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They might not be music to human ears, but it’s hard to deny that few things catch a dog’s attention like a high-pitched squeaky toy. That makes the noisy toys wonderful rewards and powerful training tools. But why? What’s the appeal of a squeaky toy to a dog—and what happens to your pup when their prey drive is activated?
For answers, we consulted Max Randall, a UK-based certified professional dog trainer and the founder of MK9Plus Dog Training.
Why Do Squeaky Toys Appeal to Dogs?
Dogs like squeaky toys for three main reasons:
1. Squeaky toys appeal to a dog’s hunting instinct
2. They offer a gratifying reward
3. They satisfy a dog’s powerful urge to chew
The simplest reason? A squeaky toy’s noises sound like prey. “Dogs love squeaker toys because they trigger both visual and audible cues that resemble small animals,” explains Max Randall. “The sound of the toy mimics the high-pitched noise that prey animals make when caught by predators.”
It’s a little disturbing, but it’s deep in the species: dogs prefer toys that can be torn apart, smell like something they can eat, or make noise. That sound emitted when your dog chews gives them instant feedback that their bite is strong and effective, which ultimately stimulates and encourages them to keep playing.
Squeaky toys offer surprising health benefits
Aside from being a good time, squeaky toys offer some impressive mental and physical benefits for dogs.
For one, squeaky toys prevent boredom by providing a healthy outlet that fulfills a dog’s natural instinct to chew, bite, and play. The encourage healthy canine behaviors like hunting, chewing, and catching and channel them in an appropriate direction—toward a toy (and not, say, your shoes).
Squeaky toys can also be effective training tools, especially for dogs with low food motivation and a high prey drive, since their sounds can attract a dog’s attention and reinforce the right behaviors.
Depending on the material, squeaky toys can even improve a dog’s dental health. As the squeaking sound prompts your dog to chomp down, rubber toys designed with spikey nubs can gently massage their gums and scrape away tartar buildup.
One final, sometimes under-appreciated benefit: the audible squeak can be your dog’s way of inviting you to play and spend time with them. “Playing with a squeaky toy can provide a positive bonding experience between a dog and their guardian, as it’s an opportunity for interactive play and training,” says Randall.
How To Use Dog Squeaky Toys Safely
With just a few exceptions, most dogs can enjoy playing with squeaky toys. But there are some precautions for pet parents to consider.
First, choose a squeaky toy that’s appropriately sized for your dog. “A toy that’s too small can be a choking hazard, while a toy that’s too large can be difficult for your dog to play with,” Randall explains.
He also points out that during playtime, it’s best to supervise your dog—especially if they’re known to engage in destructive behavior. “Dogs that are prone to excessive chewing, or are heavy chewers, may also be at risk of swallowing pieces of the toy, which can cause intestinal blockages or other health issues.”
And while our expert agrees that squeaky toys are suitable for most dogs, there are some pups who may run into trouble. “Dogs with a strong prey drive may become fixated on the toy’s squeaker and become overly excited, which can lead to destructive behavior or injury,” says Randall.
Retrievers, Terriers, and Dachshunds, for instance, might be more inclined to decimate a squeaky toy until it’s fully “dead”—which often means its insides are on the outside and there’s a real possibility of ingestion. Close supervision and a surefire distraction to get your pup away from the toy are required.
Similarly, dogs with a history of aggression or possessive behavior may become overly protective of their toy-prey, possibly leading to conflict with other dogs or humans.
If that’s your pup, consider gentler ways to exercise their prey drive. A flirt pole without a squeaker, for example, might circumvent a dog’s strongest prey drive while still offering them a chance to burn off steam. Or chat with a trainer to work with your pup on guarding behavior.
For the dog (or pet parent) who’s anxious or noise-sensitive, Randall recommends trying out toys made with different materials like rubber, nylon, or plush fabrics. “These toys can still be engaging and fun for dogs to play with, but they don’t produce the same high-pitched squeaking sounds as traditional squeaky toys,” he says.
Another option is to look for toys that have a different type of sound altogether, such as a crinkling or rattling noise.
Different Types of Squeaky Toys for Different Kinds of Dogs
You can find squeaky dog toys in all different designs, styles, and textures. What works for your dog will depend on their size, age, chewing habits, and prey drive.
Dogs with strong jaws and a propensity to chew will do best with toys made of tough rubber. The Gnawsome Spikey Squeaker Ball, for example, is made with durable BPA-free rubber. It also has a spikey texture, which can help clean your dog’s teeth. And while its large size makes it less of a choking hazard, it also makes the toy less suitable for smaller pups.
Oversized rubber balls aren’t for every dog, though. Some dogs, including seniors and puppies, may prefer the gentler feel of plush toys. Stuffing-free “flatties,” like the ZippyPaws Skinny Peltz, offer a solution for dogs who can’t resist tearing their toys apart. For double the fun, each ZippyPaws toy includes two squeakers.
And for pet parents who can’t stand the sound of loud squeakers or who work from home and need a quiet setting? New to the scene, toys with “silent squeakers,” such as the Hear Doggy Flatties, produce sounds inaudible to our human ears. And remarkably, they actually work, according to Dr. Alysper M. Cormanes, DVM at Veterinarians.org.
“These toys make use of ultrasonic technology that emits a frequency that can be picked up by the canine ear but not by humans,” she says, noting that while humans can hear frequencies up to about 20kHz, dogs hear up to 45kHz. “These products make use of that physiological difference to provide stimulation that only our dogs can enjoy.”
How We Chose
The squeaky toys featured here were selected based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a comprehensive look at customer reviews, and interviews with training and veterinary experts.
We considered toys with durable, safe materials, taking into account a range of dog types and styles of play. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated dogs, who are never stingy with their feedback.