Why do dogs need toys? To keep them out of trouble! A bored dog is a dog that can eat your furniture, excavate and relocate your new shrubs, or worse. Dogs need something to do. Unfortunately, most of us have to work and are not available to direct and interact with our canine companions for the majority of the day. This is where great toys come into the play!
Toys can distract dogs from off limits or no go items such as your shoes and remote control. Good toys engage the dogs’ paws, jaws and mind. Toys help reduce stress and channel pent up physical and mental energy. Toys can also be used as reinforcement for good behavior.
First evaluate the type of play your dog enjoys. Does he like things that bounce or things that make noise or both? Is your dog a ferocious chewer? Does he seek and destroy soft stuffed toys? Based on your evaluations, you will make some toy choices. Consider the size of toy that might be appropriate. A Great Dane is going to need much larger toys than a Chihuahua! Toys that are too small might be accidentally swallowed – too large and they may lay unused. Keep in mind that as dogs age, their preferences in toys changes too – older dogs may not enjoy hard toys but prefer softer “bites”. There are tons of great toy options available.
Your dog needs a variety of toys. Do not let him have access to ALL of the toys at once. Let him have several and rotate the toys. This helps alleviate boredom as well and you won’t need as many toys as you would if you give the dog access to the entire toy box!
Safety is a primary concern when choosing appropriate toys. Remember that you are not going to be supervising during some of the time your dog is playing with the toy(s). Quality construction and materials used in the manufacturing of the toy are important. Supervise the initial play with toys. Observe whether the construction of the toy is good enough to withstand the treatment your dog gives it. Do not let your dog continue to play with toys that are torn, cracked, or broken. You must take care that “Jake” doesn’t swallow any of the toy!
A word of advice – do not let your dog play with your children’s toys! Kid’s toys are not designed to withstand the chewing that most dogs do. Toys designed for children are not safe for dogs. Some trainers will put a small dab of mouthwash on the toys that are for children so that the dog will “know” which toys are off limits. I recommend teaching your children to take care of their toys by being vigilant about putting the toys away properly so that the dog is not tempted in the first place. It has been my experience that dogs don’t easily distinguish between dog and kid toys.
The toys you select should be easy to clean by hand washing, machine washing (soft toys) or in the case of toys that hold food – by dishwasher.
There are a number of toys available that are designed to keep your dog occupied. Most of them are “puzzle” type toys. These toys have spaces within them that can be filled with kibble, soft cheese, or peanut butter. The dog must work to extract the food. Kong® toys which are made from hard rubber can be stuffed and then frozen, which makes the stuffed treat last longer. Ahhh a reward for playing with the toy!
Toys can be broken down into general types: soft stuffed toys (usually with squeekers), solid rubber toys like Kongs ®, toys for tossing like balls, toys for tugging like ropes, and toys that are puzzles like Buzzy Buddy® or Buster Cube® toys. Many of these types of toys also provide some level of dental cleaning.
Toys are very useful used as training reinforcement. Instead of just tossing toys and treats on the floor, instruct your dog to do something desirable, such as "Sit", and then immediately offer the toy. In addition, teach dogs not to grab toys or other items out of your hand. Use a favorite toy to regain your dog’s attention during walks (instead of edible treats).
Collect a variety of safe and stimulating toys. Rotate the toys every few days leaving only two or three out at a time. This will help each toy hold it’s special appeal to your dog. If after time you find your dog is no longer interested in some of his toys, purge them! Give unused toys to a local shelter. There is no substitute for time spent playing with your dog. However, a few good toys can help your dog get through the day without you. Once you are home, take your dog for a walk – you both need it!