Some dogs treat their toys with great respect and simply seem to like to carry them around, hide them and look after them, while other dogs will see any toy that you offer them as an open challenge to destroy it! This can of course be rather annoying if you have bought a special and potentially expensive toy for your dog, particularly if you deliberately picked one that purports to be tough and able to stand up to a dog that is hard on their things.
Whichever camp your dog falls into, the way that dogs tend to treat their toys is often a good demonstration of their natural instincts-for example, dog breeds with soft mouths and histories that included retrieving prey without damaging it (like the Cocker spaniel) will tend to take more care of their things and be more gentle with them. Breeds that were bred to hunt, catch and kill vermin, on the other hand, like the Jack Russell and most other terrier breeds, will generally see their toys as a foe to be beaten-although there are of course many exceptions on both sides of the divide!
One play behaviour with toys that often serves as a precursor to a dog really laying into their toys and ripping them apart is if your dog spends a while vigorously shaking the toy and flinging it around in their mouths. This can of course be quite funny to see if you are not counting the cost of the toy in question in your head!
Whilst this might simply seem like your dog having fun and being silly, your dog is likely to be taking the whole thing rather seriously, with play growling and mimicry of aggression too-and it is a good idea to know what this all means to your dog, and why they are doing it.
In this article, we will examine this type of behaviour in more detail including why some dogs do it, what it means, and whether or not there is anything you can do to make your dog a little less hard on their things! Read on to learn more.
Many of a dog’s standard play behaviours are a form of mimicry, such as when a group of dogs play together and a dog that is usually dominant mock-bows to another more submissive dog and lets that dog pretend that they have the upper hand.
This type of play is both rewarding and educational for dogs, and allows them to test out their boundaries and have an outlet for their instincts, which are in many ways constrained by the limits of their evolved domestic lives.
When your dog plays with their toys too, they are using their imaginations in much the same way as children do, and in their heads, throwing a toy around or shaking it mercilessly is accompanied by a mental scape of heroics and daring adventures on the part of your dog!
Keeping a toy clamed firmly in their teeth and shaking it around vigorously is a good example of this, and this type of play is a direct manifestation of the dog’s prey drive and hunting instincts, which their ancestors would have displayed in the same manner with live prey.
When a dog catches a smaller animal as prey, such as a rabbit or rat, one of the first things that they will do once they have it in their jaws is to clamp it firmly and fling their heads around, and this is designed to break the neck of the prey animal.
In the wild, the dog would then either eat their prey, take it back to their pack or possibly bury it-without having to worry about said prey struggling, trying to bite them or otherwise fighting back.
This is what your dog is doing when they shake their toy about and will not let you take it!
If your dog likes to play with their toys in this way, that is fine-as long as your dog is only playing. However, if they seem to be taking it all too seriously, displaying raised hackles, growling and refusing to let you take the toy-or even snapping when you get too close-it may be a problem.
When it comes to toys, an accompaniment of aggressive displays like this may mean that your dog is resource guarding, which is a potential issue in itself, or that they have a strong hunting and killing instinct, which they may also display around smaller animals.
A dog that takes shaking their toy around too seriously and goes about it with aggression is also more likely than others to try to hunt and catch smaller animals including wild rabbits and domestic pets, and they are likely to cause serious damage to them should they catch them.
It is important to intervene if your dog’s toy shaking displays such traits, including growling, defensive aggression and raised hackles etc., and to teach and enforce a “drop it” command. Additionally, you should take steps to ensure that your dog cannot pose a threat to other animals too, by working at their recall, keeping them on a lead when not in an enclosed space, and muzzling them if they do run loose and small animals may be around.