As all pet parents know, pooches love playing with toys. But did you know that by choosing the right kind of toy for your dog you can also boost their health and help reinforce good habits?
Different dog toys are designed to offer up different benefits in terms of mental and physical stimulation. To meet their different needs, there are training toys and distraction toys; there are toys to keep dogs fit and others to soothe stress and anxiety.
There are also toys that suit big breeds, and those that suit smaller breeds. Plus, some toys are better for puppies and others are more appealing to older dogs.
Given all the options available, choosing the right dog toy can be a bit of a challenge.
Below, we’ll be running through the benefits and applications of each category of toy. We’ll also show you how to select the right toy to suit the individual needs of your dog.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOG TOY
Instead of buying toys according to the latest trend, choose according to your dog’s age, breed, size, activity level and personality.
Each dog toy has a specific use and offers certain health benefits to puppies, adult dogs, and even old dogs. For example, getting ready to welcome a puppy into your home requires you to stock up on chew toys for teething and toys for training.
When choosing a toy, it’s also important to consider your dog’s style of play. The best toys for high-energy dogs are not going to be the same for more sedentary dogs. Some dogs love to play tug-of-war, for example, while others like nothing more than running after a ball in the park.
Younger dogs and puppies will chew and play more roughly with their toys than older dogs, so you’ll usually need to choose stronger, more durable toys for them. Instead of plastic, opt for chew toys made from rubber – these make a great (and more sustainable) choice for heavy chewers!
As dogs get older and their desire to chew starts to lessen, it might be time to move on to toys that pose a challenge and offer food-related rewards. These types of toys are also perfect for cognitive stimulation. Stressed dogs or dogs with separation anxiety can benefit from similar toys, which are specifically designed to reassure and calm them.
Best toys for big dogs
While the average stuffed toy or rope will do for most dogs, they won’t last long with a larger breed. So, if you’ve got a German Shepherd, Labrador, Great Dane, Husky or Golden Retriever or other big dog, you’ll need to take a little more care when selecting their toys.
These big breeds of dog need tougher toys that are built from strong materials capable of lasting past the first playtime.
For these heavy, hard chewers, bigger sized balls and stronger toys are needed.
When it comes to buying toys for small dogs, just remember to select those that are appropriate for the size and breed of your dog. Toys that are the wrong size can easily be swallowed or become stuck in your dog's throat.
How many toys should a puppy have?
It’s natural to want to shower your new bundle of fluff with toys.
And while toys have many potential health benefits for our furry friends, dog trainers advise that too many can actually be bad for them.
Of course, buying new toys for your pup is fine (although you probably only need 10-15 toys in total), provided you only allow your puppy access to a few at any one time.
Limiting your pup’s toys teaches them important boundaries around which items are theirs to play with and which aren’t. This is vital if you want your puppy to learn to leave your slippers and sofas alone!
How many toys should a dog have?
Experts warn that – like with puppies – dogs shouldn’t be allowed to play with too many toys. They suggest keeping a stash of toys but only allowing your dog to play with around 4 or 5 toys at once. Rotate these toys weekly to keep your dog entertained.
Rotating toys keeps them exciting to play with, staving off any potential doggy boredom. Doing so also helps toys avoid too much wear and tear, which can turn them into a choking hazard.
However, if your dog has a favourite comfort soft toy, you should probably leave it out all the time to avoid causing them distress.
TYPES OF TOYS
Distraction toys and interactive games are a great way to prevent dogs from getting bored when you’re forced to leave the house for an extended period of time.
These toys are designed to keep puppies and high-energy dogs busy and give them some much-needed mental stimulation. A bored and stressed dog can resort to all sort of destructive behaviours, which is why these toys are often recommended by dog behavioural specialists.
Distraction toys include:
- Ball launchers
- Vessel toys
- Sensory toys
- Puzzle toys
You can even find interactive dog toys which dispense treats to keep your pup entertained and engaged for hours.
If you go for the latter, just remember to calculate any additional treats in your dog’s overall calorie intake. It’s also important to note that most interactive toys can’t survive much chewing, so make sure your dog is playing instead of just gnawing on it.
Smart dog breeds particularly benefit from the added mental challenge of a distraction toy. Searching for the best toys for a Golden Retriever puppy? These smarty-pants dogs tend to love nothing more than a puzzle or interactive game.
Training toys come in all shapes and sizes.
Tennis ball throwers, for example, are brilliant tools when it comes to training a puppy to “drop” and “leave.” Alongside these 9 fun outdoor games to play with your dog, launching a tennis ball for your dog to run after is also a great way to make exercise fun for them.
