DEAR DIDI: Our 3-year-old Jack Russel Terrier goes absolutely bananas for anything that squeaks! Have you ever watched the movie Jurassic Park? When a dinosaur is walking around sniffing and the human is hiding, hoping to not be noticed but accidentally makes a sound, the dinosaurs head snaps around instantly. This is my dog when he hears a toy squeak. We want desperately to buy him toys that he seems to enjoy so much but he instantly destroys them within minutes. Is he angry at the toy? Does he hate the toy and wants to get rid of it? Why does he destroy them?! -Frustrated Parents
DEAR FRUSTRATED: I sure wish I had a nickel for every time a dog owner has asked this question. I would have enough money to purchase a private island and turn it into a posh dog resort! Many dogs do indeed adore squeaky toys! The answer lies in understanding WHY dogs love squeakers. Then we have to ask ourselves if we want to encourage or discourage their passion for destroying toys.
Many dog parents can identify with your frustration having invested hundreds of dollars purchasing toy after toy. Hours and hours have been devoted to researching “indestructible” toys much to the delight of thousands of dog toy manufacturers. Dogs enjoy playing with and gutting their toys because it satisfies their hunting instincts. Not all dogs have this deeply ingrained instinct. Some dogs just need to possess a toy or enjoy chasing the toy. Dogs with hunting instincts have their urges explode when they hear a squeak because it mimics a prey sound. When a dog captures small animals in the wild, they vigorously shake them to kill them – and, small animals will make squeaking noises as they are being shaken. It may seem savage to us, but it is completely natural to the primal hunter deep inside your dog. Many dogs will remove the squeaker before discarding the toy, while others enjoy “gutting” the entire thing and leaving the stuffing lying around on the floor.
All that stuffing laying around leads us to the next issue. If your dog’s hunting instincts lead him to practicing ALL phases of the hunt – capture, kill, gut, consume – you have a much more serious issue than a hit to your toy budget! Consuming the innards of a stuffed toy can be life threatening. Unlike a real prey animal, your dog cannot digest this meal. Sometimes the dog will vomit and eject the foreign material. More often veterinarians see dogs with bowel obstruction which means that stuffing tends to get wadded up tightly inside your dog. That wadding becomes like a dam and blocks all movement. Early symptoms can present as vomiting, diarrhea, pacing, lethargy, lack of appetite. It is an emergency situation and life threatening. The surgery to save a dog’s life can run into the thousands of dollars! Prevention is all dog owners best weapon. Save yourself lots of money and heartache and don’t provide your dog with toys that have stuffing or squeakers. You might even consider not offering toys with fuzzy fabrics. Even fuzz from tennis balls can cause bowel obstruction! Indeed, some dogs suffer from this condition after eating rocks, sticks, plastic, socks, underwear, etc. Supervision and prevention are usually the most effective but some dogs must be basket muzzled to protect them from themselves!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.