Choosing the Right Toy for Your Dog

You will find them by the hundreds, stacked on shelves in the supermarket pets’ section, wrapped in eye-catching packages that leave you at a loss as to which toy you should pick for your furry friend.

Toys are important for a dog’s well-being

Reading the descriptions may not help you either as most of it is advertising designed to coax you into buying impulsively. Pet psychologists will tell you that toys are important for a dog’s well-being, to make them easier to train, reduce boredom and control their behavior. They’re simply a must-have, and the wider the variety, the better to help you temper the bad days, much the same way you bounce a baseball around when you’re feeling stressed out.

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So which toy is the best?

For a start, it’s important to keep in mind the age of your dog.

A two-year-old dog doesn’t have the same jaw strength as a five-year-old, for example, so the way they tug and chew on their toys will be different.

A young pup that is teething certainly won’t enjoy hard rubber toys – something softer like a small rope toy made of fabric is a much better fit. And you will need to buy them by the dozen because at this stage they’ll chew on practically anything, including your favorite pair of slippers!

Once she’s passed this phase, your dog will be ready for harder rubber toys thanks to her stronger jaws; balls, squeaky playthings and rope pulls are great to have at this time for playing fetch and tug-of-war games. Even when she’s older it’s still important for her to have softer toys she can chew on when she’s bored such as balls you can easily toss around to keep her active.

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Size and Texture

The size and texture matter a lot when choosing the right type of toy for your dog. Getting your tiny Chihuahua a large toy ball will not be of much help to her as it will not be a proper fit for her jaws or paws. On the other hand, any toy that is small enough to reach your pup’s rear molars is likely to pose the risk of choking her.  

Understanding your dog’s chewing habits can help you make the best decision when picking their toys. While a German shepherd will be quite happy to chew away at toys made of tougher material like the ThermoPlastic Rubber (TPR), smaller dogs may require toys that yield a little more to their clenched jaws.

But be on the lookout for toys that are too soft, and which disintegrate when they’re chewed, as they can cost you a trip to the vet when small pieces of synthetic material get lodged in the dog’s stomach.

Make it a habit to frequently check your pup’s toys for any signs of damage; stuffed toys with signs of breakages, cracks or tears are better off discarded before they become a health hazard.

Whatever you do, make a note of the toys your dog prefers so you can know when it’s appropriate to replace them.

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Balls

Dog balls come in all manner of sizes, materials and colors. You can get tennis balls, rubber balls, foam balls, plush balls and many other types for your canine, each designed to roll and bounce and even squeak in a particular way.

Some balls glow in the dark and are designed to keep your pup busy even at night. When picking out a toy for your dog to play with at night you must carefully consider how this will affect her playtime and your own rest time. A noisy toy may end up becoming an irritant, especially when played at night when you’re trying to catch some shut-eye.

Balls are good for keeping dogs active, although this means they tend to come under a lot of pressure during playtime as they get rolled around, tossed and chewed. You’ll want to pick out a durable toy which can withstand mishandling without having to replace it too soon.

There are toys available in the market that are virtually indestructible and are worth having a look at including the planet dog or bee ball, the Kong Squeezz Medium Ball and the Ruffer and Tuffer Rope Ball, which should serve you and your favorite pet’s needs quite well.

Needless to say, ball toys provide a great way for you to bond with your pup, as most dogs enjoy a good game of fetch.

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Tugging Toys

Anyone with a hyperactive dog realizes how important it is to get the right toys to harness this energy. Such a dog’s needs for toys often surpass those of regular dogs, and you, therefore, must be constantly vigilant to ensure your dog doesn’t get bored which can lead to destructive behavior.

For dogs, tugging games are just as crucial as fetching games; it is all about the dog exercising all her muscles. Some pet owners love tug toys because their dogs can play alone with them for hours while they attend to other chores. A toy like a tether tug toy is ideal for your dog’s solo playtime as it keeps dogs engaged both physically and mentally and is also interactive.

Our Big 14″ Tough Dog Toy is another great choice if you want to spend quality time with your dog and burn fat at the same time. Being virtually indestructible,  ThermoPlastic Rubber TPR super durable dog toy is suitable for dogs of different sizes and can take a good amount of aggressive chewing without tearing and being ripped to shreds, especially by larger, aggressive more chewers intent on doing just that!

