If you are anything like me, you have more dog toys in your house than they do in the local pet store! Every time I go out shopping and just happen upon a pet section or shop, I feel compelled to buy my four-legged friends a new play thing; as though the 10 that they already have will not suffice.
Many dog owners choose their dog toys in the same way that they would for a child, based on factors such as how cute it looks, how much they think the dog will like it, what noise (or lack of) it makes or in many cases, how long it will last. We know that our dogs’ love to play with toys of all shapes and sizes, but surprisingly many dog owners are not sure of benefits gained from buying your pooch a toy.
Dogs, just like children, love to play and it is not always possible for us humans to be on hand 24/7 to play fetch with our furry buddies, which is the only reason that most of us think dog toys were invented. But there are numerous benefits to the toys that fill the shelves in pet shops and supermarkets, and this article will give you all the information you need about the why, what and how of the dog toy world.
Dogs are just like people in that they have psychological needs pertaining to their everyday lives and environments. There are numerous events and situations that can cause your dog a plethora of emotions such as stress, excitement, anxiety and boredom and it is important to provide your dog with tools that can help them to release or cope with such emotions and events.
There are 2 main sections that come under the umbrella of ‘psychological benefits’. These are emotional benefits and mental stimulation.
A dog chewing on a toy is similar to you keeping yourself occupied when you are feeling energetic or stressed. Having a toy to keep them busy helps to take their mind off things like running around the house and bouncing off your furniture or mild feelings of separation anxiety when they are left alone for a short while.
This is especially important for puppies or dogs that are new to your home, as it can take a while for them to adjust to their new surroundings and environment and having some toys at the ready is not only a good way for the two of you to bond, but also allows your dog to keep their emotions on an even keel by being preoccupied and having something else to concentrate on.
A very common issue that dog owners report is when a dog is left alone, either for a few hours in the day or when you go to bed at night, they can display destructive behaviour such as chewing through all manner of items in your house or toileting when you are out. When we first had our eldest rescue Border Collie, we were unaware of the high level of stimulation needed by that breed and also the anxiety he would feel at being left, even for a few minutes. We would often return home to find wallpaper having been ripped straight off the wall and chair legs virtually missing. Toys were a God send for us in the early days as they kept his mind active and his teeth busy.
Of course some dogs suffer with severe separation anxiety and need additional behavioural help, however most dogs are happy to settle down with a toy which then becomes the focus of their attention to relieve the boredom and take their mind of being alone. Online stores such as Swell Pets have a multitude of dog toys to choose from, catering to all sizes and needs for your dog. You will also find a large selection of toys and great advice at your local pet store.
For some breeds more than others, it is essential to provide mental stimulation on top of any physical activities that you may pursue together. This is so important for breeds that have high energy levels or who have primary been used as a working breed. A general toy such as a rubber ring or a rope toy will provide your dog with some mental stimulation as they chew away and try to break the toy into a million pieces (tough toys are great for lasting a lot longer than soft rubber or rope); but it is also possible to buy toys that are specifically designed as mental stimulation toys and will tire your dog out and reduce their stress, energy and excitement levels.
These toys include things like treats balls, where treats are hidden inside a toy and the dog has to work out how to get the treat out by moving or shaking the toy in a certain way. Dogs are very intelligent animals and most learn very quickly, so these kinds of toys can keep them busy for a while, helping to keep them mentally healthy.
You will find with some breeds that you can walk them for hours and after a short rest, they are back up and ready to go again (even when you are not), but if you add mental stimulation into the mix, you can keep your dog on an even keel, which is beneficial and healthy for them and a lot less work for you.
You can also play indoor games such as hide and seek, where you hide small treats around the house and let your dog go and sniff them out. This can give your dog hours of fun and uses their brain cells and memory (a dog will instinctively look at the last place you hid treats, so remember to find new places to keep the stimulation up.)
Keeping your dog active is essential for their health, both mentally and physically, but you do not have to limit their exercise to simple walks. There are not many dogs on the planet that do not love a good game of fetch with their favourite tennis ball or stick. If your dog is well trained in recall, take them to a dog-friendly park or public field and spend 10-20 minutes throwing a toy and having your pooch bring it back. Having short bursts of running when fetching a toy is great physical exercise for your dog and is of major benefit to their body and overall health.
An active dog will have less health issues and the risk of heart disease is greatly reduced. Digestion problems are proven to be less in dogs that have daily exercise, as well as issues relating to stress being reduced.
If your dog is the run away kind and needs to be kept on a lead at all times when out, there are still lots of ways that toys can play a part in giving your dog more fun and activity. If you have a medium-large sized garden or a local area which is secure, your dog can still enjoy playing fetch with you or why not purchase a long leash which can be used for games of fetch at the park or in a field, whilst keeping your dog secure.
Teeth & Muscle Health
Essential for puppies but just as important for dogs of all ages. When puppies teethe, their gums become very sore and just like babies, chewing on something can help to relieve the pain associated with this. You can buy special dog toys that are made just for teething, although any hard rubber toy will work in the same way. Your dog will find something to chew in your house if they are teething or have sore gums, so if you want to keep your shoes and furniture in one piece, it is important to have a selection of toys at the ready for your pooch to enjoy.
Just like a human needs to work out their muscles to keep them useful and strong, a dog needs to work their muscles in a way that lying on the sofa all day just doesn’t do! Physical exercise works all of the muscles, however indoor activities such as playing tug of war with your dog, not only helps to create bond between owner and canine, it also gives the mouth, neck and leg muscles an extra workout.
Toys are an essential part of your dogs’ life and are not simply a thing for them to play with. The benefits of toys has long been written about and researched and you just have to watch how much fun your pooch has when you give them a toy to enjoy. For most dog owners, buying your dog a new toy and presenting them with it, is as much fun for us as it is for them, so remember the next time that you buy your pooch something to play with, you are benefiting and enhancing their physical, emotional and mental health as well as keeping stress at bay and providing much needed enjoyment.