Being Choosy About Dog Toys featured image

Top Dog Tips - Being Choosy About Dog ToysAnother Sunday morning means another Sunday Recap here at Top Dog Tips. Did you get time to read my column last week about adopting a dog that fits your lifestyle? As you know, our family recently adopted our chocolate lab puppy, Saddie. We've gone through more plush toys in the last month than we ever have before, and Saddie isn't our first puppy. As much as she loves plush toys, they definitely don't meet her needs. That got me thinking about how pet parents choose their dog toys and why it's important for us to be so selective.

Over the course of this week, I've tried to keep a mental note of the amount of time Saddie spends chewing on a toy. I figured out that she spends about 65% of her waking hours chewing, tugging, fetching, and playing with dog toys. That's a lot! Many older dogs don't chew as much as puppies, but some certainly do. Many of the adult dogs that I know who enjoy playing with toys still spend hours a day being entertained by these products.

If our dogs are spending that much time interacting with something, shouldn't we be concerned about its quality and how well it meets their needs? But how do we know what our dog needs, and what happens when his needs change as he ages? There is a lot more to selecting an appropriate dog toy for your canine companion than most pet parents think. So my goal this week was to find some great resources to help us make the decision a little bit easier.

Juliana Weiss-Roessler wrote a short blog for celebrity dog trainer Cesar Milan's website. It gives some great background information about why dogs are so picky about the toys they enjoy and why every dog has a different preference. It may be short, but it gets to the point quickly and gives some great insight into our furry friends.

Dogs look at toys the way wolves look at prey. So it’s not surprising that they tend to like toys that either taste like food, can be torn apart, and/or make a noise.

Dogs find harder and quieter toys less interesting. After all, if they can’t chew into it and it doesn’t even make a peep, what’s the point? They want softer toys that can be more easily manipulated.

Dogs are interested in new things. The Labs in the study were intensely interested in almost all of the toys … at first. But once they became familiar with them, they tended to lose interest.

Dogs are more interested when you participate. As social creatures, our dogs become more excited when we’re excited. Engaging a dog in play using a toy is much more engaging than playing alone. A tug toy isn’t much good if there isn’t someone on the other side., a pet food and accessory website, gives some great advice on selecting the perfect toy for your pet based on his needs. They also give some examples of toys that may be appealing to your dog depending on his preferences. You'll have to do your own research on the examples given in this article, but it should at least give you a good starting place.

To begin, ask yourself, “How does my dog like to play?” Does Buddy like to chew? Maybe Bella loves to chase and retrieve. Dexter might like to simply cuddle stuffed animals while Luna loves treats but is otherwise uninterested in toys. Well, no matter your dog’s interests, there is a toy just for him.

By now you should at least have a better understanding of what your dog's interests are and what type of toy may best meet his needs. Now you know why there are so many different types of toys available, and trust me there are way more than you think! Pet stores are filled with hundreds of toys, but there are thousands of options to choose from if you shop online.

PetSafe published this article by Natalie Lester, their brand communications specialist, to help pet parents narrow down their search for the best dog toys for their Fido. She breaks down the different toys into categories such as plush toys, plastic food-dispensing toys, and others, and then she gives you the pros and cons for each type and a little information on the dogs that would most benefit from that particular type of toy.

For more exercise, some dogs like to “work” for their food and this gives them the perfect opportunity.

Plastic food dispensing toys are a great pet weight loss tool, because it makes them work for their food. … This is just as much of a mental exercise as it is a physical one. It’s perfect for dogs in small homes as it gives them the opportunity to engage in more activity.

It is also great for pets who are trying to get rid of a few extra pounds. Some dogs push it with their nose or paws, while others pick them up and throw them (this is usually Emma’s technique). If your dog needs more fun at mealtime, this is the perfect toy for them.

The biggest thing you need to be conscious of when selecting dog toys is whether or not they will be safe for your pet. There are toys that are specifically made for large and small breeds, and if you use a dog toy for something other than its intended purpose, you may be putting your dog at risk. For example, toys for small breeds are usually made to fit their mouths. If you give one of these toys to a large breed, it may be a choking hazard.

Canidae Natural Pet Food Company wrote this column for their responsible pet ownership blog about choosing safe dog toys. It talks about how the size, the material the toys are made of, and the condition of dog toys affect their safety. It also gives some great pointers to pet parents to ensure they choose the safest dog toys for their pet.

Even though many toys do come with recommendations on the labels, those are general guidelines. Every dog is an individual. There is no way a company can predict the personal behavior or usage of every single canine customer. Sometimes common sense has to prevail over labeling. Watch how your dog plays with each type of toy. For instance, an aggressive chewer may instantly shred a soft toy that is supposedly safe for their size, age or breed and that type of toy may turn out to be something your dog should not have, even when labeling says it should  be safe.