When playing with tug toys it’s important to take note of some safety tips to avoid your fun games turning into a disaster. To protect your doggy pal you should practice the following things:

  • Always be in control. You should initiate the game, not your dog
  • Train her to drop the toy upon instruction.
  • Replace the toy as soon you notice signs of the toy coming apart. Your dog’s high neck positioning during play makes her susceptible to choking on a piece of the toy that has broken off.

Tugging games are blamed for encouraging aggression in untrained dogs. This however only occurs if you’re not in control.

You take control by:

  • Having breaks in between playtime and ordering your dog to sit, and then restarting – this should happen in intervals of 30 seconds or so.
  • Teaching her to release the toy using the carrot and stick method, where you reprimand her if she doesn’t obey, and treat her when she cooperates
  • Taking a timeout if your dog puts her teeth into you

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Chew Toys

Observing your dog’s chewing habits is important in ensuring that you pick the right toy for her. Randomly selecting a toy can lead to choosing one that’s too tough to chew on, or a type of toy that quickly disintegrates once it comes under the pressure of your canine’s jaws. Either way, it results in the wrong kind of toy which cannot meet your dog’s playtime needs.

When deciding what material suits your dog you need to know whether she’s a gentle chewer, an average chewer or a power chewer. Gentle chewers are best served by soft toys, although these should be durable to last them a long time. Power chewers like Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Bullmastiffs and Pitbulls etc need toys made from tough rubber that can withstand the most aggressive chewing.

The advantage with these toys is that they’re normally a one-time buy, so once you buy the first set, you are covered until your dog outgrows that toy. The Benebone is a good example of a chew toy that meets your dog’s many different needs at the same time. Made from real bacon and food-grade nylon, the Benebone wishbone can sustain your dog’s interest for long periods of time thanks to the flavor and scent they emit.

Besides jaw exercise, chew toys also help in keeping your dog’s teeth clean by removing plaque which accumulates over time on the surface.  

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Treat Toys

Treat toys are designed to keep your dog busy, providing her with treats as she plays with them. They give your dog an avenue to play on their own and release any energy they have bottled up inside. Treat toys come with stuffing which may include peanut butter, dental chews or biscuits.

Some treat toys come with the option of refilling them with new treats once your dog has emptied all the treats that come with the toy. You can even buy and empty the treats the manufacturer uses if they are not to your liking, and fill them with treats selected by you personally.

Other treat toys include natural bones, rawhide, edible bones and rubber bones. Dog owners are discouraged from giving their dogs cooked bones from leftover meals because they can splinter and pierce the dog’s intestines once eaten. You should also be careful with rawhides as they can be difficult to digest for some dogs.

Treat toys come with the advantage that you can use them to mold your pet’s character. By giving or denying your dog a treat based on their behavior, the dog owner is able to directly influence the way she behaves and in this way treats become powerful tools for reinforcing good behavior.

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Oral health

Though many may not know this, your dog can be affected by the same dental hygiene issues that bother you. These problems include bad breath, broken or decaying teeth, gum diseases and other complications.

You can alleviate dental problems by organizing for professional cleaning and brushing of your pup’s teeth. When this is not possible, you can give your dog toys that have dental treats to fight plaque build-up and accumulation of bacteria in her teeth and gums. Using these treats can help with bad breath, an unhealthy build-up of saliva, removing leftover bits of food in the teeth, and relieving swollen and painful gums.

According to Veterinary Oral Health Council, these treats work because they’re made of large kibble that helps them resist crumbling. Some act through scrubbing action, while others are coated with a substance that helps reduce plaque and prevents bacteria accumulation.

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Plush toys

Plush dog toys are ideal for chewing, fetching or snuggling. The reason dogs love them so much is they retain her scent, keeping your dog coming back again and again. Plush toys are versatile and can be used to play different kinds of games like fetch or tug of war. They can even be used as a makeshift pillow!

Unfortunately, plush toys can also pose a high risk to your puppy’s life as a result of the soft material that’s used to make them, which can easily choke your dog. Toy manufacturers, out of the recognition of this safety hazard, are now producing stuffing-free toys which come with strong stitching to ensure they do not easily unravel at the seams.  Nowadays plush toys come stuffed with water bottles, as opposed to squeakers. Water bottles are preferred to squeakers because of their crackling sound and crunchy nature which dogs find hard to resist.

Some plush toys are also machine washable, which makes them easier to keep clean after a rough and tumble session with your dog.

If you’re looking for a plush toy that will hold up to all sorts of pulling and biting, then the Skinneez water bottle plush toy may be a good place to start for your overenthusiastic canine. You can also try an assortment of plush toys from Kong which come with a squeaker and reinforced lining to stand up to your dog’s close scrutiny.

