Every dog owner has a similar story: Giving their beloved pooch a new stuffed animal, only to see it quickly disemboweled or shredded to bits.
"Sometimes it took a day, sometimes it took much longer," says Hannele Lahti, a photographer based in Virginia who owns three Boston terrier rescues, Annie, Ollie, and Murray.
But watching her dogs gave Lahti an idea. Before releasing a toy into the clutches of her canines, she snapped a photo of it. Then she photographed the aftermath. This is how the Dog Toy Project was born.
Lahti didn’t want to limit the project to just her own dogs, so she asked other friends to participate, with seven dogs participating in total. (Does your dog prefer you over anyone else? It's complicated.)
"All of the large dogs destroyed the toy within minutes," Lahti says. One of them, a Newfoundland named Oscar, received a gray and purple stuffed elephant.
After two weeks of play, Lahti's friend called her in a panic. The elephant was missing, which meant Lahti couldn’t capture an after photo. Another two frantic weeks of searching, and the owner discovered Oscar had buried the toy in the yard.
Bringing Out the Wolf
Like many mammals, dogs learn through play. According to the American Kennel Club, stuffed toys in particular tend to evoke real-life prey, similar to what our pets' wolf ancestors would have captured in the wild. This may explain why Annie, Ollie, Murray, and millions of other dogs make such quick work of an otherwise adorable and soft plaything.
The kennel club also recommends picking toys based on activities a dog already loves. For games of chase, nothing beats the classic tennis ball or Frisbee. Owners can buy rope toys perfect for chewing.
Dogs, like children, can also rapidly tire of toys once they're no longer new. To keep your dog entertained (and to save your bank account), many dog trainers recommend putting toys away for a time and then bringing them back out, making an old toy seem new.
Ultimately, Lahti hopes that her project shines a creative and unique light on dog behavior. (See our favorite dog pictures.)
"Each dog leaves their own mark on a toy," she says. "In my dog photography—often down on all fours—I strive to glimpse life on their level."
In that way, Lahti captures "the reality of dog ownership—a reminder to enjoy the small things."