Why Do Dogs Like Squeaky Toys?
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz December 14, 2020
It’s no secret that dogs love toys that squeak! Browse any pet store isle and you’ll see a plethora of toys designed to make exciting noises to encourage our dogs to play. Plush toys, chews, balls, and even teeth cleaning toys can be found with squeakers. But what is it about squeaky toys that can drive a dog wild? In this article, we will learn why many dogs are enticed by squeaky toys along with some tips on selecting the right toy for your dog.
Why Do Dogs Like Squeaky Toys?
The modern dogs’ ancestors would have relied on hunting prey to feed themselves. Old, young, sick, or injured animals would have been the easiest targets. The sound squeaky toys make mimic the sounds of an injured or frightened animal, triggering deep instilled hunting instincts in our pet dogs.
The sequence of behaviors that dogs undertake while hunting and killing prey is known as the “predatory sequence” and can be simplified into 5 distinct behaviors. These are (MacNulty, 2002):
- Searching for prey
- Stalking and watching prey
- Chasing prey
- The grab bite
- The kill bite
Playing with toys allows dogs to practice the hunting behaviors in this sequence. Dogs that rapidly shake a squeaky toy may be imitating the motion that would kill their prey. Some may go even further and rip apart the toy as if it were real prey (Bidner, 2006). Because of this, solitary play in dogs appears to be most likely derived from this predatory behavior. Therefore, toys that mimic the properties of their ancestor’s typical prey (Pullen et al., 2010) and that allow dogs to satisfy their instinct to grab, kill, and dissect are going to be the most desirable toys to our dogs and are most likely to capture and keep our dog’s attention (Bradshaw et al., 2015). An additional positive aspect to squeaky toys is that the noise provides the dog with instant gratification and motivation to continue to play until they can get the squeaking to stop (i.e. the prey dies).
Why Doesn’t All Dogs Like Squeaky Toys?
Dogs are all unique individuals with different preferences for everything: from the food they eat, where they like to nap, and to the toys they love. Dogs may prefer toys that are easy to rip apart, toys that they can chase, toys that encourage social play, toys that are good for chewing, or toys that make noise (Wells, 2004). Research has shown that breeds of dogs vary in their predatory motor sequence (Udell et al., 2014). For example, many hunting breeds have been bred for a fully intact predatory sequence, meaning they follow the sequence all the way up to the kill. Other breeds, such as livestock-guarding dogs, have been selected for an inhibiting predatory sequence, meaning they are less likely to chase or bite prey. Herding dogs, such as border collies, have been selected for an exaggeration of the searching, stalking, and watching prey part of the sequence. This differences in underlying genetics may affect the toys that our dogs enjoy. Breeds with a strong prey drive (those that were/are bred for hunting) such as terriers, sporting, and herding dogs may have stronger preferences for toys that mimic prey behavior (Parker et al., 2017).
Are Squeaky Toys Safe For Dogs?
Dogs appear to show a preference for toys that have the ability to be destroyed. This comes with a caveat, however. Toys that can be broken open to remove stuffing or the squeaker can pose a choking hazard to our dogs or could lead to impacting requiring surgery if our dogs eat the stuffing. Dogs that are avid chewers should be supervised at all times when playing with toys that could be destroyed and consumed. It should also be noted that all toys, regardless of if they squeak or not, should be inspected often for any signs of damage. If damage is noted, such as tears or exposed stuffing, then the toy should be removed immediately and either repaired or replaced.
Why Does My Dog Howl At Squeaky Toys?
Howling is one of many ways that dogs communicate vocally. Dogs may howl to attract attention, to call others, or to announce their presence. Dogs have also been observed howling due to stimulation from loud, high pitched noises such as sirens or humans singing. Howling at squeaky toys could be explained by a number of these reasons. The high-pitched noise emitted by the toy may trigger the dog to start howling. Another reason may be that the dog wants to alert others to the “prey” that they found. Howls can be heard from long distances and may be used to guide others to their source.
Why Does My Dog Whine When The Toy Squeaks?
