The joy of a toy


Lily-like all my dogs before her-can’t play with toys. I’ve always been slightly envious watching puppies running after a ball or tugging on a piece of rope. My dogs have to be taught to use objects for fun. I use the same, simple technique: reward Lily for first touching the toy, then for attempting to play, then for a proper game.

Dogs are one of very few species that play, even as adults. There’s a theory they might be doing it entirely for pleasure, too (not just to learn). The reason might be the process of domestication, but as often in the research on dogs’ behaviour, scientists seem to be divided as to why dogs play or even if they play. However, their playfulness is often given as one of the reasons why we like being with them. For me, apart from the pure joy of it, playing with Lily is useful in strengthening our bond, reshaping her unwanted reactions to stimuli and making us learn about each other. And, after all, we both need our daily dose of oxitocin and prolactin πŸ˜‰

Yesterday, for the first time since Ardbeg’s death, Lily went to her toy box and after a short rummage, took out her pheasant, brought it to me and invited me to play. I don’t remember last time something made me that happy.

‘pink puppy’ -one of Lily’s favourite toys

We name Lily’s toys because we want her to learn English.

Well, we want her to learn some English and Norwegian words receptively (recognise them) but it doesn’t sound as impressive as the previous sentence πŸ™‚ Β It also helps when you don’t want your dog to play with objects that are not toys (shoes, socks) or someone else’s toys (cats’ toys in our house)

My ideas on play are influenced by Β M. Bekoff, C.Allen, A. Miklosi, L.E. Vincent, L.L. Sharpe and others.


20 thoughts on “The joy of a toy

  1. I’m glad that Lily wanted to play with pink puppy today. I know that made you very happy. Tippy has never been a toy lover. I have tried. She loves tug of war, but gets way to excited and will wind up accidently biting or scratching me before it is over. She will play fetch with a stick, but it has to be large enough that she’s dangerous when she comes running back with it. She will play Frisbee in the snow more than anything else. I think her thing is agility and I really need to do more of that with her.

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    1. I know some dogs get overexcited (and even stressed) when playing. I miss snow, I hope to take Lily to Norway when it’s all white (we don’t get any snow here). Good luck with Tippy’s agility training πŸ™‚

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  2. I think it’ s a lovely choice of dog, not many people are prepared to take on rescue dogs and their issues. You do so much good, I love your blog and following Lily’s progress. Is she bilingual? Which language does she respond best to? That reminds me, Day 3 of my quote challenge is dog themed…can I nominate you? Obviously no pressure to accept, but I wanted to complete the theme by nominating ‘dog blogs.’ (I’m a bit OCD like that!) Just in case you’re interested, here’s the link explaining the rules etc. day 3 with your official nomination will be posted tomorrow! Thank you as always!

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  3. We have two large dogs. One Anatolian Great Pyr mix, the other is a Great Pyr. Inside, Quinn, the mix plays with toys on occasion, mostly he collects them. Outside he won’t even bother with a toy. Clary, the pyr who are famous for ignoring toys won’t touch a toy indoors. Outdoors however she will chase a ball, she will even bring it back now and again. All our Pyr owner friends, (The National Great Pyr Rescue) are amazed she will play with them at all.

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  4. After four years with us my rescue Molly still does not know how to play. She watches, from the safety of the couch, when Mabel and Maude and I play, and although she hasn’t joined in (yet) at least she doesn’t run and hide any more when we get silly. I consider that a huge step forward.

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  5. Nia, one of my Shih Tzu, is obsessed with toys. Her life revolves around them. She packs toys around and hoards them. My other dogs, besides my newest one, like toys but not to the extreme as Nia. I have to say, her obsession with toys has come in handy if I need her to do something. She’ll do anything for a toy. As for my Chow, he watches the ball roll and wonders what he’s supposed to do with it. Oddly enough, my mom’s dogs don’t play with toys unless they’re around my dogs. I guess play and toys are like yawns; they’re contagious.

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    1. Each of my new rescues always learnt how to play from my resident dogs. Unfortunately, Lily didn’t have enough time -she did copy Ardbeg a lot, but it got harder when he died. Well, we’ll get there πŸ™‚

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  6. This is so sweet! Wonderful to read about Lily’s initiative to start play with you. She’s special, and so fortunate to have a human as dedicated and knowledgeable as you.

    I know how much pleasure that brings you both — the puppy in this house is a toy/play/makes up his own games kind of dog. He knows which toys go with which activities…if he sees me getting prepped and dressed to go out, he fetches his plush doggie that goes with him in the car (so I don’t forget either of them 😏); he invented keep-away, so gets out one of his balls or “his” shoe and away we go. He’s only learning English, but his vocabulary is astonishing at 11 months. Anyway, thanks for always reading my tales of life with Fergus. 😊

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  7. I really like this post. Toys have a great place in the training and development of social behaviour in your dog. Just watch out for that obsessive behaviour people! πŸ™‚ Follow my blog to learn more about dog psychology

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