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Fascinating Insight into Why Dogs Find Some Toys Boring

Dog Toy

Story at-a-glance -

  • Researchers at the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School in the U.K. may have unraveled the mystery of why dogs prefer some toys to others.
  • As it turns out, dogs quickly habituate to new toys and as soon as they familiarize themselves with the look, feel, sound and smell of a new toy, boredom sets in.
  • It seems dogs may view toys in the same way wolves view their prey – dogs prefer toys that either taste like food or can be torn apart.

By Dr. Becker

A recent study in the U.K. may have solved the maddening mystery of why your dog virtually ignores the "indestructible" toys you buy him to replace all the brightly colored, soft squeaky toys he has systematically destroyed.

The study1, published in the journal Animal Cognition, provides clues as to why dogs turn up their noses at some toys and favor others.

According to study co-author John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol's Veterinary School, in an interview with Discovery News:

"Because we think that dogs perceive toys in the same way that wolves perceive prey, they prefer toys that either taste like food or can be torn apart, however the latter can cause health problems if the dog accidentally swallows some of the pieces."

Aha! That explains a lot, doesn't it?

Dogs Quickly Grow Bored with Most Toys

The study subjects were 16 adult Labrador Retrievers between one and eight years old.

Labs are not only an extremely popular breed, but also very playful, and the researchers needed dogs that would play with the toys for at least a short time so they could evaluate what encouraged the dogs to play again once they stopped interacting with the original toy. The toys used in the experiments were different types and different colors, and had different smells.

The dogs were given one toy at a time for 30 seconds until they stopped interacting with it. Then they were given a unique toy that was quite different from the original toy.

All the dogs expressed strong but short-lived interest in almost all the new toys, leading the researchers to conclude canines seem driven to explore any new object placed in their environment.

The problem with toys is, as you've probably noticed, your dog quickly becomes accustomed to them, gets bored, and shows little further interest.

The researchers tested different things to see if they could lengthen the dogs' period of play, without success. And nothing about the individual toys made much difference either, which suggests that once a dog is completely familiar with the sight, sound, smell and feel of a toy, boredom sets in.

Choosing the Best Toys for Your Dog

When boredom with a toy hits, the only solution according to the researchers is for the owner to get in on the action.

As I discussed in a recent article, your dog's favorite toy will always be the one you play with together. 

Don't forget, recreational bones (large, raw chunks of beef and bison femur bones) are incredibly enjoyable for most dogs, even though they're not classified as a "toy." There are a few dogs that should not have raw bones (dogs with dental work, pancreatitis, etc.) so always ask your holistic vet if raw bones are appropriate for your dog.

If you need to leave your dog alone, he'll be happiest with treat-release puzzle toys, toys that can be chewed, make noise, or are edible (like a dental bone). If your dog tends to chew up and swallow anything he can put in his mouth, I don't recommend leaving him with a toy or bone unsupervised.

When shopping for dog toys, according to another of the researchers, Anne Pullen, look for items that are soft, pliable, easily chewed and preferably make noise. "Dogs quickly lose interest in toys with hard unyielding surfaces, and those that don't make a noise when manipulated," says Pullen.