According to a pet behaviour counsellor, David Appleby, playing with toys allows dogs to simulate hunting as well as to establish dominance over other dogs - or humans. For example, dogs enjoy worrying squeaky toys because they make the same sound as a dying animal. Once the squeak wears out, the dog often loses interest or destroys the toy, because it is "dead". Tugs-of-war, on the other hand, stand in for the ripping apart of a carcass and competition for the best part of the kill. If all this bloodthirstiness hasn't put you off, read on to find out which toy was the leader of the pack.
THE PANEL Josie, labrador, owned by Harriet Hymas; Max, King Charles spaniel, and Gemma, springer spaniel, owned by Mary Rose de Lisle; Tyne, border collie, owned by Stephen Ward, and David Bowen's alsatian cross, Grumble. David Appleby, MAPBC, of the Pet Behaviour Centre, Worcestershire, added his comments about the toys.
THE TEST Our panel of owners gave the toys marks for how much their dogs enjoyed playing with them, how durable they seemed, and value for money.
*Gumabone Rainbow Frisbee small £3.99, medium £5.29, large £6.49
Only Grumble, a two-year old alsatian cross, really got into the swing of this toy, which the manu-facturer says is designed not to splinter like an ordinary Frisbee. "Brilliant. It throws well, and Grumble leaps spectacularly to try and catch it. The raised bone shape on top is clever, because she can carry it without chewing the disc," said David Bowen, Grumble's owner. None of the other dogs got the hang of it; some just chewed it.
"My labrador Josie showed no interest when I threw it. She tried to pick it up a few times, but always dropped it," said Harriet Hymas.
David Appleby: "A good toy to enhance exercise, best suited to breeds which are good at chasing and retrieving. Not suitable for less athletic breeds, such as pekinese."
*Rolf C Hagen Sumo Wrestler £2.29
This squeaky toy quickly got the worst of an unequal struggle. "Tyne chewed it maniacally until the squeak disappeared - about seven minutes," said Stephen Ward; while the toy lasted only a few days in Grumble's house before suffering total destruction. The panel dogs all enjoyed chewing it, but once the moulded plastic loses its shape, the squeak disappears.
David Appleby: "When the squeak stops working, the toy loses its appeal. Suitable for most breeds, but terriers are more likely to maintain interest."
PetLove Raggers small £2.25, medium £3.99, large £5.25, extra large £6.25
This colourful, machine-washable rope made of twisted cotton threads is a more aesthetic version of the favourite old blanket that dogs love to chew. The strands also act like dental floss on the dog's teeth and gums. The dogs enjoyed it only when using it to play tug-of-war with a partner - either human or canine. Otherwise, they had little interest in the rope. "Tyne would only play when I was pulling the other end. He put it under the bed with his other toys and forgot about it unless I fetched it," said Stephen Ward.
David Appleby: "This toy might seem an expensive substitute for a pair of old socks, but the strong threads are more durable and help to keep the dog's teeth clean. Most breeds could be encouraged to show some interest, but retrieving breeds such as the labrador, who like carrying things about, will find their interest less likely to waver."
***The Company of Animals Kong red: small £2.99, medium £3.99, large £5.50, giant £9.99
Almost all the dogs enjoyed this toy, which bounces at odd angles. "Josie loved the way it shot off quickly in unexpected directions. But it didn't bounce well in the garden, only on hard floors and concrete," said Harriet Hymas. Grumble loved chewing the Kong as much as chasing it. But Tyne, the border collie, never plays with a Kong that he's had for years. "If I get it from under the bed and bounce it, he will come and take it back. But an empty yoghurt carton is more interesting," said Stephen Ward.There's a black version, the King Kong, which is tougher but less bouncy, and one that floats, the Kool Kong, for playing near water.
David Appleby: "A good all-round toy with wide appeal to most breeds. Its unpredictable bounce makes it stimulating for dogs which enjoy chasing, while it has a convenient shape for dogs who like to carry."
***Armitages MinCe Pie £1.75
Another squeaky toy, this was slightly more popular than the Sumo Wrestler, probably because it was more resistant to doggy jaws rather than anything to do with its festive appearance. It is also cheaper than the Sumo. "It's revolting to look at, but Grumble didn't mind and drove us nuts with the squeak. It resisted her very strong jaws for four days before she punctured it, stopping the squeak," said David Bowen.
This time, Tyne took all of 11 minutes to "kill" the squeak. In addition, Mary Rose de Lisle reported that "it was a sad disappointment, as the dogs wanted to eat it".
David Appleby: "It may amuse the owners that it looks like a mince pie, but it is immaterial to the dog, since the toy smells of plastic. It's the squeak that attracts them."
****Mikki Pet Products Wing-wong-bing-bong £5.50
Our dogs' favourite toy, which like the Kong bounces unpredictably, but has the bonus of a bell inside it. It seemed tougher than the squeaky toys. "Grumble loved it," said David Bowen - the only drawback, as far as he was concerned, was that, like the Kong, it quickly got covered in unappetising slobber. "The combination of noise and bouncing was good," said Mary Rose de Lisle. Unlike the Kong, it only comes in one size, which was too large for one of Mary Rose de Lisle's dogs, the King Charles spaniel, to get into his mouth.
David Appleby commented: "Most dogs will be stimulated by this toy if they enjoy chase and retrieving games. Its weight and size make it more suitable for medium-sized and large dogs."
Stockists Wing-Wong-Bing-Bong available from local pet shops or from Mikki Pet Products, tel: 0582 20428; mince pie from pet shops and leading supermarkets; Frisbee available from, or can be ordered from, local stockists; or contact Nylabone: 0705 268122; Kong available from all good pet shops; Sumo Wrestler from pet shops; PetLove Raggers available from pet shops or garden centres.
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