toys for dogs
by Pam Green, © 2006
Some of my favorite dog toys and their uses and sources. Some toys are good for dogs to play with solo, some for interactive play with other dogs or with a person. Dogs can be quite inventive, and most dogs love toys.
Dogs just want to have fun !
Here are a few of my dogs favorite toys, with some ideas and cautions on their use. These toys are primarily chewing toys, throwing toys, or both. (I'm not going to deal with tugging toys here, because it's so easy to find tuggables and the main issue about tug games is to play in a way that the human is the umpire and the dog learns to let go instantly and willingly when asked to do so.)
With all toys, it is wise to supervise the dog's use until you are certain that the dog cannot break off and possibly swallow the pieces. It is essential that the intact toy be of a size relative to the dog's mouth that the intact toy does not present a choking or swallowing hazzard. If you have a mixed household of small and large dogs, it can be a problem to find toys that are safe for everyone, ie big enough to be safe for the big dogs but still small enough that the little dogs can grasp them or enjoy whaping them with their paws. Of course any kind of play between large and small dogs should be supervised until you are certain that the big ones are not too rough with the small ones. (Most big dogs are quite careful not to hurt a playmate.) Of course when you are unable to supervise, you can always pick up questionable toys and put them out of reach. You also have the option to separate dogs whom you do not yet know can play together safely unsupervised. Cat toys and children's toys can also present hazzards to dogs.
(tennis ball on lower right has torn cover and is dangerous.)
- Top row, from left to right :
- tennis balls, normal tennis size . This size is too small for many Bouvier, presenting a possible choking or swallowing hazzard. Although it does not show well in the group photo, you can see in the smaller two ball photo that one of the balls has its cover partly torn (chewed off) ; such balls must be removed and discarded because they present a greater risk of being torn apart and swallowed. I advise you to supervise all play with tennis balls until you are certain that the dog will not tear them apart and swallow pieces.
- tennis ball, softball size, with throwing handle : this is the right size for most Bouviers. The same cautions apply about supervision until you are sure dog will not rip ball into pieces and swallow pieces. I got this one at PetCoTM, but you can find this size and larger ones at most pet supply emporiums.
- pitching machine ball. This ball is harder and more resistant to chewing than the normal tennis ball type of ball. Unfortunately I cannot tell you where to buy them. I got mine at a sporting goods store.
- "Giggly Wiggly TM" dumbell . This toy makes an exciting noise that probably sounds to the dog like prey rodents squeal as you shake it. Thus it is a throw toy that can introduce a dog to retrieving. I would not leave the toy with an unsupervised dog, as strong chewing will probably damage or destroy it. There is also a "Giggly Wiggly TM" ball. One important caution : the early versions of this toy contained lead or zinc weights inside, which could be very dangerous (poisonous !) if swallowed. The later ones do not have this problem.
- wooden dumbell : although dumbells are usually thought of as an Obedience item, some dogs will cheerfully retrieve one as part of a game. (When Bones was a puppy, starting at 9 or 10 weeks, his toys included wooden dumbells and metal ones, so he'd be happy to retrieve them when working for his CDX and UD.)
- Bottom row, from left to right
- "Nylabone TM" very large ("souper") size bone. Nylabone products come in a hard nylon version, labled as being for hard chewers, and a "flexible" version (used to be called "Gummybone") made of inert soft thermoplastic polymer, labled as being for average chewers. However, an important warning, veterinary dentists advise against giving a hard chewer any kind of hard chew toys, including natural bone : hard toys pose a risk of cracked teeth or broken teeth if chewed aggressively. A hard chewer may break off small or not so small bits of the softer thermoplastic version ; small pieces will do no harm if swallowed, but larger ones could be more problematic. Supervise the dog in his chewing until you are sure he is not breaking of big pieces. Discard if toy becomes worn down to a size or shape that presnts a hazzard. Dogs really need to be able to chew, not just during the "teething" period, but for at least another year. Dogs really enjoy chewing. So give them their own chew toys and put your shoes and other valued temptations well out of reach. Nylabone is sold in most pet supply emporiums . Manufacturers site : <www.nylabone.com>
- "Nylabone TM" dental chewng toy. This one originally looked like several balls stuck together, so I call it the "Macho". This one has been heavily chewed and is now too small for the larger Bouvier mouths, so I have removed it ; it would still be appropriate for a smaller dog. Another shape looks pretty much like a hand-grenade, and there are still other shapes. These dental chew toys have small nubs all over them. I really don't know if the nubs actually have much benefit for cleaning teeth, but dogs enjoy them. I'd advise against throwing them, as there could be tooth damage if the dog caught a fast moving toy in mid-air with a hard snapping bite. The same caution to use only the thermoplastic versions and not the harder nylon versions applies to these toys. These come in various colors, and I'd suggest choosing those that can be found on your lawn so you pick them up before mowing. I just bought a large red one that looks like a huge fat tilde , but it was too late to get it into this photo (and too hard to round up all the toys again to take another photo ; the toys are all over the house and the yard).