However, if your dog does more chewing than chasing tennis balls then Beco’s resident vet, Dr Madi Hewitson, MRCVS, has some advice for you:
“The yellow covering of a tennis ball is designed to be tough and abrasive. The sandpaper-like qualities of a tennis ball can wear teeth when it is chewed. So, watch for dogs chewing on tennis balls as it can develop gradual wear to their teeth”.
Madi suggests the following for keen tennis ball chewers:
- Regularly replace tennis balls that become worn and dirty.
- Discourage chewing.
- For those dogs who just can’t control their chomping, wean them off the tennis balls to an alternative such as, Chuckits!
- Check teeth regularly for wear and seek advice from a vet if you’re unsure.
Not making headway with tennis balls? Then go for squeaky toys or balls. These can make effective training tools as they both engage and reward dogs for performing certain commands. That’s because the squeak satisfies the hunting instinct in dogs by mimicking the sound of their captured prey.
Dog toys filled with peanut butter and other dog-friendly foods can also be useful when teaching certain skills and commands. These treat dispensing toys stimulate a dog’s cognitive development while appealing to their foraging instincts.
For those pups that have a hard time coping with everyday stressors or separation anxiety, there are now sensory calming toys out there that can help.
Some recreate the physical warmth and intimacy of a body and mimic the sound of a beating heart. Others play gentle, dog-friendly music into their ears.
Some dogs might find their anxiety eased by a more active toy, such as a distraction toy. Others, however, might be soothed by a soft, fluffy toy. If you’re wondering, “Why does my dog carry around a toy?” and you always see them with a fluffy toy in their mouth, it might be for comfort.
People are often wary of playing tug-of-war with their dogs.
However, tug-of-war is actually a healthy way for dogs to release excess energy and exercise their predatory nature.
Wondering, “Why do dogs shake their toys?” Well, it’s for the same reason dogs enjoy tug-of-war. Evolutionarily speaking, the shaking motion is how dogs would kill their prey and doing so with their toys satisfies that natural dog instinct.
Tug-of-war has other benefits for dogs: it’s great exercise and helps dog and owner bond. practice impulse control and learn important boundaries.
While it’s important not to play rough tug games with your pup as their teeth and jaws are still growing, playing them with adult dogs can help keep their teeth and muscles strong.
Tug toys often come in the form of ropes or specially designed “tuggers” with handles that keep your hand away from the dog's mouth.
The best tug toys are made from strong, durable, such as hemp or rubber. As an added bonus, toys made from these materials score high on the sustainability front.
Just make sure your dog has mastered your release command before you begin playing tug-of-war.
Chewing is not only natural for dogs but is actively good for their mental and physical health.
Because of this, it’s important that you give them safe and appropriate toys to chew on.
Failing to do so may result in your favourite clothing or furniture becoming their new chew toy! It might also lead your dog to swallow and maybe even choke on household items.
While dogs might enjoy chewing on bones, they can pose a choking hazard. This is especially true of cooked bones, which can break easily and get stuck in a dog’s throat.
At the same time, it’s important not to go for toys that are too hard as your dog might break their teeth on them. The best and safest kind of chew toys are made from strong, durable, rubber.
The other benefits of chew toys include soothing teething puppies, improved dental health, and relieving stress and anxiety. They also improve mental stimulation and prevent destructive chewing.
Plus, when it comes to the issue of sustainability, it’s credentials are right up there. Hemp grows in abundance without a need for pesticides. It grows incredibly dense and tall, freeing up precious arable land for other crops. It needs very little water and returns 60 - 70% of its nutrients back to the soil.
The tough fibres of hemp rope act as a natural toothbrush, helping to scrub off the bad stuff that gathers on your dog's teeth throughout the day. The more they chew, the cleaner their teeth. The cleaner their teeth, the more they can chew.
DOG TOYS : THE CONCLUSION
We all want to keep our dogs safe and happy. When it comes to toys, that means choosing the best quality that appeal their unique personalities.
Things to remember when selecting a toy for your dog include:
- Think “sustainability” and select toys made from eco-materials like rubber and hemp.
- Consider their personalities and individual play styles.
- Where possible, protect their health by opting for hardy, reinforced toys that can withstand a chew and tug at playtime.
- Protect your dog’s health and go for non-toxic materials where possible.
- Choose toys that are big enough to chew, and not too small to be swallowed.
And remember: a damaged toy can become a choking hazard. Remove any toys that look worse for wear and dispose of them immediately. To protect your dog’s health and wellbeing, it’s always best to observe them when playing with toys.