When we first bring a new puppy home, it is easy to spend many hours enjoying watching them play. But, during this time, have you found yourself wondering – why do puppies shake their toys?
In this article, we will take a closer look at your puppies’ instincts and how these reveal themselves during playtime.
In this article, we will discuss the following:
- Natural hunting instinct in puppies
- Should you encourage your puppy to shake their toys?
- How to promote healthy and safe play in puppies
- What are the best toys for your puppy?
Natural Hunting Instinct In Puppies
All puppies are born with natural instincts that they would typically need for survival in the wild. These natural instincts, such as hunting, are “practiced” and “perfected” in the form of safe play with their littermates.
When a puppy leaves the litter to become your pet, they are still learning essential life skills, and so these instincts still appear during playtime with other objects, like your puppy’s toys or your slippers.
Here are some examples of your puppy’s natural hunting instincts presenting themselves during play:
- Prowling and pouncing – Puppies love to leap on top of their toys like pouncing on a small predator. You might also observe this behavior when your puppy hides and then pounces at your feet or ankles as you walk by. They are mimicking the typical play hunting behavior that you would see between puppies in the litter. In the wild, puppies would also practice their hunting technique on small insects like spiders and bugs.
- Chasing and tugging – These are the most familiar ways we see puppies and dogs playing with their toys. These are also great ways to involve ourselves in our pets’ playtime, helping to develop and strengthen our bond with them and reinforce boundaries. Self-control and desirable behaviors like retrieving an object and dropping it on command are essential. Balls and tug toys are perfect imitations of hunting activities that would involve chasing down prey and tugging the carcass apart with other pack members.
- Biting and shaking – It can be surprising how much passion and intent can come from a small puppy biting and shaking their toys. Essentially they are practicing the technique of “killing” small prey, for example, a rodent. When your puppy bites into a soft toy, they stab at it with their teeth several times and get it in a vice-like grip, usually before shaking it to death, which in real life would puncture the vital organs and potentially snap the neck of a small animal. Notice that when a puppy or dog shakes a soft toy, they use the whole of their upper body. That is a lot of strength going into the movement to ensure a quick and clean kill to avoid self-injury by preventing the animal from defending itself.
Should You Encourage Your Puppy To Shake Their Toys?
Many new puppy owners would like to know whether it is healthy to encourage such natural behaviors in puppies. Perhaps it seems wrong or cruel to suppress a natural instinct?
The vital thing to consider is what kind of life you are preparing your puppy for.
For example, is your pup going to grow up as a working dog or a guard dog, where its natural hunting instincts will be of use, or is your puppy going to be a domestic family pet, where such natural instincts, if encouraged, may lead to anti-social behaviors that cause problems for both you and your dog in everyday life?
While it may not be possible or fair to try and eradicate a dog’s natural instincts, because this can lead to alternative behavioral problems, it is instead a perfect idea to provide healthy, safe, and appropriate outlets for your dog’s natural instincts so that they can live out their life feeling mentally and physically fulfilled.
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Certain behaviors like shaking toys can be a risk because they heighten a dog’s prey drive. This is rarely seen as a positive thing in a domestic pet, as it means that an owner cannot have as much control over their pet as they need.
As a result, the dog doesn’t develop the necessary self-control and restraint skills it needs to be a safe and predictable family pet that can quickly be taken out to public places to socialize with other dogs, children, and people.
A dog with a high prey drive is also a risk to other pets in the household, like cats.
Discouraging certain behaviors like shaking or “killing” soft toys is a good way of dampening a dog’s prey drive, directing them to alternative activities for positive reinforcement that are less destructive but equally, if not more, mentally stimulating.
How To Encourage Healthy And Safe Play In Puppies
In the early stages of your puppy’s learning, it is vital to ensure that they have plenty of practice developing good habits.
You don’t have to avoid all games that mimic hunting behavior though, in fact, doing so would leave very few options left over for play.
Instead, it would help if you focused on controlling your dog’s behavior during playtime to learn to respond to commands, ensuring that you always have the control you need over your dog when situations arise.
An excellent way to incorporate good habits into play is by teaching your puppy “the rules” of each game.
When training your dog, sessions should always be repetitive, highly reinforcing, and lots of fun. It shouldn’t feel like “work” to you or your dog.
If you get frustrated with your dog or your puppy isn’t paying attention, it might be time for a break. Don’t forget that puppies have concise attention spans when they are young.
Here are some of the key commands and behaviors you should aim to teach your puppy through play:
- “Sit” – Asking your dog to sit before every activity ensures that you have their full attention. It is a great habit to form, and you can use it to encourage your dog to practice patience, restraint, and good manners at food time while getting ready to go out or come back from a walk, as well as during games of ball or tug of war. It is one of the most useful commands and usually one of the first we teach to a new puppy.
- “Stay” or “Wait” – Teaching your puppy to remain where they are while you move away from them is a vital tool that will come in handy during everyday life, and it is straightforward to incorporate it into your games. For example, throwing a ball but asking your dog to wait until you provide a “release” command before they chase it may help you prevent your dog from chasing after a ball that has rolled off into a road while you are out on a walk.
- “Come” – Teaching a dog to return to you with an object during play is so easy to do and is an excellent support to your dog’s recall skills, which are essential for off-lead walks in the park. It is also very convenient not to keep going to find a ball you’ve thrown for your dog because they refuse to bring it back.
- “Leave it” or “Drop” – This one may even save your dog’s life. If you can teach your dog to open his mouth on command or resist picking something up in his mouth on command, think of all the dangerous foods you can stop your dog from scoffing on the street or leftover picnics or BBQ’s in the park!
What Are The Best Toys For Your Puppy?
When deciding on toys for a new puppy, if there is only one thing you should consider, avoid any toy that squeaks. So many puppy owners mistake buying squeaky toys for a young dog, not realizing that the toy encourages the dog to bite harder and “kill” more.
Hopefully, when your dog comes to live with you, they have had a healthy start in life and plenty of time with their littermates to learn an essential life skill called “bite inhibition.”
This is when a dog has a “soft mouth,” and they instinctively know when not to bite down hard, for example, when your hand gets in the way during play or when offering treats.
Bite inhibition is significant and ensures that your dog is safe to be around children and will get along with other dogs in the park during playtime.
Puppies learn bite inhibition during play with littermates. When a puppy bites too hard during play, the puppy on the receiving end lets out a high-pitched yelp, and the play session comes to an abrupt halt.
The biting puppy then has to quickly learn to manage the strength of his bite not to hurt his littermates and end the play sessions.
This is why a puppy’s teeth are so tiny but so sharp. They are not big enough to do any real damage, but they are competent enough for the other pups in the litter to feel if the bite is too hard.
When you give a puppy a squeaky toy, the squeak is highly stimulating because it mimics the sound a small rodent would make.
Unfortunately, the more your puppy bites the toy, the more it squeaks, and your puppy thinks it’s “still alive,” so it continues to bite, more complicated and more complex.
In addition, squeaky toys reinforce prey drive, which is not recommended for young puppies still learning how to behave in a human world.
Toys are a great form of mental and physical stimulation for puppies and a basic form of education. So the next time you take a trip to the pet shop, think about what kind of toy you would like to get for your puppy.
The best types of toys enable you to interact with them because this help strengthens your bond and aid you in teaching your dog good manners.
Toys that give your dog a good brain workout, like food puzzle toys, are also precious because they help your dog spend excess energy positively and allow them to relax afterward, feeling happy and fulfilled entirely.