Toys of all sorts help alleviate boredom when a dog is left alone, or encourage interactive play with his human pack members. Everybody needs toys, but they should be safe. Be sure your dog's toys are the appropriate size for him (nothing he can swallow, please!) and can't be torn up or have parts that can be easily pulled off. The toy should be hard enough to resist destruction, but not so hard as to break teeth. Toys will be ruined, so be prepared to replace them as they get smaller or become worn or frayed.
We are constantly trying new toys here at the KatDoc K-9 Korp, and wanted to share some of our findings. The canine members of our Toy Testing Team evaluate toys for fun and durability; I rate them on safety. Here are a few that passed our tests. Just because a toy is not listed doesn't mean it failed, only that we haven't tested it.
Kong is the granddaddy of the good, safe, interactive toy. Kong toys come in many shapes, sizes, varieties, and degrees of firmness. The pale pink or blue ones are the softest, and are designed for teething puppies.Red is the standard degree of firmness, and for dedicated chewers, black is the hardest.One of the best features of the Kong toy is the center chamber, in which one can put a dab of peanut butter or spreadable cheese to increase the dog's interest, or stuff it with dog biscuits and other treats, which gives the dog a puzzle to occupy his time. There are even web sites of recipes for things to stuff inside the toys. Of course, Kong also markets an entire line of stuffable products for you to purchase. Kongs are dishwasher-safe, too, so you can wash away that peanut butter, cheese, or banana residue.
This Kong has had its center chamber filled with a lightweight material that allows it to float, and the nylon rope handle makes it easy to fling far out into the pond for water retrieving. Don't leave a Kong of this type lying around, as the nylon handle can be chewed off, and some dogs try to remove the floatation material.The Kong Dental Stick has grooves which hold toothpaste. (Use the doggy kind, not people toothpaste.) The goal is to have the dog brush its own teeth by interacting with the toy.
The Nylabone company has their own line of firm rubber toys, called Rhinos. The Rhino cone is very similar in appearance to a Kong, right down to the center chamber. They also have a bone shaped toy. This one, the standard hardness, has been well chewed.
As with Kongs, black Rhinos are for the professional chewer, dogs dedicated to the craft of destroying their toys. At Christmas, I bought the largest, hardest Rhino toy I could find for my sister's Rott, Murphy, a 100 lb specialist in the art of chewing. Six months later, he still has it, although I understand it is getting worn down. To my knowledge, it is the only toy that has lasted him this long.
Busy Buddy toys are also like Kong and Rhino - a firm rubber with enough strength to last the average chewer, but enough flexibility for fun. The two dumbell-shaped toys below have holes in the ends for stuffing, the squirrel is essentially a Kong or a Rhino cone.
The difference is the addition of these little finger-like projections. You can see that 2 are tapered to a point, while 2 are squared off. Originally, they were all the same length, but are designed to allow you to cut off some or all of the nubs, thus regulating how quickly the toy dispenses the goodies.
An absolutely essential toy in our toy chest is the Chuck-It. A long plastic handle with a tennis-ball sized cup at one hand and a hand grip at the other, the Chuck-It allows me to whip a tennis ball further than I ever could when throwing it by hand, plus has the added benefit of allowing me to pick up the ball without bending over or touching a wet, slimey ball covered with dog drool. Whoever invented this toy is my hero!
Tennis balls rank high on the FUN scale for my girls, but they have to be real tennis balls, not the knock-off versions marketed in pet stores. They are able to pop those in a minute, while the real ones last and last.
When they hear the "whoosh" of a new canister opening, Holly and Grace can hardly contain themselves. Some veterinary dentists worry about attrition (excess wear) on a dog's teeth from the abrasive quality of tennis ball fuzz, but I haven't found that to be a problem.
My dogs love plush squeaky animal toys, but they rarely last longer than an afternoon, as the girls cannot resist the urge to rip them open, pull out the squeaker, and scatter the stuffing. Aside from making a mess and being too expensive for a 30 minute toy, I worry about them eating the Hollofil stuffing and getting a GI obstruction. These hippos are the only things they have not shredded. The one on the left is from Christmas 2006, the one on the right from Christmas 2005. Aside from missing an ear, it is still in pretty good shape. We currently have three of these (one of the '05 hippos was finally gutted) and all the squeakers still squeak. I wish I could remember the maker's name; on my last trip to the pet store, they didn't have any, and I hope they are still being manufactured.
Toys that are provisionally approved:
The Nylabone company makes a variety of bone-shaped chew toys. Some are edible dental treats (not pictured) while others are chewable toys in various flavors. Their first product, the original Nylabone, is now on my "no-no" list (see below) while their softer version rates an OK from the team. This was called "Gumabone" when it was first marketed, now, they have renamed it "Nylabone Flexible." Like the toys listed above, is is firm without being too hard. I find them to be safe, but my dogs don't play with them very often.
These canvas-covered stuffed interlocking rings were a hand-me-down from Murph, who immediately shredded one of the three links. It stands up to Holly's chewing, but wouldn't last if she really wanted to destroy it. I have qualms about any rope or link toy which encourages "Tug o' War" games. Behaviorally, tugging encourages a dog to compete with its human for possession of an object, and invariably, the dog gets the toy away from the person. This gives the dog a false sense of superiority, and can lead to dominance problems. I never play "Tug o' War" with puppies, and only play with my adult dogs once they have learned to "drop it" or "give it" on command. Then, I make certain that at the end of the game, I "win" and put the toy away to signal we are done.
Latex-like plastic squeak toys are also on the "OK" list. Again, my dogs love the squeak, but these toys aren't strong enough to hold up and soon get trashed. They are safe enough, and when they are on sale, they are a cheap way to indulge a squeaking fetish. Despite the holes, these toys are still favorites, and when Turtle is recovered from a long hibernation under the couch, Holly is thrilled to see him again.
Toys we disapprove of:
A big problem with chewing toys is when the manufacturers' goal is to create an "indestructable" toy. Dog toys have to have enough "give" in them to prevent broken teeth. The number one toy I have seen cause slab fractures of the upper fourth premolar tooth (that big cheek tooth on the top) is the Nylabone. Made of a very hard material, it is marketed for the most powerful of chewers. While I have used the original Nylabone in the past with one of my own dogs, since then I have seen too many broken teeth to continue to recommend its use. Unless they changed the manufacturing process when they changed the name to "Nylabone Durable," I would avoid this toy.
Other items that cause broken teeth are cow hooves, any real bones, whether sold in the pet stores or obtained from the butcher's, and rocks.
There is nothing unsafe about this large, hard plastic ball (shown next to a tennis ball for scale). It is too large to be picked up and chewed, so it can't break teeth, it just rates a "Zero" on the Fun-meter. Neither of my dogs have ever played with it, so it gets a pass.
There are lots and lots of other dog toys on the market, many we haven't tried. What toys do your dogs like or dislike? What ones have you had problems with or find you can't live without? I'd love some feedback on this topic. Let's hear from you dog owners out there.