy for hours. Besides the obvious fun, this frolic display reveals some serious animal instincts.
But your pup may become bored with their toys over time, especially if they aren’t stimulating enough. Dogs benefit from new playthings regularly and it may even help if you rotate out their favorites.
When you first give a dog a toy, they’re likely excited and go through an intense and exhaustive initial investigative period. Your pup is learning everything possible about the new object. The tendency to prefer new things, known as neophilia, is well-established in dogs.
“Dogs most definitely get bored of toys,” Andrea Arden, founder of Andrea Arden dog training, says. “Variety is the spice of life, so the newest ‘shiny’ object is likely to keep your dog more engaged than a toy that has been hanging around for a long time.”
Simply changing a toy’s color, odor or nearly any physical aspect is usually enough to spark your pup’s interest once again. Some families leave baskets of toys around the house for their dog to easily access throughout the day. But some recommend taking toys completely out of a dog’s access and rotating them back into play to make them appear new once again.
“If your dog has 25 toys, try offering two or three a day and putting the others away,” Arden says. “When your dog hasn’t seen their squeaky hedgehog in a day or two, odds are they will be more engaged with it because of the relative novelty. Think of it as supply and demand economics. When something is in shorter supply, it often triggers an increase in demand or desire.”
Dogs also tend to prefer toys that resemble, even abstractly, some aspect of prey. In other words, your dog wants to stalk, hunt and ultimately destroy what they’re playing with. Toys that can be torn apart or possess certain odors or tastes can be more appealing and interactive for your pup.
But you may not want to load up on beef-flavored toys just yet. Toys that encourage destruction can lead to ingestion, which can cause dangerous blocking in your pup’s system. Any toy made for chewing should only be given to your pup under supervision, and you should be sure to take any removed, small pieces away from your dog to prevent them from trying to swallow it.
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The best dog toys are interactive or mentally stimulating in some way. Think dog puzzles and brain games.
“Other than interacting with their people, sleeping and eating, there aren’t too many things a dog can do inside the home that is considered acceptable behavior, other than playing with their toys,” Arden says. “So, it should be a priority for pet parents to have a toolbox of toy options to help keep their dog happily occupied and stress-free and to help prevent behavior problems related to boredom.”
With so many different toys available, it can be overwhelming for pet parents when it comes time to pick the right one for their pup. But, Arden recommends three categories of toys:
Providing your dog a toy with treats inside can work as a puzzle and can keep them mentally stimulated throughout their day.
“While all dogs have unique preferences and opinions, most dogs are most interested in toys that are designed to be stuffed with food, whether they're normal meals or special treats,” Arden says. “The process of working on the toy to get small bits of food out harks back to their ancestors hunting for food and chewing on bones.”
Chew toys and toys with treats inside can be great options to occupy your dog, but you still need to be careful. Many chew toys are made with durable, hard plastics and rubber to increase playtime but may be so hard that your pup ends up with a cracked tooth or ingested piece of plastic.
“Many dogs also adore toys that make squeak sounds when chomped on,” Arden says. “But, these toys should only be given to a dog while supervised to ensure they don’t rip the toy apart and ingest the stuffing and/or the squeaker. Both can cause intestinal blockages and require veterinary intervention.”
Toys spend most of their time in your pet’s mouth, so do your homework before buying that cute new product. You may also want to consult your vet if you’re unsure whether a toy has pieces that can be choking hazards for your pup. Pet parents should evaluate toy packages as critically as they analyze food labels.
If you want your dog to play with toys, show them what’s exciting about the toy. When you bring a new stuffed animal or ball home, play with it with your pet for a while to encourage them.
You can also try hiding their favorite treats inside some toys or even putting dog-safe peanut butter on more firm toys to get their attention.
At the end of the day, you’re your dog’s best toy. Go for a walk, throw a ball in the park, do anything together. Toys are great when you’re at work or away, but you should take the time to be with your dog when you’re home. You’ll both be healthier for it. And your dog will be less likely to grow bored of toys when they’re not expected to play alone at all times.
The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.
Photo by Mathew Coulton on Unsplash