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Puzzle Toys

Some dogs love to solve puzzles, especially when there is some reward at the end of the game.  These toys help your dog exercise her memory and combat boredom at the same time. Puzzles are made in such a way that after your dog follows a particular sequence of actions, involving either pressing, nibbling, or pulling they get treats hidden within the toy.

These toys are however not for all dogs; some destructive dogs may not be patient enough to learn all the processes of pulling and nibbling before they get the treat. This can lead such dogs to crush the puzzle toy in an effort to get the reward.

Still, other dogs may not be interested in solving puzzles at all. Buying them puzzle toys will not only prove to be a waste of money but also will leave your dog yearning for another toy.

As with all the other toys that pose swallowing hazards, you need to be careful about the kind of puzzle toys you get your dog.

Some popular pet puzzles in the market include Kong classic – a bouncy rubber toy that’s filled up with treats, Seek-A-Treat Puzzle Board, the IQ Treat Ball, the Dog Activity Flip Board, and so on. Some puzzle doesn’t involve treating, like the Plush Puzzle game, where you simply insert tiny (squirrel) plush toys into a bigger toy (such as a hollow tree trunk toy) while your dog removes them one by one.

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Materials used to manufacture the toys and their efficacy

Knowing what you know now about choosing a toy for your dog, you may feel that you are more than capable of picking the best possible toy for your dog. However, the information contained above is just a tip of the ice bag, as far as understanding the full ramifications of different materials used to manufacture toys is concerned.

The toy market is full of manufacturers who are not fully aware of the effects the materials they use can have on pets or are too focused on the profit part of the business to spare a thought for the risks that inappropriate materials pose to the animals. You are therefore left with no choice as a dog owner but to be vigilant when making a toy purchase for your dog to ensure that the toy you choose is safety compliant.

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Weak laws

The fact that there are no laws or policies that specifically target companies manufacturing toys that could harm or put at risk the lives of a dog make this task more challenging. What is used is federal standards for children’s toys; for example, the level of lead in a toy should not exceed 90ppm – going by European and Federal standards. In the face of such weak laws, it is no wonder that there’s been an increase in the number of companies using material that is considered harmful to the pets that use these toys.

These dangers do not stop with materials that are used to manufacture toys. The dyes, preservatives, and chemicals used to paint the toy or its packaging can also bring harm to your dog. Even some of the big toy manufacturers are not entirely blameless when it comes to using toxic heavy metals like lead and chromium in their toys.

Countries from newly emergent economies are responsible for some of the largest breaches of toy manufacturing standards, while counterfeiting makes a bad situation worse. Some of the materials used by substandard manufacturers are known to cause cancer, while others can lead to the development of neurological problems for your puppy. The fact that your dog plays with these toys using her mouth, licking and chewing them means that there is a very high risk of toxic materials getting into your dog’s system.

Latex is another material that can cause death in dogs. This is mostly found in plastics or toys made from a plastic related material with some latex toys containing phthalates and other hormone disruptors which are harmful by nature.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are many companies out there which care a lot about dog safety with respect to their play toys and are making every effort to produce toys that meet ethical standards. Ethical Products, manufacturers of the Skinneeez brand name, for example, have committed to producing toys made up of recyclable filling.

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The Dos and don’ts when choosing the right toy for your dog

Dos

  • Remember to keep your dog’s personality and mannerisms in mind when getting a toy for her.
  • Read the label carefully before purchasing a toy, and if possible try and  find out if harmful materials like lead have been used in its manufacture
  • Get the right size of toys to fit your dog according to their age and size
  • Supervise your dog’s play especially when she’s  using a new toy
  • Consider the best material depending on your dog’s chewing habits
  • Know when to replace old toys to prevent them from posing health risks to your dog
  • Keep in mind where the dog spends most of their time; some toys are suited for the outdoors and others to the indoors
  • Use treat toys to reinforce good behavior in your dog
  • Maintain a variety of toys and keep rotating them to sustain your dog’s interest.
  • When buying squeaky toys consider how they affect your rest time

Don’ts

  • Don’t mistake toys as a substitute for interaction with your dog
  • Don’t let your dog take command during play time otherwise, things will get out of control
  • Don’t forget to thank your dog profusely when she obeys orders during play
  • Avoid balls that have single air holes; there’s a chance your dog can get its tongue stuck inside
  • Avoid toys treated with fire retardants and heavily dyed toys as they’re toxic

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