There are about one million types of dog toys out there, as Janice and Leroy can attest. And while all are fun, they often serve different purposes that you may not know about. We’ve talked about choosing the right kind of toy for certain breeds before, such as Pit Bulls, Pugs, and Dachshunds. But I don’t think I’ve ever really gone over how to figure out what kind of toy is best for your dog’s behavior. This is a key part of keeping a dog from getting bored and destructive, so I think it’s a great thing to know. Not every dog is going to be satisfied with a ball, while others will think plush toys are a big waste of time. How do you know which type of toy to offer your dog?
I used to never buy new toys for Janice and Leroy. I knew what worked for them, and stuck with the tried and true things that I knew they wouldn’t shred in minutes. The two of them are strong chewers and can get a little crazy with a fresh toy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love taking a stroll down the dog toy aisle from time to time, and lately, I’ve been trying out some new things to review for you guys. That led me to think about how you could decide what is really the best type of toy for your dog, and I came up with five tips for getting this decision right.
Choosing the right kind of toy for your dog’s needs isn’t as simple as just grabbing whatever catches your eye in the doggie aisle. Although that can be fun, it will likely lead to your dog not really playing with what you’ve picked out. If you want them to love what you’ve chosen, here are some things to consider.
- Age: Your dog’s age will be a big consideration when it comes to choosing the right toys. A very tiny puppy won’t be able to chew on a hard nylon bone; his jaw will get tired easily. For a small, young dog, a softer nylon bone or a plush toy is a better choice. However, if your dog is in the teething stage (between three and nine months old), he’ll want something stronger. As a young adult, your dog can pretty much play with anything, but once your dog passes into senior ages (after age seven), you’ll want to ease up on the harder toys again. The teeth begin to get softer at that point. At any age, toys that encourage activity, like fetching discs, are always a good idea.
- Size: The next thing to consider is the size of your dog. A teeny little toy Chihuahua isn’t going to be able to play with an extra-large Kong, for example. But at the same time, your Great Dane won’t be able to make miniature tennis balls last very long. Most dogs fall somewhere in between these two extremes, so the biggest concern is just making sure that you’re getting your dog a toy that is big enough that it can’t be accidentally swallowed. Be sure that you are throwing away any toys that have small parts that get broken – like a squeaky toy with a hole, where the dog could get the tiny squeaker out.
- Mechanics of Your Dog’s Jaw: Another thing to consider is how your dog’s jaw works. For example, if your dog primarily wants a toy to chew on, did you know that a hollow ball will be your best shot at keeping a toy around for a while? That’s because dogs chew in the back of their mouths, and a hollow ball isn’t shaped in a way that makes it easy to get into the back of the mouth.
- Texture: Be sure that you are considering the texture and your dog’s teeth. If your dog is younger or older, when their teeth are the most delicate, then they’ll need softer toys. Adult dogs might like toys of all sorts of textures, from hard and crunchy to crinkly or soft.
- Knowing Your Dog: Finally, you should consider what you know about your dog. Do they love to chase rabbits? A squeaky plush toy may be fun for them. Do they enjoy running long distances? Fetching a disc may be right up their alley. If you’ve had trouble with them chewing on your shoes, find a toy with a similar texture if you can. If you know that your dog is a really heavy chewer, be sure to pay attention to the durability of a toy, or else you’ll be buying them a new one every day!
So as you are shopping for toys, you can keep these things in mind to ensure that you get a good fit for your dog.
A Few Dog Toys for All Types of Dogs
In my experience, most dog toys can be summed up as one of the following nine types. That isn’t to say that you couldn’t find something that doesn’t fit here, but I don’t know of very many that wouldn’t fall into one of these categories. I’ll give you some pointers on which dogs might like which toys, and show you some examples of each type below.
- Ball Toys: Balls are the quintessential dog toy, and they come in all shapes and sizes. They are frequently combined with other types of toys, like treat-dispensing or squeaky toys, but there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned tennis ball. Balls are ideal for dogs that like to run around and play fetch. If you like to play in the early morning or late evening hours, you may want to consider a glow-in-the-dark ball to keep track of it. Balls work well for dog parks and hikes because they are easy to carry around, and you don’t really have to know how to use one. Just toss it, and you’re good to go. Remember to choose one that is big enough that your dog can’t swallow it. If you use a regular tennis ball with the fuzzy material, be sure your dog isn’t allowed just to sit and chew on it. The material can be pulled apart and swallowed.
- Disc Toys: For dogs that like to run long distance, or love to jump, a flying disc is a fantastic toy. It’s a bit more challenging than chasing a ball because of how far and high it can fly. Discs do require you to know just a little bit more to use them well, but it doesn’t take much practice to get the hang of tossing it just right. And there are dozens of kinds of disc toys. KONG makes one out of their tough rubber for heavy chewers. The ChuckIt! disc is very popular because of how far it can fly. You can also find discs that float in case you like to play in or around water, as well as versions made with rope, and versions made in different shapes so that they fly in weird patterns. There is an official canine sport that revolves around acrobatic disc catching, so if your dog loves this game, he’ll be in good company!
- Plush Toys: Some dogs like to treat plush toys like a friend or a baby, snuggling up with it to sleep and licking it like they are grooming it. Others prefer to rip their plush toys apart like prey, seeing them in a similar light as the rodents they were likely bred to hunt. Some dogs want to “kill” the plush toy by ripping it open and will then carry it around like a favorite blanket. There are many ways to engage in play with stuffed toys, and it seems to be a very personal thing for dogs. Many plush toys include squeakers, and some aren’t actually stuffed at all. In order to keep your house clean, you may want one of these stuff-less soft toys that will still feel the same to a dog. Another way to play with plush toys is at the end of a stick, called a flirt pole. This is especially great for owners that can’t do much physical activity themselves.
- Rope Toys: Rope toys can be used for a whole host of things, including tugging, fetching, and chewing. Ropes are actually pretty good for a dog to play with because the texture will act a lot like a toothbrush, helping brush away plaque. But once again, keep in mind that aggressive chewers will cause bits of the rope to break off, which can then be swallowed. It’s best to toss a rope toy once it starts to fray. You can find rope toys in knotted tugging styles, ball styles, or even with protective plastic parts to prevent destruction. Some manufacturers have found that braiding rope into wreathes helps prevent destruction as well.
- Squeaky Toys: Squeaky toys come in all shapes and sizes, but the premise is the same in all. The sound of the squeak activates the dog’s prey drive, making him want to annihilate the toy. For most dogs, the goal is to “kill” the toy by making it not squeak anymore. So they will continue to chew, chase, tug, or play with the toy as long as it squeaks. You can find squeaky balls, squeaky stuffed toys, squeaky fetch toys, and much more.
- Tug Toys: Not all tugging toys are ropes, though the majority are. Many are actually stuffed toys made in elongated shapes so you can tug. For dogs, tugging on a toy with their owner is a lot of fun, and mimics the way they learn to play in the wild. For them, this is one of the ultimate ways to engage with their owner. It’s important to be careful with very young or very old dogs, as well as very tiny dogs, because too much tugging can hurt their teeth. Here’s an interesting version of a tug toy that may be easier to hold than a standard rope.
- Food Dispensing Toys: Just like squeaky toys and tugging toys, food dispensing toys comes in all shapes and sizes. You can find many hollow balls and KONG toys that are made to dispense treats, but also check out toys like this interactive treat game. These toys pick up on a dog’s natural instinct to find food and keep them busy for hours by making it just hard enough to get the treat that the dog has to really try.
- Water Toys: If your dog likes to swim, then water toys are a lot of fun. You can throw a disc or a ball, or try something like these training dummies for dogs that like to dive. The main concern with water toys is making sure you can see them – go for a bright color,so you don’t lose it in the water.
- Interactive Puzzles: Interactive dog puzzles are great for dogs that aren’t as mobile, or that get bored and destructive easily. There are dozens of types of puzzles. Some dispense treats, while others have stuffed toy If your dog has to stay inside a lot and needs more outlets for energy, these are great toys to invest in. It takes a very curious dog to get interested in these types of toys, so be sure you know your dog well.
Having fun with your dog doesn’t have to involve dog toys – but it does make it even more fun for the both of you when you have them! Janice and Leroy are such heavy chewers that we basically rely on KONG products to get us through the day. Fill up a KONG with some treats or peanut butter, and you’ve got a day made for Leroy. Janice likes the fetch toys, and it took me a while to find one she wouldn’t tear up. Now that I know the best toys for my pups, I have a lot of fun finding ways to keep them interested in the same old things. Give this list of tips a try if you’re hunting for ways to keep your dog occupied.