Walk into any pet store and you’ll discover many piles of squeaky toys on offer for dogs, in the form of stuffed animals, rubber toys, and balls. While squeaky toys may not be music to human ears, they are a widespread favorite among canine companions. So what is it about that high-pitched sound that provokes such excitement and satisfaction in our pets?
Table of contents:
- Why do dogs like squeaky toys?
- Why does my dog tear apart their squeaky toy?
- Playing with squeaky toys with your dog
- Safety tips
Why do dogs like squeaky toys?
While a dog’s sense of smell is its true superpower (estimated to be anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times more acute than a human nose), they also have exceptionally keen hearing. With 18 ear muscles that allow them to reposition their ears toward dogs and the ability to hear independently with each ear, a dog’s hearing is about four times more powerful than our own. So a little auditory stimulation can really capture their attention.
According to animal behavioral experts, there are three main evolutionary reasons behind your dog’s enthusiasm for a squeaker — and the canine compulsion to tear squeaky toys to shreds.
- Hunting: As descendants of wild, wolf-like ancestors, modern dogs are still born with an innate prey drive. A small plush toy with a soft and furry body that emits a high-pitched squeal once bitten provides your dog with a sensory trigger —a high-pitched squeak that evokes the alarm call of the small rodents that your dog’s ancestors would once have hunted for food. This is why many hunting breed dogs are particularly eager to play with squeaky toys compared to non-hunting breeds.
- Sound: The simple fact of an auditory response to each bite provides your dog with instant gratification. This can trigger something kin to a positive feedback loop, rewarding each chomp with an rewarding squeak. This stimulation — a bite that emits a prey-like sound — may trigger a dopamine release from the reward center of your dog’s brain.
In addition, your dog may come to learn that the squeaky toy provokes a reaction in humans, too. If you’re more likely to engage in play with your dog when there’s an auditory cue, your dog may just have got you trained as a playmate. Next time your dog drags a squeaky toy toward you, they might be attempting to catch your attention.
- Chewing: Finally, your dog may love squeaky toys simply because they just love chewing! This is especially true among teething puppies. The innate urge to chew is evident in most dogs, and noisy, chewy toys offer some mental stimulation and a healthy outlet into which they can channel destructive tendencies (away from, say, your furniture). Different breeds may have different preferences when it comes to toys; and playing styles may change over the course of a dog’s lifetime. Teething pups might prefer soft and rubbery toys; older dogs might opt for soft, stuffed toys that they can chew and carry without much trouble; hunting or prey-drive breeds with a destructive chewing habit may be better suited to heavy-duty, “indestructible” toys made from thick rubber or vinyl.
Why does my dog tear apart their squeaky toy?
Some pet owners may be all too familiar with this scenario: You bring home a brand-new, pristine squeak toy as a gift for your dog; they fall on it with obvious delight; yet a mere matter of hours later the entire thing is shredded beyond recognition, balls of stuffing scattered across the living room and the squeaker almost surgically removed. Why are some dogs prone to destroying a squeaky toy?
Experts suggest this behavior typically stems from dog breeding and temperament. Dogs bred for hunting, particularly terriers like Jack Russells that were selected as “ratters” to hunt and kill rodents, may find the squeaker extremely stimulating. While most small mammals would be killed quickly from a dog bite, the relentless prey squeak may compel your dog to shred the toy until the squeaker is finally silenced.
Playing with squeaky toys with your dog
As previously mentioned, your dog may like the attention a squeaky toy invites — even if the sound infuriates its human companions. A repeated chewing session in your vicinity might be an invitation to play.
You can encourage your dog to “hunt” the squeaky toy by dragging it just out of reach and encouraging your dog’s latent hunting instinct to keep them stimulated around the house. Similarly, a gentle game of tug can actually be a bonding exercise between human and canine, as long as neither is compelled to yank the opponent too hard and winning is reciprocal. Naturally, if these actions ignite too much boisterous or aggressive behavior in your dog, you will need to find a different approach.
While most squeaky toys are appropriate and safe for most dogs, those with a powerful hunting or prey drive may require supervision to ensure the toys aren’t provoking aggression or destructive behaviors. If your dog has a tendency to shred soft toys, they are in danger of creating choking hazards if parts of the toy are ingested. Ingestion can lead to serious health problems and even the need for surgery. Practice safe play with these tips:
- For destructive chewers, squeakers may be a supervision-only toy, meaning your dog only has access to the toy while you are actively playing tug or fetch together. The dog is not left unattended to tear the toy to pieces and risk choking.
- Appropriate toy choice is important. Puppies should be given soft and rubbery toys while they are teething to provide relief, while senior dogs or dogs with dental issues may prefer stuffed animals that are softer on the jaws. Tough, hard-to-destroy toys are suitable for heavy chewers.
- Check your dog’s toys regularly and dispose of those with exposed squeakers that may provide a shocking hazard, or anything with rough edges or exposed metals that can injure or be ingested.