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With aisle after aisle of colorful squeakers, balls, ropes, and stuffies, it’s hard to figure out exactly which toys will make your dog go gaga.
But researchers at the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School seem to have figured out the formula for the perfect dog toy.
The study, which is published in the distinguished animal behavior journal Animal Cognition, reveals the science behind why some toys become Fido’s favorites while others collect dust in the toy box.
The answer may lie in the habits of the domestic dog’s closest ancestor — the wolf.
“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,” study co-author and University of Bristol Veterinary School researcher John Bradshaw told Discovery News, “however the latter can cause health problems if the dog accidentally swallows some of the pieces.”
Researchers presented dogs with a different toy for 30-second intervals until the dog stopped interacting with that toy, indicating that the dog’s interest had waned. The team used a wide variety of toys in different colors, odors, and materials, and made sure that each successive toy was a unique one that presented a contrast from the toy that came before.
The research team used Labrador Retrievers in their study, not only because of their status as one of the world’s most popular dog breeds, but because of their playful reputation. “We had to be sure that the dogs we studied would play with the toys for a few minutes at least,” Bradshaw explained, “otherwise we couldn’t have measured what would get them playing again once they’d lost interest in the original toy.”
While there was no single characteristic that made one toy preferable over another, the study revealed that as a dog gets used to the stimulus qualities of the toy — its smells, texture, and sounds — the dog is likely to grow bored with that toy.
Most of the new toys presented by researchers seemed to incite intense but temporary interest in the Labs, the researchers say, perhaps because it is instinct for canines to investigate unfamiliar items.
Co-author Anne Pullen of the University of Bristol research team explains that the perfect toys should be “soft, easily manipulable toys that can be chewed easily and/or make a noise.”
“Dogs quickly lose interest in toys with hard, unyielding surfaces, and those that don’t make a noise when manipulated,” Pullen added.
Because dogs can quickly become habituated when it comes to toys, the best thing an owner can do to spark interest in their pooch is to get involved and play, too.
“For an animal as social as a dog, toys only become really excited when they are part of a game with a person,” Bradshaw explained. “Few toys will sustain a dog’s interest for long if the owner is not around to offer encouragement.”
The researchers all agreed that dogs make such wonderful companions because they never lose the desire to play, even as adults. Many other animals only engage in play when they are young and grow out of the behavior as they age — but not the domestic dog.
For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday is an annual act of endurance. After all, the pilgrimage to the family table is fraught with no small measure of stress –– and that’s infinitely more likely when the table in question is far away, like mine. And for those of us who have pets, the prospect of a Thanksgiving sojourn is especially daunting.
Some of us embark on this annual adventure with our full pack in tow. Others, acknowledging their non-superhuman status, take only one or two pets along. But the bulk of us (myself included) leave the whole brood behind. The prospect of crowded airports and holiday mayhem for just a few days away doesn’t bode well for my sanity.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t developed strategies for dealing with the angst, especially since I’ve almost always had cause to travel with pets in the friendly skies.
So for those of you getting ready to take the holiday plunge, here are five tips for flying with pets:
Check Your Airline’s Pet Policies
The vagaries of airline rules and restrictions offer the possibility of the single most potentially devastating blow to your travel plans. You’d be surprised at how much you need to know if you’re planning to take your pet aboard a plane. For example, Bulldog breeds and Pit Bull types aren’t allowed in cargo on some airlines. Others have weight restrictions.
Scope Out Airport Potty Spots
The location of animal relief areas is a great thing to read up on in advance, such as American Airlines’ partial online list.
Avoid Heavy Travel Days
I know it’s probably too late for most Thanksgiving travelers, but the Wednesday before and the Sunday after turkey day are the absolute worst days of the year to travel — for humans and for their pets — due to high travel volume. In December, it’s the weekend preceding Christmas Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year. So if you can, try and book less busy days.
Consider Your Pet’s Condition
As I’ve mentioned above, some breeds just aren’t equipped to fly in cargo. Rather than risk your pet’s health — heat exhaustion is one concern when going the cargo route — be sure to check with your veterinarian before you make any plans to fly with your critter.
Don’t Rely on Sedation
My general rule is that unless it’s an infrequent experience that can’t be avoided, such as moving to a new home, pets who require sedation because of the inherent stress of travel probably shouldn’t be flying.
Sedation is stressful on an animal’s body — tranquilizers compromise a pet’s ability to adapt to a changing environment — so talk to your vet about whether it’s best to skip the stress of travel and make arrangements for your buddy to stay at home.