My Standard Poodle Raja loves to play "ball." In his case, "ball" is anything that he can chase, catch, and bring back to the person throwing the "ball." Although he will do this with round balls that he can fit into his mouth, he really prefers plush toys that look like chipmunks or rabbits, that are small enough for him to fit into his mouth, and that squeak when he chews on them.
The downside of his playing "ball" is that he needs to convince some willing person to play this game with him.
What about dogs who don't have a person around? What sort of toys do they like to play with?
When I tried to find some scientific articles that have looked at this, I found that few had studied this problem.
However, a recent article in the scientific literature investigated what sorts of toys dogs in kennels like to play with (Pullen, A J et al. 2010. Preferences for toy types and presentations in kennel housed dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 125: 151-156).
The experimenters studied the kinds of toys that dogs liked to play with in two different types of kennels:
· Re-homing kennels (the equivalent of Humane shelters), where dogs are brought in off the street for adoption.
· Long-term kennels where dogs spend most of their lives in a kennel.
The circumstances of kennel life were very different between the two types of kennels. In the re-homing kennels, the environment was very new to most dogs and the dogs showed signs of stress at being in unfamiliar surroundings. In the long-term kennels, the dogs were used to being in the kennels and received a lot of enrichment in the form of off-leash walks and interactions with people in an enclosed environment.
The experimenters gave both groups of dogs two types of toys to play with, and recorded the amount of play on video:
· One type was robust toys, which were difficult for the dog to destroy. These included a large indestructible ball, a rope tug knotted at both ends, a nylon and rubber flexible tug toy, and a rubber frame toy.
· The other type was less robust and easier for the dogs to damage. These included a vinyl bone with a squeaker, a soft fabric toy with two squeakers, a plush toy with a squeaker, and a tennis ball.
The robust toys were presented to the dogs as either hanging toys, suspended by a metal chain into the middle of the kennel, or as floor toys, placed onto the floor of the kennel.
The less-robust toys were only placed on the kennel floor.
Although there were some differences between the responses of the dogs in the re-homing kennels and the dogs in the long-term kennels, there was a common thread:
· The dogs generally did not like to play with toys that were hanging.
· The dogs preferred the soft squeaky toys to the hard indestructible ones.
While the indestructible toys are more attractive to people because dogs can't shred them, the indestructible toys are less attractive to dogs.
However, dogs can destroy the soft squeaky toys and possibly swallow pieces of the toy or the squeaker.
That means that if you give soft squeaky toys to your dogs, you have to watch them to make sure that they don't swallow anything.
I'm sure that Raja would agree with the results of this experiment. The only thing that they left out, in his opinion I am sure, are the people who can throw the soft squeaky toys for him to retrieve.