- "KongTM" , in the largest ("King Kong") size. This one is well chewed. For Bouvier , I recommend the King size or the X Large size. These toys can be stuffed with food to encourage dog to chew and to work for an extended time at extracting the stuffings. Stuffed Kongs are used for puppies to get them "addicted" to chewing this acceptable toy rather than chewing human possessions (but be smart and keep anything you don't want chewed well out of reach !) and used as an anxiety antidote for dogs tending towards separation anxiety. This toy also bounces very enticingly when thrown, thus encouraging many dogs to chase and grab it. Some dogs learn that they can throw it for themselves. (Bouviers seem to be inclined to learning to throw their own toys.) One caution : there is a seam between the bottom section of the Kong and the rest of it, and I have once seen this separate, with one of the resulting pieces a potential choking or swallowing hazzard. As with every toy, inspect Kongs from time to time. Remember that the food given by Kong has calories and must be included in your calculations for the dog's daily ration because obesity is really bad for dog's health and longevity.. Sold at most pet supply emporiums. Manufacturer's site : <www.kongcompany.com>.
- Hartz MountainTM "PetVantage K-9 Cleaner". This hard rubber toy has a series of disks with nubs and bristles. You can squish canine toothpaste in between the disks and you can slip bits of more solid food between the disks, thus encouraging chewing and causing the dog to use greater effort to extract every yummy bit. Some of my dogs really like this one even without added food, but they will all chew longer if the toy is food baited. You can also throw this toy as a possible retrieve item. Once a dog has gotten into picking the thrown toy up, you may be able to hold one end and entice the dog to "take", ie take hold with his mouth, then "hold" briefly, then "give" it back out to you. Probably should not be given unsuperviesed and should be inspected at intervals to make sure pieces are not coming apart. I found this one at PetCoTM and I don't recall seeing it elsewhere. Manufacturer's site : <www.hartz.com>.
- PetStagesTM "Orka Jack". This beautiful translucent blue caltrope is made of a durable somewhat flexible material that can take a lot of chewing. Four of the six projections can be stuffed with food to encourage prolonged chewing and to require sustained effort to extract the food. A lot of dogs really like this as a chew item with or without any food. When thrown, it bounces much more wildly and excitingly than even the classic Kong. Some dogs will toss it for themselves. The Jack comes in two sizes, the larger of which is the one for Bouvier and other medium to large dogs. It comes with and without a rope threaded through the center ; since the rope version is two dollars more, I'd suggest that you can add your own rope if you want to, but I don'd see the rope as making it a better toy. The Jack floats in water, whether because of the nature of the material or because two of the six projections are filled with air. PetStagesTM also makes the Orka Tube and the Orka Gripper, both of which are basically hollow cylindrical shapes with ropes, made of the same bright blue material as the Orka Jack. I have not tried these others. I found the Jack at PetCoTM, but I's also seen it at other pet supply emporiums. Manufacturer's site not listed on the package, but try "petstages" in a search engine. Warning : it's quite possible for a strong chewer to break off pieces.Supervise. Eventually these toys become too worn and ragged to continue to be safe. Inspect them at intervals.
- "Giggle'n Rock". I originally found this at a thrift store and assumed it was a children's toy, but I have since seen a dog version at a dog store. This is a plastic ball with 12 rubber projections. With batteries inside, it can be switched on to intermittently jump around and make strange noises, noises that to a dog probably sound like prey rodent squeeks. . Because the plastic would break if chomped hard and because batteries of any kind are definitely something that would be very dangerous if swallowed, I would NOT ever leave this unsupervised with a dog. I have used mine as a temperment testing toy, to see how quickly a dog realizes this strange and perhaps initially alarming thing is harmless.
