Updated: May 8, 2020
This week on the Bone Ball Bark blog we are in the 'BALL' section; play and socialization!
A Complete Guide to Dog Toys!
Toys should be a big feature in the day to day life of your dog. Whether you are outside throwing a ball or a frisbee, inside playing scent work games, or need to keep them occupied when they are bored or you have things to do. Never underestimate the power of a good dog toy!
Why should I give my dog toys?
What dog toys are safe for my dog?
What are interactive dog toys?
What are good toys for puppies?
What dog toys are indestructible or for aggressive chewers?
Best dog toys to take on a walk
Best dog toys to use for feeding
What dog toys can I make?
FIrst things first:
Why Should I Give My Dogs Toys?
It is very true that a well exercised dog is a happy dog, but that doesn’t just mean physical exercise. Mental stimulation is just as important! Much like how you or I can feel exhausted after a class or a long work meeting that you had to concentrate fully in, the same is true for your dog when they have had to concentrate.
Engaging dogs of all ages in brain stimulating exercises is extremely important for their mental health, aids their continual training, and also helps improve the bond between you and your dog.
Dogs have been historically bred to help us humans with varying tasks. That's why we have dogs in all shapes and sizes, low energy and high energy, floppy ears and perk ears, and everything in between. However, they now live pet lives and these breed traits that have evolved over time aren’t needed. Most dogs still have that behavior in them and as such can become bored or frustrated easily if they are not given the opportunity to let off steam. Toys can help channel them away from destructive behaviors that come from frustration and focus on the play and challenge in front of them.
Dog trainer tips:Toys are also a way of telling your dog what to do as opposed to what not to do; one of my biggest rules in dog training.
If your dog is bored, they are likely to find their own fun and become destructive. Whether that is chewing your shoes, digging through the trash, or barking for attention. Giving them a toy to play with is a way to help prevent these bad habits from forming.
What Dog Toys Are Safe?
Not all dog toys are safe and suitable for your dog. You must ensure to pick a dog toy that is size appropriate, made of the right materials, and are as durable as possible.
If they are able to fit the whole toy in their mouth then it is too small.
Soft toys that squeak are fantastic to play with but keep a close eye on them. They are easily destroyed and then the squeaker inside becomes a choking hazard.
You need to pick a dog toy that is age appropriate too. Toys that were great when your puppy was 12 weeks old, might not be suitable for them when they are 2 years old. Their jaws are more powerful and they might destroy or ingest the toy.
Watch out for dog toys that are flavored in any way. I have had some scary situations with Nylabone like toys that have been flavored with chicken or peanut butter. A few dogs have tried to swallow them and I stay completely clear of those. Give your adult dog ACTUAL raw bones, not fake plastic ones.
Get rid of old, chewed-up toys. The longer your dog has them, the more likely they are to become hazardous.
What Are Interactive Dog Toys?
Interactive dog toys, or puzzle dog toys, are those that require your dog to use their brain, paws and nose to manipulate the toy to get out treats, or other toys hidden inside. These dog toys keep them busy while you are doing something else.
Dog trainer tip: I recommend to clients that they give their puppy an interactive dog toy to play with while you are cooking dinner; that way, they are not under your feet!
Puzzle toys can help channel them away from unwanted dog behaviour, especially destructive behaviours, that come from frustration, and instead focus on the challenge in front of them.
Using their brain is just as important as physical exercise for your dog
When a dog uses their own brain to figure out an obstacle, they become more confident in everyday life and more easily able to tackle new tasks and environments.
Here are 4 toys that do all of the above!
Dog Brick: Categorized as a level 2 in difficulty, this one has been designed by Nina Ottosson, who has shaped her career over designing interactive toys for dogs! This puzzle features flips to flip, compartments to remove and sliding motions. Nina Ottosson has made a huge variety of these types of tetris toys. I recommend starting with an easy level of difficulty and moving up from there once your dog has gotten the hang of it!
2. Trixie: Another great toy with levers and hidden compartments. This is the one that is being beautifully demonstrated by Marshal in the video above!
3. Bob-A-Lot: A personal favorite is the Bob-A-Lot. This is perfect for dogs that try to eat their meals as fast as they can. A handy tip is to put their breakfast or dinner inside the weeble wobble style toy, open the little hatch to just the right size of the kibble, and watch your dog spend ages bumping it with his nose to get his food out! He is using his mind to find his own food and you get a bit of peace!
4. Outward Hound Squirrels: Not all puzzle toys have to involve treats. These burrowing squirrels are perfect for breeds like terriers who were bred to chase out small mammals from their dens. They can stick their muzzles right into the holes and pull out the squeaky squirrel. A firm favorite!
What Are Good Toys For Puppies?
Puppy toys are very important to have around the house! Your puppy will go through a teething stage, where everything in sight becomes something to chew. By offering them an appropriate chew toy, and playing with them, you can protect your house and your fingers!
Soft rubber toys are good for puppies under the age of 6 months, while they still have their puppy teeth. Getting something that is too strong and tough for their teeth means they could break a puppy tooth, and that in turn can have a big impact on the adult tooth coming in.
Puppy Kong: The light blue and pink Kong's have been specifically designed for young puppies. The rubber is softer than their general red Kong. Stuff some of their wet food in here, or fill with some pumpkin, cream cheese, dog safe peanut butter etc. You can also freeze the stuffed kong which a teething puppy apprecaites!
Other good toys for puppies include anything that is differently textured or squeaks or crinkles. Puppies need variety and as they are going through an important development stage, they need to have lots of fun and positive interactions with everything. Be warned, that doesn't mean you should use your socks or clothes to play with them. This teaches them that socks are puppy toys!
Squeaky toys: Here are some example toys that are perfect for puppies, that squeak, but also have no stuffing in them! This can be a life saver (or at least a time saver), as a lot of times you will come home to find it has been snowing stuffing in your living room where your puppy has destroyed a toy!
What dog toys are indestructible/ best toys for aggressive chewers?
There are plenty of toys out there that are designed for aggressive chewers. While I would argue that there are practically no indestructible toys, many do last for a long time and are worth the investment.
Kong Tire: A great durable toy for hard chewers. I have used these before and always have been very impressed as to how long they have lasted. Space inside to slip some treats or peanut butter in too!
Tuffy Dog Toy's: When it comes to softer toys, anything with a double stitch will be much harder to destroy. Tuffy make good soft toys for power chewers but some dogs seem to be able to get through these quite quickly. It will be trial and error. I have still included them on the list as I do really like them and have had a lot of success with them.
Dog Toys For Meal Times
Dog trainer tip: DITCH THE FOOD BOWL.
I am a big advocate for not feeding your dog all of their meals in a bowl. This isn’t stimulating, or time consuming at all. Especially for puppies and very active dogs, being able to engage their brain during meal times is a great way of tiring them out without you having to do much work at all! There are plenty of specially made dog toys that you can buy for this very purpose. Some are more suited to if you feed your dog raw, or wet food. While others are better suited if they eat dry food or kibble.
Licki-Mat or Licki Wobble Bowl: These mats and bowl shapes are perfect to spread dog food onto. The food gets caught up in the little divits and compartments, meaning your dog has to work really hard to get it all out!
Kong: The red Kong's are the classic Kong toy. Perfect for all adult dogs that aren't extremely aggressive chewers. The black Kong's are designed for aggressive chewers. Stuff their food inside and watch them take aaggesss to get it all out.
Snuffle Mats: An absolutley fantastic toy where you sprinkle dry dog food, or treats amongst the layers of fabric, and watch your dog use that powerful nose to search them out.
Bob-a-lot (as mentioned above in interactive toys)
Slow feeder bowl : While not necessarily a toy, I thought I would include it as it is a perfect way to feed your dog, especially if they tend to wolf down their food in seconds. I have also used this as an interactive toy by spreading cream cheese, peanut butter, sweet potato, etc on the raised parts.
