This article is brought to you by Christie Canfield of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline training team. The helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone support line staffed by experienced dog trainers.
It can be bewildering. Enter a pet supply shop to buy your dog a present and face aisle after aisle of different toys. Which one and which type to choose?
One major rule to keep in mind when choosing a toy is safety. Carefully inspect toys and disregard those that appear less durable and more easily destroyed and ingested.
You want to make sure you choose quality toys to help avoid hazards like choking, swallowing parts or broken teeth, which lead to high vet bills and extreme discomfort for your dog.
Here is a breakdown of types of popular toys:
Chew toys are a favorite of dogs of all ages. Malleable rubber toys are hugely popular; just make sure these toys have a hole at each end so not to create a suction that can trap your dog’s tongue inside.
For teething puppies, try a hollow rubber toy stuffed with something soft, then frozen overnight. The coolness will help soothe sore gums, and because it is frozen, it will occupy your dog longer.
Natural edible chews, mostly cured animal parts, are often popular with dogs. These can include bully sticks, lamb ears, cow ears, and even esophagus or tracheas. Be careful of very hard bones or antlers with puppies as their teeth are still developing. The same applies for older dogs whose teeth may be compromised by older age. Also be careful of rawhide chews as dogs can rip off large pieces of them, causing choking and/or blockage hazards.
There are also many good brands of synthetic chew bones and toys that relieve dogs' need to chew and ususally are long-lasting.
Stuffed plush toys are more of an individual dog’s preference. Some dogs cherish them and carry them around forever; other dogs are on a mission to destroy stuffed toys. If a plush toy is ripped and the stuffing is coming out, take the toy and throw it way. If the inside has a squeaker, do not allow your dog to remove and chew the squeaker, as it may be swallowed and cause choking or an intestinal blockage. If your dog consistently destroys stuffed toys, you may want to opt not to give them to your dog.
Balls and Discs
Many breeds of dog are born to fetch. Retrieving can be a great source of fun interaction and physical exercise for both you and your dog. Some things to keep in mind when choosing fetch toys are durability and risk of tooth abrasion. It is best to choose a ball or toy made of durable rubber. Tennis balls, even those made especially for dogs, can cause abrasion to the enamel of the teeth or they can be “popped” and pieces swallowed. Also make sure you choose a ball that is an appropriate size for the size of your dog so your canine companion can’t swallow it.
Rope toys and long braided fleece toys are popular with many dogs. These are best used interactively with the owner playing tug with the dog and then putting the toy away to avoid the dog shredding and/or eating the toy. Playing tug is great fun and exercise for your dog, and it releases prey drive in an acceptable and controlled manner. If your dog does not want to release the tug toy, then switch him or her with a treat for the toy and soon the dog will learn that it is rewarding to let the owner “win.” But sometimes let your dog win the game of tug too!
Puzzles are a great way to entertain dogs of any age. It helps work them mentally, which is a necessary component of a well-rounded companion. Puzzle toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes and set-ups. Many have adjustable levels that grow with your dog’s learning habits. For dogs that are very good at problem solving, it can become difficult (and expensive) to find toys that continually challenge your dog. You can also make up your own games.
The trainers at the AKC GoodDog! Helpline have ideas for puppy puzzle games utilizing household items and other information about the importance of playing with your dog. For more information: www.akcgooddoghelpline.org
To get more great tips about training and care of your dog, join the AKC Canine Partners community, for all dogs, including mixed-breeds and rescues: For information on joining the AKC Canine Partners community: /dog-owners/canine-partners/