The idea that dogs form an emotional attachment to toys, in a similar way to young children with blankets and teddies, will be the subject of a university study involving thousands of pet pooches.
Researchers from the University of Bristol vet school and school of psychological science will examine the behaviours of a wide range of dogs.
It is thought that some breeds of dog might be more likely than others to form attachments with objects such as toys and bedding.
Professor Bruce Hood, from Bristol University’s school of psychological science, said he was fascinated by the subject.
“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,” Professor Hood said.
“We have a hypothesis that some breeds will have stronger attachments than others.
“We would like to hear from as many dog owners as possible – we need thousands to conduct a detailed analysis.”
Previous research has estimated that about 60 per cent of Western children form emotional attachments to soft toys and blankets.
Studies in the Far East have reported much lower levels.
A recent study found that whether a child forms such an attachment is half to do with genes and half with their environment.
“Some dogs have toys as part of their routines, some dogs have been bred to be retrievers,” Professor Hood added.
“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.”
Dr Emily Blackwell, director of companion animal population health at Bristol Veterinary School, said owners had anecdotally reported that their dogs had attachments to particular objects.
“This study is the first large-scale systematic survey of the phenomenon,” Dr Blackwell said.
“The results will provide fascinating insights into the evolution of social behaviour in both dogs and their owners alike.”