Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Many dogs go crazy for squeaky toys, so much so that more and more dog toy manufacturers are incorporating squeakers into their toys. Indeed, you'll find squeaky toys ranging from plastic or rubber to stuffed fabric toys. You can even find toys that float and contain a squeaker and are designed for fetching in the water.
But what makes squeakers so appealing for dogs? Why does it seem like the noise produced by these toys makes dogs go bonkers over them? And why are they so crazy about biting down on them and even destroying such toys?
In order to better understand this obsession, it helps to take a closer look at how dogs think and what causes them to do the many odd things they do.
Many dog behaviors stem from a dog's ancestral past. In this case, we're looking prior to when dogs were domesticated, in a past time when they were hunting to fend for themselves.
However, it is also true that several natural behaviors were selectively bred for by humans as they turned out helpful in several different ways.
Indeed, not all dogs go crazy over squeaky toys as others after all. Some dogs develop a ball obsession, while some others may go bonkers over tug toys. However, on thing is for certain: some dog breeds seem to be particularly attracted to squeaky toys compared to others.
Why Do Dogs Love Toys in General?
Before tackling why dogs go crazy for squeaky toys it helps to first understand how dogs perceive play and toys in the first place.
Helps Develop Motor Skills and Practice Certain Behaviors
Play has been found to be helpful in young dogs for the development of motor skills improving the dog's anatomical or physiological skills and performance. Indeed, energetic play has the potential for empowering a dog's connective tissues and bones. On top of this, play has been reported to promote brain development, stimulating the formation of cerebral synapses.
Play also plays a role in allowing dogs to practice for future behaviors. Play indeed incorporates many components of real-life behaviors such as fighting, biting, courting, chasing and manipulating objects—sort of like "make-believe" games do in human children.
According to a study, dog solitary play with toys resembles predatory behavior in both form and motivation.
- When two dogs are competing over a toy, winning its possession mimics the winning of the battle for the best meat at the end of a pack hunt (Appleby, 1997).
- When dogs have no access to toys, they rely on several objects found naturally in the wilderness such as sticks, leaves, rocks, feathers and animal hides.
- Dogs prefer toys that are friable, noisy and move unpredictably—as these traits seem to mimic the properties of their ancestor's typical prey (Pullen et al., 2010).
- Dogs are very attracted to new toys and easily become bored of them with time.
The Role of Squeaky Toys
Squeaky toys are particularly efficient in symbolizing prey due to several similarities.
- They produce sounds that are stimulating.
- The fact that the sound is produced by biting down on the toy in a certain way encourages play. It mimics the sound a frightened, dying animal makes.
- It is also proven that dogs prefer toys that can be dismembered. According to research, destructible toys increase play, likely because they better imitate prey.
Toys containing stuffing with a squeaker embedded within resemble prey animals with the stuffing imitating the entrails of a prey animal that need to be de-gutted. Hence, why dogs love so much to break open toys and remove the stuffing (to the owner's dismay!) and often get to the squeaker this way.
However, dogs who tend to destroy in such a way need to be closely monitored as it can be proven harmful to the dog if parts are ingested.
The Dangers of Squeakers
As much as squeaky toys are fun to play with, providing dogs with lots of entertainment, they come with some dangers that are worth mentioning.
At the vet hospital I once worked at, we saw several dogs requiring close observation and surgery after dogs ingested parts of toys. Squeakers were often the part to blame.
One dog, in particular, tore out the squeaker from one of his soft toys and swallowed it. On its way down, the sharp parts of the partially chewed squeaker damaged the dog's intestine, perforating it, and spreading infection throughout his body. The poor dog had to have a portion of the intestine removed which is a risky surgery not without potential long-term complications.
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University lists plastic items such as little squeaky toys as items that are dangerous for dogs to swallow.
One of the first signs in dogs suggesting an intestinal blockage that dog owners notice, on top of the fact that the squeaker is missing, is persistent vomiting. On top of this, dogs may just start acting right, they may appear lethargic and start losing interest in food, or maybe they may drool more than usual.
Choosing the Best Squeaky Toys for Your Dog
As mentioned, there are a variety of squeaky toys for dogs. Picking the most suitable toy for your dog may vary based on several factors such as your dog's size, breed and preferred playing method.
For instance, if your dog loves carrying toys around, then the toy should be small enough to be easily picked up and carried. If your dog loves to shake the squeaky toy as if it was killed prey, choose toys that resemble the size of the prey your dog's breed was most used to pursue (e.g. many small terriers were bred to hunt rats and therefore are particularly stimulated by squeaky toys).
For dogs that want to shake the toy, or better "kill the toy" it should be the size of “prey" and preferably shaped like a mouse, rabbit or duck.
Dogs who tend to destroy toys should avoid toys that are made of fabric as these are easy to rip through and dogs may reach the squeaker.
When Things Start Falling Apart
In general, squeaky toys are not one of the most long-lasting types of dog toys. Rather, dogs may destroy them very quickly! So always pay close attention to the condition of your dog's toys, and don't hesitate to toss old ones.
If you notice your dog's toy is being torn apart, swap it for a newer toy or a safe edible chew. Simply toss whatever you are offering in exchange to your dog at a distance and the moment your dog is at a distance to go and get it, safely retrieve the torn toy.
- Why do dogs play? Function and welfare implications of play in the domestic dog. / Sommerville, Rebecca; O'Connor, Emily A.; Asher, Lucy. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Vol. 197, 12.2017, p. 1-8.
- Appleby, D., 1997. Ain't Misbehavin: A Good Behaviour Guide for Family Dogs. Broadcast Books, Bristol.
- Bradshaw JW, Pullen AJ, Rooney NJ (2015) Why do Adult Dogs “Play”? Behav Processes;110:82-7
- A.J. Pullen, R.J.N. Merrill, J.W.S. Bradshaw Preferences for toy types and presentations in kennel housed dogs Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 125 (2010), pp. 151-156
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Sp Greaney from Ireland on December 01, 2020:
Those toys with the squeaker inside them annoy me. I'm glad you showed the negative points of them. I never knew it could cause so much damage if ingested. The poor dogs.
FlourishAnyway from USA on December 01, 2020:
Your answer was detailed and so vivid. I've suspected this was the case with dogs. It's that way with cats too. I especially liked your tip on how to get a good photo. That'll be helpful for folks during the holiday season.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 01, 2020:
A great understanding here about dogs and their behaviors to squeaky toys. I have learned lots from your hubs about dogs, their habits, behaviors and so much more. Keep up the great work in sharing your well-researched hubs.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 30, 2020:
This all makes a lot of sense to be, Adrienne. I have seen dogs with these toys, and they can play with them for a long time. this is a very good, well-referenced article.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 30, 2020:
Some of our dogs preferred the squeaky ones, and others did not. Any toy or part of one that can be swallowed can present problems. It is always something to watch.