Growing up, I treasured birthdays and holidays because they brought excitement wrapped in shiny bows. Science tells us our canine companions may feel the same. New studies validate the notion that our canine companions may become “bored” with their toys and possibly benefit from new playthings on a regular basis.

Most dog owners have observed the indisputable joy on a dog’s face when given a new toy. After a careful sniff, prod and poke, the pup typically romps with the trinket for hours. Besides the obvious fun, this display of frolic reveals some serious animal instincts.

The science behind it

During this intense and exhaustive initial investigative period, your pooch is learning everything possible about the new object. The tendency to prefer new things, known as neophilia, is well-established in dogs and my teen-aged daughters. Nearly 10 years ago, researchers from German and British universities demonstrated dogs picked a new toy over an old one 76% of the time.

A similar study was more recently conducted by the University of Bristol. This time the scientists allowed the dogs (Labrador Retrievers, if you’re curious) to play with the new toy for 30 seconds at a time. The toy was then taken away and returned a few minutes later. This process was repeated until the dog no longer showed interest in the object. When the dog showed no excitement in the “old” toy, they immediately offered a new one. What they found was a little surprising and a lot depressing.

How long do toys last?

I’ll start with the depressing: On average, the dogs lost interest or became “bored” after an average of five play periods. That’s less than two and a half minutes! The surprising: Simply changing a toy’s color, odor or nearly any physical aspect was effective in creating excitement. My dog toy budget just blew up.

The researchers (and most observant dog owners) can explain this phenomenon. Dogs tend to prefer toys that resemble, even abstractly, some aspect of prey. In other words, your dog wants to stalk, hunt and ultimately destroy the toy. Duh. That’s why my floors are constantly strewn with bits of battle-worn chewthings. Dog toys that can be torn apart or possess certain odors or tastes were also found to be more appealing in the study. But before you search Amazon for “beef-flavored dog toys,” I’ve got a serious warning.

Don’t purchase any dog toy that encourages destruction. I’ve taken too many toys out of tummies and seen complications, including death, from well-meaning gifts that ended up being eaten.

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When selecting your next dog toy, here are a few tips:

Made in the U.S.A.

I prefer pet toys made in America whenever possible. I trust the manufacturing regulations and oversight our country has more than many other countries. Our system is far from perfect and I’m always pushing for better protections, but our pet industry produces some of the safest products in the world.

Chewable but not too hard

Dogs desire toys that compress or allow them to chew on them. The tendency is to make dog toys more durable, requiring harder plastics and rubber. That may not be the best approach. Look for a plaything that yields to hard pressure. If you can crack concrete with it, it’ll also crack your pooch’s pearly whites. Most of my dog’s toys show visible evidence of tears, chunks and breaks within a few weeks of usage. That’s perfect in my book. That tells me they’re sufficiently chewable. It also tells me it’s time to pick up something new.

Toxic substances

Sadly, lead, bisphenol A (BPA), arsenic and other toxins have been found in pet toys. American-made products may be safer, but do your homework. Toys spend most of their time in your pet’s mouth, and any chemicals leeched end up in their bloodstream. Evaluate toy packages as critically as you analyze food labels.

No bells, squeaks or stuffing unless closely supervised

These toys promote total annihilation. They are only safe if you’re there to immediately step in and take away the partially-destroyed doohickey.

Rotate, rotate, rotate!

For two decades, I’ve been advising pet parents to switch out dog and cat toys every one to two days. This research confirms my practice. You can also rub the toy in grass or a little salt to change the smell and taste to revive an aging plaything. Better for budgeting.

You are the best toy

I devoted an entire chapter in my book, “Chow Hounds,” to rewarding dogs with your time and attention. Go for a walk, throw a ball in the park, do anything together. Toys are great when you’re at work or away; take the time to be with your dog when you’re home. You’ll both be healthier for it!

Dec 21, 2016
Pet Health

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