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One of my favorite moments with dogs is when they’re presented with a new toy. It’s like they just know that this new plushie or rope toy is their possession and that it’s their toy to play with. Whenever I’m home, I love to play tug-of-war with them and my dog (It’s sort of funny, since we have a small dog, so it doesn’t take too much effort to keep him at bay). My family isn’t alone. On average, a pet owner will spend $50 per year on toys (Psychology Today). That said, why is it that dogs love toys so much, and do they perhaps have a preference between them?
According to researchers, dogs tend to perceive toys like a wolf perceives prey, and the reason they play with toys is that they get similar enjoyment to what a wolf feels on a hunt (Psychology Today). With that in mind, dogs tend to like toys that can be treated more like prey. That said, the best toys then are the kinds that are soft and make a sound (Cesar’s Way). Dogs will generally pick plushie toys over hard rubber balls. Also, like kids, dogs tend to prefer new toys over old ones. The preference of new things over old ones is referred to as neophilia in psychology (kids also tend to do the same thing) (Scientific American). In one study, golden labs were presented with a toy and allowed to play with it for 2 and a half minutes, then it was taken away by the scientist for 30 minute intervals. By the fifth interval, the lab had lost interest in it (I will say I have a problem with this study specifically, since I think I’d get tired of a toy pretty quickly too if I knew I was going to be allowed to play with it for only two minutes and thirty seconds). In another study, golden labs were allowed to play with two toys. Then, they were presented with 3 toys, one being a toy they hadn’t seen before. About three fourths of the time, the labs went to play with the new toy first.
While dogs do tend to prefer new toys over old ones, you don’t need to be constantly refreshing your dog’s toys for them to stay interested. Scientific American suggests two ways to keep your dog toys fresh. One way is to make sure that your dog’s toys aren’t scattered around the house. Putting away the toys or hiding them away for awhile allows a chance for your dog to rediscover their toys as if they were new. Another way is to make your dog’s toys seem new by playing with your dog with that toy, since it adds another kind of fun and play to it (it’s also really healthy for your dog to play with their owner in a way that doesn’t include commands).
Dogs love toys, and it’s extremely fun to play with them in games like tug-of-war or fetch. As we have co-evolved with dogs, their sense of play and entertainment has evolved as well. Rather than hunting for prey, dogs love to chew on plushies or rope toys. While dogs do love a new toy, you can also use toy rotation and play with your dog to keep toys new and fresh. If you have a dog, next time, try to play with them using one of their toys. They’ll absolutely love it (It’s good exercise, too!).