Did you know there is actually a science for choosing the right dog toy? There was a study published in the journal Animal Cognition that reveals the science behind some of the most popular dog toys. The article itself is full of scientific jargon and is extremely difficult to read and understand. However, wrote this article that summarizes it nicely and makes it much easier for us non-scientist types to understand.

While there was no single characteristic that made one toy preferable over another, the study revealed that as a dog gets used to the stimulus qualities of the toy — its smells, texture, and sounds — the dog is likely to grow bored with that toy. Most of the new toys presented by researchers seemed to incite intense but temporary interest in the Labs, the researchers say, perhaps because it is instinct for canines to investigate unfamiliar items.

Co-author Anne Pullen of the University of Bristol research team explains that the perfect toys should be “soft, easily manipulable toys that can be chewed easily and/or make a noise.”

“Dogs quickly lose interest in toys with hard, unyielding surfaces, and those that don’t make a noise when manipulated,” Pullen added.

The study above proves that dogs get bored with certain toys after a while. I'm not surprised. I get bored too when I have to do the same thing over and over again. Jennifer Viegas talks about the same study in this article for Discovery News. She explains why dogs get bored with toys and how we, as pet parents, can help prevent that from happening.

If that happens, there's only one solution: the owner needs to jump in and play with the dog and toy too.

“For an animal as social as a dog,” Bradshaw explained, “toys only become really exciting when they are part of a game with a person. Few toys will sustain a dog's interest for long if the owner is not around to offer encouragement.”

He added, “If a dog has to be left on its own, it is most likely to enjoy toys that can be chewed, make a noise when played with, or are designed to be eaten as they disintegrate (such as a chew).”

Being Choosy About Dog Toys

The Humane Society of the United States wrote a wonderful article that summed up all of my research nicely. It doesn't go into as many details as the articles I've shared with you, but it recaps everything in this very easy-to-read column about picking the best and safest dog toys. It stresses the importance of choosing the right toy for your pet while also making a smart decision about the toy’s safety.

I also like that the article talks about getting the most out of the toys you select. As a pet parent, I am always looking for ways to best use the products I buy so that I get the most out of them. Dog products aren't cheap, and all the supplies dogs need adds up, so I appreciate advice about making smart choices and spending my money wisely.

Rotate your dog's toys weekly by making only a few toys available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible. If your dog has a favorite, like a soft “baby,” you may want to leave it out all the time.

Provide toys that offer variety — at least one toy to carry, one to “kill,” one to roll and one to “baby.”

“Hide and Seek” is a fun game for dogs to play. “Found” toys are often much more attractive than toys that are obviously introduced. An interactive game out of finding toys or treats is a good “rainy-day” activity for your dog, using up energy without the need for a lot of space.

Speaking of safety, I found this interesting article that I wanted to pass along to you as well. My dogs love squeaky toys, and so do most of the other dogs I know. This blog from Oliver's Pet Care explains the dangers of squeaky toys and how important it is to supervise your dog while he's playing with them. This was new information to me, and I hope it helps some of you as well.

Isn’t that cool? I think it is — even though on some level it freaks me out too to think that my sweet baby is getting in touch with his cold blooded killer instincts, but at the same time, I do like that he gets to be a “dog.” Since that’s what he is. Not a tiny genius human, like I sometimes forget. Now even though this hunting and battling the squeaky toy is a good thing, it does come with risks, so it’s important to be a good responsible human and supply your furry soldier with only the most durable squeaky toys, and don’t leave him unsupervised while he chews. Although our canine buds are very smart, there is always the possibility that the squeaker could get lodged in their throat and that’s just too big a risk to take.

To wrap things up, I'm going to leave you with with this comparison chart compiled by Jess Rollins for PetExpertise. It lists numerous popular dog toys and a lot of information about each one. Having all this information in the same place is a great way to help you figure out which toy may be best for your dog.

Below are my thoughts about the most popular dog chews to help you make an informed decision about what to give your dog to chew on. Please note that Pet Expertise has chosen to offer the best and safest dog chews that are natural, healthy and long lasting. For dogs that love to chew anything, you can go with the less tasty chews but pickier dogs will need to have a tasty chew in order to give it a second sniff. 

About Our Overall Rating System: The rating is a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most natural, healthy, tasty, safe and long lasting chew imaginable. Items with a rating under 5 are generally not recommended by Pet Expertise.

That's all for this week. I hope you enjoyed the column, and please feel free to leave any comments below. If you've found a great resource that you'd like to share, we'd be happy to hear about it! Have a wonderful week and happy chewing!

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.