It’s not uncommon for dogs to emit another form of vocal communication when interacting with squeaky toys – the whine. Whining in dogs is a completely natural behavior and is one of the many ways they can express their feelings out loud. By reading into the context, we can presume the underlying reason for the whining. Dogs may whine due to excitement. It may be a new toy and they get overwhelmed by the new “prey” they discovered and want to share their joy with their fellow dogs and humans. Another reason could be frustration. In a real-life hunt, the prey animal should stop squeaking after a successful kill. If the dog is unable to get the toy to stop squeaking, they may get frustrated due to their lack of success. They may also find it frustrating that they are unable to complete the predator-prey sequence. Some female dogs may interpret the squeaking noise in a maternal way, especially if they are intact and their hormones are in full swing. They may whine at the toy as they try to provide care and create a nest to comfort the young, distressed animal. Finally, a common reason for whining with a squeaky toy is to gain attention. Your dog may be asking for someone else to join in on the fun and play with them. They may also just be bored and squeaky toys are bound to get a reaction (positive or negative!) from their humans.
How To Choose A Squeaky Toy For Your Dog
When choosing the right squeaky toy for your dog, there are a few important considerations to make.
- Durability – Consider how durable the toy is. Would it hold up to your dog’s chewing? If not, are you willing to supervise your dog when they’re playing with it to prevent choking or impactions? One the other hand, is the toy too heavy duty that your dog may not find it interesting?
- Safety – Some toys with squeakers come without any stuffing to help reduce the mess and health risks that come along with consuming toy parts. These might be a good option for some dogs; however, they do still contain a squeaker which could pose a choking risk.
- Designed to be torn apart – Some squeaky toys have been designed to fulfill your dogs desire to tear something apart, while reducing the risk of actual damage to the toy. An example of this is the ‘squirrels in a tree’ toy that allow the dogs to pull little squeaky squirrels out of a larger toy tree trunk. When the dog is done retrieving the squirrels, they can be put back into the tree trunk for another round of playing.
- Toys for social play – If your dog really enjoys playing with other dogs or humans, you may wish to consider a toy that promotes social play. This could be something like a pull toy that has a squeaker built in or a squeaky ball you can play fetch with.
- Teeth cleaning – Some toy manufactures have taken advantage of a dog’s strong desire to chew on something that squeaks and have designed toys that will help clean their teeth while they are having fun. They toys are often balls with protruding “fingers” that help scrape build-up off of your dog’s teeth and also help keep their gums healthy.
In summary, dogs enjoy squeaky toys because they allow them to act on their instinctual hunting drive. As long as proper supervision is provided and toys are checked often, they can provide a safe outlet for your dog to practice their hunting. No one knows your dog better than you – so keep their preferences and needs in mind when selecting toys to bring home.
Bidner, J. (2006). Is My Dog a Wolf?: How Your Pet Compares to Its Wild Cousin. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc..
Bradshaw, J. W., Pullen, A. J., & Rooney, N. J. (2015). Why do adult dogs ‘play’?. Behavioural processes, 110, 82-87.
MacNulty, D. R. (2002). The predatory sequence and the influence of injury risk on hunting behavior in the wolf (Doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota).
Parker, H. G., Dreger, D. L., Rimbault, M., Davis, B. W., Mullen, A. B., Carpintero-Ramirez, G., & Ostrander, E. A. (2017). Genomic analyses reveal the influence of geographic origin, migration, and hybridization on modern dog breed development. Cell reports, 19(4), 697-708.
Pullen, A. J., Merrill, R. J. N., & Bradshaw, J. W. S. (2010). Preferences for toy types and presentations in kennel housed dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125(3-4), 151-156.
Udell, M. A., Ewald, M., Dorey, N. R., & Wynne, C. D. (2014). Exploring breed differences in dogs (Canis familiaris): does exaggeration or inhibition of predatory response predict performance on human-guided tasks?. Animal Behaviour, 89, 99-105.
Wells, D. L. (2004). The influence of toys on the behaviour and welfare of kennelled dogs. Animal Welfare, 13(3), 367-373.