By Gemma Johnstone | Dog Behaviour
Are you being driven round the twist by your dog’s toy squeaking? If so, you might be wondering why a squeaking sound is so rewarding for your pooch.
While there isn’t a lot of scientific data about why many dogs love squeaker toys, there are several widely accepted theories.
This article aims to demystify your dog’s fascination with these types of toys, and explains the importance of managing appropriate play.
There are three main theories as to why dogs enjoy a squeaky noise. The true explanation could involve more than one of these theories, as dogs may squeak for different reasons.
A widely accepted theory is that squeak toys trigger a dog’s natural hunting instinct. The dog may not necessarily believe the toy is a small animal, but the high-pitched squeak encourages them to chew and bite it. The ultimate goal is to ‘kill’ the squeaker.
While there have been no wide-scale studies specifically looking at this, one published in the journal Animal Cognition adds credence to the theory.
The study, looking at a dog’s preference for new toys, recognized that our canine friends generally show a preference for toys with squeaks. Respected Animal Behaviorist John Bradshaw is a co-author of the study, and, during an interview with Discovery News, he stated:
“Because we think that dogs perceive toys in the same way that wolves perceive prey, they prefer toys that either taste like food or can be torn apart.”
Anne Pullen, who also co-authored the study, said that a dog’s favorite toy is often “soft, easily manipulated toys that can be chewed easily and/or make a noise.”
Dog breeds that have been bred for harnessing their prey drive are more likely to be attracted to a squeaky sound. Breeds like terriers and sighthounds are often prolific squeaky toy destroyers.
While this may be an instinctual trait retained from their wolf ancestors, it doesn’t mean that domestic dogs are pack animals like wolves. Training methods that rely on the use of dominance-based, ‘alpha’ techniques have been widely debunked. They are shown to be scientifically less effective than gentler, reward-based methods.
The act of causing the toy to squeak can sometimes be comforting or satisfying to the dog in itself. Squeaking is a form of auditory feedback that makes a toy more interesting and novel.
They may just enjoy the challenge of trying to get it to squeak again. It could be that they find the noise soothing or interesting, or they may even just like the repetitive nature of the task.
A smart dog may realize that repeatedly squeaking a toy gets your attention – even if it’s just to take the toy away. This could be all the motivation they need to keep doing it.
If “attention squeaking” is becoming a problem, don’t continually engage in play. Work on stopping the behavior from occurring in the first place through a combination of ignoring the squeaking and rewarding preferred alternative behaviors.
Despite the potentially violent explanation for why dogs love squeaking, these toys can be useful for a variety of reasons.
If your dog enjoys playing with squeaky toys, they can be a useful form of enrichment, helping to keep your pet from becoming bored and understimulated.
Of course, just giving your dog a pile of squeaky toys doesn’t mean you can give them a shorter walk or less companionship. Your dog should always get plenty of daily exercise, and they shouldn’t be left on their own for prolonged periods.
Squeaky toys can also be useful for redirection. If you have a teething puppy that wants to nibble on less appropriate items, like your slippers, having a distracting toy for them to chew on instead can be helpful.
If your dog loves squeaky toys, they can be great to use as a reward during a training session.
If these toys are kept ‘special’ for use during training, they are more likely to continue to be motivating and rewarding. High-value toys are also useful as a calorie-free alternative to treats.
Remember to mix things up though. If you always stick with the one reward, your dog is likely to get bored and won’t be as motivated to learn.
It’s best to keep squeaky toys for solo training sessions. They are not a great option for a training class, as it will likely be distracting for the other dogs.
Squeaky toys have some downsides though, which is why your dog should always be supervised when playing with them. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.
No dog toy is truly indestructible, but squeaky toys are often the least robust, so the dog can easily produce a squeak. They are much easier to destroy than some of their hard rubber counterparts, like the popular Kong toys.
The torn apart toy, especially the squeaker itself, could get caught in your dog’s throat or create a blockage further down. It is not uncommon to hear about dogs needing veterinary intervention as a result of a squeaky toy incident.
You should always supervise your dog closely with these types of toys. Make sure you repair or throw away any toys that show signs of damage, and pick something that suits your dog’s level of persistence or bite strength.
There are some squeaky toys on the market that are tougher than their generic supermarket-bought counterparts, like the JW Range and those from Chuckit. It’s worth spending extra on toys for strong chewers if your dog has a habit of ripping up squeakers.
If your dog really loves squeaky toys, sometimes it can send them into a frenzy. If they get too over-excited, their adrenaline levels rise, and it can be harder for them to relax.
In extreme cases, if this constant state of over-arousal is encouraged, it can lead to dogs becoming stressed, reactive and even aggressive. We love this infographic from the Vet Behavior Team that shows you how to spot the signs that your dog is over-aroused.
You should limit your dog to short sessions of play, or use other types of toys that provoke a less extreme reaction.
Some dogs, particularly if they have noise sensitivity issues, can be frightened by squeaky toys. You could help them to feel less stressed by pairing the noise of the squeak with something they enjoy.
Ultimately, however, try to pick something that your dog enjoys playing with.
While we all want our dogs to enjoy playing with toys, a constant squeaking can quickly become annoying.
Some toys, which are often marketed as “silent,” have less powerful squeakers than others. These can provoke a less extreme reaction in your dog and are easier on human ears!
There are also ultrasonic dog toys that can’t be heard by humans. These are silent to our inferior human hearing, but easy for a dog to hear.
A dog’s enjoyment of squeaky toys probably relates to their instinctual prey drive. Squeaking may also be satisfying and could be a way for a dog to get attention.
While playing with a favorite squeaky toy can offer enrichment for your dog, they should always be supervised. The squeakers can present a choking hazard and, in extreme cases, can cause your dog to become over-aroused.
When used appropriately, however, squeaker toys can prevent boredom and are a useful training aid.
Gemma is a freelance writer and official dog nut. With 15 years of experience in the pet industry, she is a passionate animal welfare advocate. She has worked for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ran her own specialist dog shop for ten years, has volunteered for her local rescue shelter, and is studying towards completing an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour. Gemma is currently travelling around Europe with her wonderful rescue dog, Annie.