Do dogs love their toys? Scientists study if pets are like children with comfort blankets

DOG owners are being asked to volunteer their playful pets for a major academic survey on the way pooches get attached to toys.

Black Labrador holding soft toy in mouth

Study will explore dogs and their attachment to toys (Image: GETTY)

Scientists are investigating if dogs form an emotional bond with their favourite toys in the same way children get comfort from blankets and teddy bears. Toys are known to be vital for training sniffer dogs to detect explosives, firearms and drugs, with handlers using tennis balls in particular to reward their sidekicks when they make discoveries. In the United States, the pet toy market recently crossed the billion dollar threshold, while in the UK, buying dogs a Christmas toy has become a firm tradition.

The University of Bristol Vet School and School of Psychological Science now want to hear from dog owners so they can get a better insight into the evolution of this social behaviour in both dogs and their owners.

Interestingly, there is an east-west divide in the comfort blanket phenomenon among children. Previous research estimates around 60 percent of Western children form an emotional attachment to soft toys and blankets, while such behaviour is seen at much lower levels in the Far East.

Professor Bruce Hood, of the University of Bristol's School of Psychological Science, is keen to investigate whether some breeds have stronger attachments to toys than others.

He explained: “We are conducting the first survey of this behaviour to see how common it is and to see whether particular breeds have particular traits or not. We have a hypothesis that some breeds will have stronger attachments than others.”

Black Staffie at Crufts with teddy bear

Staffordshire bull terrier arriving at Crufts with Winnie the Pooh toy (Image: GETTY)

Sniffer dog with trainer and its ball

Sniffer dog with Colombian police handler and its favourite ball (Image: GETTY)

Researchers say they need to hear from thousands of dog owners to conduct a detailed analysis.

Professor Hood added: “Some dogs have toys as part of their routines, some dogs have been bred to be retrievers.

“This study is about all object related behaviour. We will also study other factors such as the dog's sleep pattern.

" It is not just about dogs who have an attachment to a toy, we need to include all the variations.”

Dogs leaping with toy at agility show

Dogs can be trained to perform amazing agility bu using toys (Image: GETTY)

Studies on babies have revealed how attachment to toys is related to both a child’s genes and its environment, especially among those youngsters who spend longer periods away from their mothers.

Dr Emily Blackwell, director of companion animal population health at the Bristol Veterinary School, explained: "Strong attachments to particular objects have been reported anecdotally by dog owners.

Use Fruits & Veggies for Training Treats. Don’t have any dog treats on hand? Use some leftover fruits & veggies that are healthy for dogs as your training treats. Carrots and snap peas are Laika’s favorite snacks.

" This study is the first large-scale systematic survey of the phenomenon. The results will provide fascinating insights into the evolution of social behaviour in both dogs and their owners alike.”

To take part in the Canine Attachment Study or for information about other dog science research, visit: