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A dog enjoying a toy is as entertaining to us humans as it is to the dog. Perhaps that’s why dog owners spend roughly $50 a year on new dog toys. With hundreds, if not thousands, of toys to choose from, how do you choose a toy your dog will love instead of spending your money on what seems like a terrific toy only to watch your dog ignore it?

Those in the pet industry break down dog toys into categories such as training toys, treat-dispensing toys, interactive toys, comfort toys, and self-amusement toys. Short of letting your dog try every toy on the pet store shelf, here are some helpful tips for choosing the right toys.

If Your Dog Likes to Chase Things

Of course, there are the ubiquitous tennis balls. You’ll want a multipack of these because, no matter how great a retriever your dog is, some balls will disappear. If you play catch with your dog at a dog park or other open space, choose colored balls to distinguish his from those belonging to other dogs. Rubber balls are more durable than standard tennis balls.

A Frisbee-like disc toy is also great for chasing. Some breeds are especially good at this, known to catch the disc in midair. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Rat Terriers, and all types of Retrievers especially love the challenge of chasing a disc toy. Choose a disc toy made specifically for dogs. They are softer and easier on the dog’s mouth.

If Your Dog Loves To Chew

Hard chew toys, dental chews, and rope toys should entertain him. If he’s a heavy chewer, choose a toy that’s durable and won’t break into small pieces. Chew toys are also useful training tools for teaching puppies what they may and may not chew.

Parson Russell Terrier laying down with its toys in the grass.

If Your Dog is Especially Attuned to Treats And Rewards

Try toys that dispense treats, such as the popular KONG toys, which you can fill with small treats that your dog retrieves as he plays with it. For mental stimulation, there are challenging toys that require a dog to work to get to the treats.

If Your Dog Likes to Cuddle and Carry Things Around in His Mouth

He’ll like a soft, squishy dog toy, made of fleece or plush. If it has a squeaker, so much the better. Just like small children, a dog may bond with his special toy and even sleep with it.

Dog Toy Studies

If you prefer to get more scientific about this, studies were done several years ago on why dogs prefer some toys over others. Researchers at the University of Giessen in Germany and the University of Lincoln in England studied Labrador Retrievers, which are famous for their love of play. The results may help you choose dog toys that won’t be left gathering dust in a corner.

  • Researchers think that dogs perceive toys the same way that wolves perceive prey. They like toys that smell like food, make noise, and can be torn apart. However, be careful with toys that break into small pieces that can be harmful if swallowed.
  • Hard, quiet toys may be less interesting. If your dog can’t tear it apart, chew on it, or have it make a noise, what’s the point?
  • Dogs are much more interested in new toys. In the study using Labrador Retrievers, the dogs were invariably interested in each new toy, but only for a short while. The dogs lost interest once the toy became familiar.

Because we’re not going to present our pets with a new toy every day, Psychology Today has some tips for making an old toy seem new again:

Instead of leaving toys scattered around, put each toy away once in a while. Employing the adage, “out of sight, out of mind,” the toy will seem new again when you pull it out for playtime.

You can also make an old dog toy seem new by changing its scent. Roll it in the grass, give it a light spray with fabric softener, or dab it with some other scent to give it a new smell, and it may seem like new to your dog.

Most of all, dogs prefer any toy that also involves you. They’re social animals and are much more excited if you participate. Old dog toy, new dog toy, or just an old sock — it won’t matter as long as you’re playing with him. As you may expect, having a playmate is a lot more fun than playing alone.
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