Toys provide mental stimulation for dogs. For young dogs that spend considerable time confined in a crate, toys can mean the difference between sheer boredom and a happy, balanced existence.
There are hundreds of toys on the market and a pet parent’s biggest challenge may be determining which toys are safe for their pet. While no toy is 100% safe, the guidelines that follow will help you select suitable and safe toys for your pet
One product does not fit all
Every dog has his or her own preference for toys. Some prefer plush toys, others prefer balls and still others prefer hard plastic or rubber toys. Instead of purchasing a dozen toys for your new pup, you may want to purchase three toys ensuring that each is a different texture and type. Your dog will quickly show you his preference. Different textures also provide a level of excitement, as each toy offers a unique chewing experience. For example, three balls will not have the same engaging ability as three different toys such as a tennis ball, rope toy and plush toy.
How do I know which toys are safe for my dog?
There is no such thing as a 100% safe dog toy because every dog plays differently and has a different chewing style. A toy’s safety is a function of knowing your dog and how he interacts with specific toys. A good way to identify your dog’s play style is to spend a few hours watching him play with his toys. If he has a plush toy that squeaks, is he content to toss the toy or is he compelled to “kill” the toy by de-stuffing it and chewing on the squeaker? Does he bat around his tennis ball or does he immediately strip off the fuzz or chew the ball into pieces? Does he chew contently on a rubber toy or break it into several pieces? Young puppies typically do not have the jaw power to demolish toys, but that changes quickly as they age. A plush toy that may prove “safe” for your 8 week old may be immediately de-stuffed by your 12 week old. As such, you should retest your dog with specific toys every few weeks. If you notice changes in his chewing or play styles, select new toys to test.
Size and Shape
Toys should be size appropriate for your pet. It is tempting to purchase a 3-inch toy for a small dog but bigger is often better. Small toys may be accidentally swallowed presenting a choking hazard and may also create a life-threatening intestinal obstruction.
The shape of the toy should also be considered. Typically, the more appendages a toy has, the greater the risk of the toy being pulled apart. For example, an 8-legged spider will probably have a shorter life span than a one-piece egg-shaped or round toy. For safety purposes, once a toy becomes warn or ripped, it should be discarded.
Keep Toys Interesting
Puppies have short attention spans and get bored with their toys quickly. The best way to keep toys interesting for your pet is to rotate them. You may want to leave out your pet’s favorite toy along with two or three others and exchange them for three or four different toys every two to three days. The fastest way for a toy to lose appeal is to make it available for the dog day after day.
Beyond the Squeaker
If your dog loves plush toys but cannot resist de-stuffing to get to the squeaker, you may want to consider plush toys that are stuffed with crinkly paper or plush toys that have no squeaker.
There are a multitude of products on the market which challenge your pet and release food treats too. While Kong may be the best-known brand, food-dispensing toys come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and technical difficulty to keep your pet challenged. For added stimulation, provide two or three different food-dispensing toys. These toys can be used in place of a food bowl to dispense meals and others can be used to dispense tasty treats. Providing meals in these devices provides important mental stimulation for your pet and for puppies, it starts them on their journey of learning appropriate chewing.
Food-dispensing toys can be filled with healthy foods such as plain white yogurt, mashed sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) or high quality canned dog food. As your pet becomes proficient with the toy, increase the challenge by freezing the stuffed toy to create a canine popsicle.
Toys for teething pain
The brand Pet Stages offers several toys that can be frozen to provide cooling relief to sore gums including their “Cool Teething Stick.” A washcloth which has been soaked and placed in the freezer for an hour can also provide quick relief for teething pain.
The brand Nylabone offers several toy varieties and shapes that may be attractive to some puppies.
We highly recommend natural animal products which have a natural smell, offering more natural chewing resistance and are digestible. Examples include bully sticks, lamb or cow ears. Pig ears may be too greasy for puppy bellies to handle.
Dog Toys we particularly love and recommend:
- Jolly Pets brand, Monster Mouth treat dispenser . Ditch the dog bowl and feed your pet’s kibble from these exciting kibble dispensing toys. 3″ Monster Mouth holds ¾ cup of large kibble or 1 cup of small kibble.
- Our Pet’s brand, Atomic Ball. The Atomic Ball comes in a 3-inch size which holds approximately 1 cup of kibble and a 4-inch size which holds up to 1 ¾ cups of kibble.
These products turn mealtime into a stimulating event and slow down even the fastest eater.
Tip! To ensure that your dog views these as vessels for food and not chew toys, pick them up immediately after they are empty. After 6-8 meals, most pets will leave them alone unless they find food in them.
- Tuffy’s brand Ultimate dog toys are made with 4 tough layers. Excellent for chewing and tossing and hold up better to power chewers than any other toy we tested. Over 20 different shapes and sizes available.
- Skinneeez brand, stuffing-free plush toys.
- Simply Fido brand, 100% organic material, stuffing free
- Jolly Pet’s brand, football, eggs and balls. Our pit bull dog toy tester can’t kill these things! Teethmarks? No problem, the football does not deflate no matter how many times the dog bites it! And the jolly balls and eggs have a proprietary, slippery coating which prevents the dog from biting down on them. These products can be pushed, pulled and chased but they literarily slip out of the dog’s mouth if he tries to bite it.
For their chewing enjoyment
- Antlers; a healthy and natural chewing product. Available in Moose, Deer and Elk. Some dogs show a preference for a specific animal type. If your pet does not settle down to chew one type, try him with a different animal type. Our favorite toy tester will not touch a deer antler but spends hours a day chewing the Elk variety. Note: Animals are not killed for their antlers; they fall off the animals annually.
Always test your dog with new toys to ensure that the toy is safe for him. Retest regularly as your pet matures.