Best Dog Toys To Take To The Park
Don’t be tempted to throw a ball or frisbee the entire walk. Sniffing and exploring is a HUGE part of a walk for a dog. It is like reading the newspaper. I give my dogs ample time to sniff to their heart’s content. Then, I bring out a toy about half way through the walk and see if they want to play for a few minutes.
Squeaky Ball: I prefer taking a ball that squeaks with me as it is a lot more engaging to a dog. I can easily get a dog's attention with the squeak and distract them from something else.
(Chuck-it: I am not a fan of these toys so I will not be linking them here. Repetitive, long-distance chasing can be damaging to a dog's joints, breed ball obsession, and these toys are often over used and mis-used )
Tug-E-Nuff tug toy: This brand of toy has been a huge asset in my training. I recommed getting one of these tug toys for your dog. There are varying lengths, materials and sizes. I have linked a video below that shows these tug toys in action.
Dog trainer tip: I use the tug-e-nuff tug toy to aid in recall. I pair the toy to a silent whistle and the result is an extremely reliable recall! When I am at home, I hide the tug toy behind my back, blow the whistle 2 short pips, then produce the toy and engage the dog in a really lively exciting game of tug. I repeat this over and over. Next I take it out to the garden or yard and repeat many times, before trying off leash in the park.
What Dog Toys Can I Make?
While I do recommend buying some dog toys, there are plenty of other toys you can make out of regular everyday household items. Most of these involve some sort of scent work. Keep all of your old Amazon boxes, toilet rolls, plastic water bottles, towels and blankets.
I regularly put treats in the bottom of a box, spread a towel and some toilet rolls down scatter some more treats inside, then give it to the dog. They have to use their nose and muzzle to root around for the treats. A cheap, really easy toy to make!
Old plastic bottles: take off the lid, fill with treats, then let your dog have at it.
You can also make your own snuffle mat! The snuffle mat pictured below was made especially for Bone Ball Bark by the fabulous human owner of Vulric, Wolfdog of London! There are plenty of resources online to show you how to make your own.
Other Dog Toy Tips
Don’t leave all your dog’s toys out and accessible at all times. Dogs like variety and novelty. Put most of them away in a cupboard and leave out 2 or 3 different ones. I usually leave a soft, squeaky toy, an interactive puzzle toy, and a chewable toy. After a few days I will take those away and bring out 3 other ones. It doesn’t matter that your dog has seen or played with them before, he will act like they are brand new!
Make sure to wash the toys on a regular basis, especially those that are used with food. Many toys can be put in a dishwasher, or soaked in a bowl of warm soapy water.
Save one incredible toy, an absolute favorite of your dogs, to take with you to the park. I like to always have a toy in my bag to use for recall purposes. They are more likely to want to come back and engage with you if you can produce something amazing! If they get to play with this toy at home, it won’t be quite as enticing as chasing squirrels.
Dogs have a very different color spectrum than we do. They are not colorblind as many people believe, but rather they see duller versions of some of our colors like blue, gray and yellow. It doesn’t really matter the color of their toys at home, but I do like to think about the toys I use outside. I pick blue toys for when I am in the fields or park as this color is more easily distinguishable against the green grass.
To sum up, here are the most important things you need to know about dog toys, and the toys that every dog household should have:
Vary the texture and type of toy. Make sure you have some soft and squeaky toys, some chewable toys and ones that you can use for feeding.
Always keep an eye on your dog when you give them a new toy so you can see how they play with it and if they can easily destroy it.
Remember that the toys you give a puppy may not be suitable when that puppy has developed into an adult dog.
Kong’s are probably the most useful dog toy you can buy. Make sure you have a couple of these, and that they are a suitable size and strength for your dog.
Toys can be used to distract your dog from doing something he shouldn’t, or keep them calm when you have guests around. Give them something to do as opposed to telling them what not to do!