Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dogs have a preference for new toys, but it's possible to make what's old new again

Toys and play are a big part of life with pets, and I'm sure that my household is no different than yours — assorted pet toys, especially dog toys strewn about the house. When mine was a two-dog household, before my Labrador passed last year, it was clear that he and my now 15-year-old St. Bernard/shepherd mix, Gretchen, had different play styles.

Fast forward to now, and things haven't changed much. Gretchen has more toys than ever, and it's not for her being spoiled: with her arthritis ever-advancing, mobility that is changing and a mind that is impeccably sharp, it's important to me that she have the opportunity to use her mental skills and retain as much of her physical ability as possible. She still loves her food puzzles, chew toys and though the occasional tennis ball isn't high on her list, it's hard to ignore the sparkle in her eyes when she was first presented with a "fresh" one.

Yes, even in her twilight Gretchen continues to be an ardent neophile. She's not alone — we know that dogs habituate with their toys and any excitement that they have is short-lived. 

The truth is though I've purchased a lot of products, I always need to be mindful about what I bring home, considering the limitations that Gretchen may have. Some toys have worked great, others lie woefully in the corner. It's few that are in between those two spectrums these days.

I could be daunted by this, and admittedly I am at times, but rather than allowing it to be a perpetual bane to my wallet, I use her interest in all things new to my advantage.
Having had a lot of experience with older dogs, I've learned that improvising when necessary, homing in on what a pet finds interesting and remembering the old adage, "what's old is new again" is a friend.  

There are ways to reboot a dog's new toy experience with one they have already had some fun with, even their favorites.

Rotating toys can help, and it's an easy way to mitigate toy boredom (or habituation). Removing toys after a time and reintroducing other ones that have had previous exposure will keep things a bit more exciting.

Even reintroducing a toy in a different environment — perhaps outdoors — can help the pet see the item in a new light.

How a toy is used can make all of the difference. I was quoted in The Star Tribune for a piece on top picks for hot toys, and I stressed that while toys are great, the human element is a significant factor in getting maximum fun out of play. 

It's important to remember that dogs are social creatures, and the interaction between them and their favored humans can be integral when it comes to their connection with an object of play. In fact, when it comes to an old toy, the act of including the toy while engaging your dog can transform any habituation that they might have with it into a fun, new association.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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