- not pictured :
- "Buster CubeTM" This is a large plastic cube that can be filled with kibble or small pieces of food ; it will dispense the food a piece or so at a time as the dog rolls it around the ground or floor with paws or nose. There is also a ball shaped one. This toy can be adjusted to dispense food more easily or less easily. It is a good toy for dogs with some degree of separation anxiety, as the toy given shortly before owner's departure will occupy the dog's mind for some time. It is also a great idea for those dogs who tend to gobble their food with extreme speed, because it forces the dog to eat more slowly. Again, remember to include the food given by this toy as part of the dog's total day's intake. There are several other variations of food dispensing toy in various shapes from various makers..
- the "poor man's version" of the Buster Cube : if you take an empty 64 ounce plastic jug from the grocery store, ie one that contained fruit juice or water, and cut a few holes in it, perhaps half an inch in diameter, then you can fill it partway with kibble and screw the top back on. Show your dog that if it is rolled around the ground some kibble will come out. I'd supervise the dog's use of this until you are sure that he won't bite through the plastic and tear off pieces that could be swallowed. Maybe it's best to leave the cap off, as it might unscrew and get swallowed.
- various rope toys for tugging. Tug ropes are pretty obvious. Likewise any piece of strong cloth, such as a burlap sack. (Don't use an old towel, because the dog may help himself to towels hung on your bathroom towel bars.) The subject of people playing tug with dogs is worthy of its own article, because there are good and bad ways to do this. (See Jean Donaldson's "The Culture Clash" for a good recipe for safe tug games; I play similarly , though I don't include food treats. The link to my article on tug is at the end of this article.) Dogs playing tug with other dogs is almost always safe and a lot of fun ; don't let the growling alarm you , because it is play-growling, not serious growling. Caution : inspect frequently to be sure that the rope is not unraveling into strings that might be swallowed. Swallowed string can do horrible things to a dog's intestines, requires surgery and can be fatal..
- stuffed toys. I used to get my stuffed toys from the thrift store rather than from the pet store. Often I would find very appropriate stuffed toys at the thrift store for about a dollar or two , instead of $10 to 20 at the pet store. I would inspect carefully to see that there are no hidden parts inside that could be a swallowing hazzard or a tooth damage hazzard, and I check that any external parts like eyes and noses are ones that would not be dangerous if swallowed (or you could cut them off and super-glue the hole together). I'd also recommend that you consider if the stuffing is going to make an unhold mess when and if your dog rips the toy open and scatters the stuffing. (Cotton batting makes a more manageable mess than thousands of tiny styrofoam balls.) I found that some of my dogs would carry a toy for a long time, then one day that dog would rip the toy open and eviscerate the stuffing. Some toys got demolished immediately, but others lasted for many months. A new stuffed toy seems always to be much more attractive than the old ones. You probably do want to supervise your dog to see that he does not swallow stuffing, though I have never had any of mine do so : they seem to recognize how inedible it is.
UPDATE Warning : some childrens' stuffed toys have chemically treated stuffing, probably fire retardant treated, that can be toxic for a dog or that can swell up inside the dog's stomach. So it's safest to buy only toys intended for dogs and only ones from very responsible makers. I've shifted away from stuffed toys of any kind. Too many other toys are safer.
- GreeniesTM "Smart Chew" non-edible Dental care. This is a hard natural rubber with iprgnated melon flavor, shaped like a huge toothbrush. It comes in various sizes, and of course the Jumbo is the right size for most Bouvier. This also comes in three degrees of hardness, the hardest of which is nylon and is unacceptable in terms of tooth-damage potential. I got the medium, which is firm but has some flexibility. None of my dogs has considered this one to be worth chewing for more than a couple of casual munches. Now your dog might have a different opinion. I couldn't find it when it was time for this photo. Being green, it could hide in the grass forever until the mower finds it and demolishes it. I got mine at PetCoTM. Manufacturer's site is <www.nutecforpets.com>.
I seem to have put a lot of emphasis on SAFETY, often stressing the need for supervision and occasional inspection. I don't think this is misplaced. A toy should be a source of pleasure, not a source of danger.
I wrote this article many years ago (2006), so the variety of toys available has changed, many new ones being included. I see that I have not mentioned the frisbee, surely a great toy for some dog-human pairs.
Different dogs enjoy different toys. Find what works for your own dog.
Watching dogs play, either with toys or with one another, is a great delight.
Dogs just want to have fun !
Related topics :
- Playing Tug, description of how to play safely and why playing tug should not make your dog become "aggressive".