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Heartbeat toys for dogs are making a splash in the pet market these days, and it’s easy to see why. These soft plush toys with electronic heartbeat simulators inside aren’t just cute and cuddly—they also promise to relieve anxiety and soothe nervous dogs. But do they work? Rover pups put them to the test.
Heartbeat Toys for Dogs: The Science
Heartbeat toys are meant to appeal to a dog’s natural instincts by recreating the feeling of snuggling with littermates. Most designs incorporate three components: warmth, softness, and a rhythmic heartbeat.
The combination is intended to help puppies adjust to new environments, comfort dogs of all ages in stressful situations (like car rides or thunderstorms), and train pups in new routines and behaviors without undue anxiety (think crate training).
Sounds fantastic, right? But are they too good to be true? To test how anxious dogs respond to heartbeat toys, we put nervous six-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog Ruby on the case, with support from protective Eskie Remus and charming-but-destructive Miniature Dachshund Oscar.
All three pups tested the original heartbeat toy for dogs, the SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy Heartbeat Stuffed Toy. This toy hit the market back in 1997, and it’s been used ever since to calm nervous dogs, reduce anxious behaviors like whining and barking, and help pups adjust to new situations.
Meet Ruby, Heartbeat Toy Tester Extraordinaire
First, a little bit about Ruby. We adopted Ruby as an adult dog from a farm. She’s a ridiculously sweet dog who suffers from anxiety—especially when she’s left alone or confined to small spaces.
She’s had several litters of puppies over the years, so has a natural affection for all things snuggly, particularly my toddler and five-year-old. (I warned you . . . ridiculously sweet.) We thought she might appreciate the Snuggle Puppy.
Our intrepid Eskie tester, Remus, belongs to Kelsey. He’s an energetic and social pup, but it’s crossed Kelsey’s mind that some of his quirks might stem from anxiety. He’s very protective of his people, so when he hears a noise or sees someone walking by his house, he starts to pace or stands guard.
Oscar, by contrast, couldn’t care less about passersby—the threat he anxiously guards against is the departure of one of his humans from the apartment. He belongs to Allie and undertook this test on behalf of all the chewers and plush-destroyers out there. Will a heartbeat convince him a stuffed animal is friend, not foe?
Enter the SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy Heartbeat Toy for dogs. Each pup tested this toy for several weeks to determine if it might help calm them during stressful situations.
The plush dog toy comes with a single-use heating pad and a small plastic disc “heart” that actually beats! (Batteries are included.) The heart has two settings: one for eight hours (think overnight) and another that will beat continuously until switched off. The manufacturers designed it to beat in a rhythm just like a dog’s, simulating that comforting feeling of being with a littermate or mother.
Both the heating pad and the heart go into a small pouch in the toy’s belly that fastens shut with Velcro. Once it’s closed, sure enough, you can feel both heat and a heartbeat from the outside.
Testing the Heartbeat Toy for Dogs
To start off, I let Ruby sniff the stuffed animal in the packaging. She obliged but wasn’t terribly interested.
Next, I placed the stuffed heartbeat toy (who the kids named “Ned”) in Ruby’s bed, and I gave it a little hug. (I forgot to mention, Ruby can get a little jealous when someone else is getting all the attention.) As a result, her initial interest in the heartbeat toy centered around placing herself squarely between me and the plush.
But she had no qualms later when we snuggled it up to her while she was resting.
Ruby is usually pretty content when we’re around. She spends much of her time snoozing and lounging and not really showing any signs of anxiety. When we leave, however, she gets nervous and can be very destructive. Because she also hates to be confined, this can be challenging.
We usually solve this by kenneling her in a jumbo kennel with our other dog, Sabine (who just so happens to be one of her adult pups). The girls find this arrangement agreeable and snuggle up to each other while they wait for us to return. As we tested the heartbeat toy, we wondered if the stuffed animal might have the same effect on Ruby.
Socializing Your Dog to the Heartbeat Toy
Over the next few weeks, I made sure Ruby was socialized to the stuffed animal. I turned on the heartbeat for the first several minutes of her snoozes, then turned it off to preserve the batteries.
Sabine, not wanting to be left out of the fun, stole a few minutes with Ned as well.
Kelsey tried a similar approach. Daytime play with the heartbeat toy was out, since her anxious pup shares the house with a chew-aggressive young sister who’s still working out the finer points of sharing.
So Kelsey started giving Remus the toy at night, when he sleeps in a crate in her room—though not always very restfully. She placed the plush in his crate and turned on the pulsing heart to see what would happen.
Oscar’s prep involved a snack and some soothing couch time with his two humans, who made it clear they were going nowhere on a rainy Sunday afternoon. He was as calm as could be when the warm plush was placed on the carpet for him to inspect.
Slowly but surely, Ruby warmed up to the SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy. I’d catch her laying on it or placing her head on top of it throughout the day.
The real test, though, was the kennel. We always leave the door to the kennel open, and Sabine regularly naps there. Ruby does not use the kennel voluntarily, and certainly not by herself. On a whim, I placed the Snuggle Puppy inside the kennel one day. I was shocked to later find that Ruby had wandered in there on her own for a nap! (Ned was “sleeping” only a few inches away.)
Kelsey found over the next few days that with the heartbeat toy, Remus was sleeping more soundly through the night. He even started using the toy as a pillow to fall asleep on. She knew it was a win when he brought the toy out of his crate in the morning and presented it to her, something he only does with his most prized possessions.
And Oscar? Allie thought Oscar approached the heartbeat toy with a little more reserve than he usually does with plush things. But his confusion didn’t last long. Within five minutes, he was identifying weak seams, and within ten, a serious campaign of destruction had begun. She removed the toy and offered it again several times, but the results were the same.
Verdict? Give the Heartbeat Toy for Dogs a Try
We think the Snuggle Puppy heartbeat toy for dogs is well worth a try for anxious pups. Though it’s not a quick fix, I found that it seemed to help relieve some of Ruby’s anxiety. It even gave Ruby the confidence to try something new: sleeping on her own in the kennel. Neither she nor Sabine ever played rough with it the way they do with some of their other soft toys, and I can happily report that Ned is still very much intact.
Kelsey also gives the heartbeat toy two thumbs up, since it helped her Eskie sleep better in his crate at night and became a much-loved toy (and an accessory to many heart-meltingly cute pictures).
Oscar’s experience, however, leads us to conclude that it’s not the toy for the truly committed chewers out there. Given his history of passionate plush destruction, Allie expected as much—but hope springs eternal.
As always, if you decide to give this snuggly toy a try, make sure to supervise your pup, keeping an eye on any interest they show in its belly flap (it wouldn’t be good if they accessed the heating pad or crunched on the plastic heart).
Also note that the heating pad is good for one use only—so if you discover that heat is an integral part of its attraction to your dog, you’ll want to invest in a supply of heaters (or a reusable one).
Looking for more ideas to help reduce your dog’s anxiety? Read on!