Like most animals, dogs like to play and need activities to keep them busy. Dogs who don’t have these opportunities can get bored or frustrated, and begin to exhibit problem behaviors, including chewing, digging, jumping up, play biting and anxiety. One way to avoid these problems is to provide toys for your dog.
Dogs who have their own toys are less likely to be attracted to children’s toys, or to use household items — such as the garden hose or your favorite shoes — as playthings. Also, just like humans, dogs get bored with the same old thing, so get your dog a variety of fun and interesting toys to play with. The items you buy should be appropriate for the size, strength, activity level and interest of your dog.
Safe play with dog toys
Every dog has his own idea of what’s fun. You may find that your dog won’t touch one toy, but spends hours with another. If your dog doesn’t like the first toy you give him, don’t give up. Try some other types, and try playing different games with them, such as fetch or tug.
For safety, you should observe how your dog likes to play with his toys. For example, some dogs love soft plush toys and will keep a soft toy forever without “killing” it. Other dogs will gleefully destroy soft toys; this is natural behavior, and it’s all part of the fun. However, it could be dangerous if parts of the toy are ingested or become lodged in the dog’s mouth or throat. Wood and plastic can become lodged in gum tissue, causing painful injuries and infections that may require medical attention. If ingested, the toy parts can create blockages in the dog’s intestines, and surgery may be needed to remove the blockage.
Always supervise your dog when he plays with any new toy until you are confident that it is safe. Check all toys periodically for wear and tear, and discard any toys that become so worn as to be unsafe.
Types of toys for dogs
It’s a good idea to let your dog play only with toys that are designed for dogs. This way, your dog will know better what things he’s allowed to play with, and what things are off-limits. If you let your dog play with old shoes or socks, for example, he may be more likely to play with your newer shoes and favorite socks, which often ends badly. Also, toys designed specifically for dogs are most often safer. With that said, though, some dogs can and will have fun destroying just about anything, even the brands of toys that come with claims that they are super tough or indestructible.
Avoid giving your dog toys that are not dog-safe (for instance, stuffed animals that have ribbons, plastic eyes, small appendages and other parts that may be chewed off). With care, you can sometimes make toys like this safe by removing the dangerous parts. Check what the stuffing is made of, too, since some toys contain sharp pieces of nut shells or plastic beads that your dog could ingest. If the toy has a squeaker inside, many dogs feel compelled to remove the noise-making item. Dogs who tend to be destructive with toys should only play with these toys under supervision. Take the toys away if you are leaving the dog alone.
Here are some different kinds of toys to try on your dog:
- Balls. Rubber balls and tennis balls are often favorite fetch toys. However, never throw them hard and fast toward the dog for her to catch; they may become lodged in the back of her mouth or throat. If your dog is extra large, use balls that are larger than tennis balls. Some dogs like to chase after rocks, but don’t use rocks as fetch toys, since they can wear down and even break your dog’s teeth.
- Items for chewing. If your dog loves chewing, you could try giving him Red Barn bully sticks or rawhide chips. Again, though, always watch the dog at first. Some dogs are so enthusiastic that they swallow without chewing enough, which could cause choking. Nylabones, Kongs, and similar dog toys are also great for chewing. Nylabones are hard rubber chew toys that come in a variety of sizes and flavors. Kong toys, which come in a variety of shapes, are great fun for dogs: You can stuff them with treats or peanut butter, freeze food in them, and hide them for a game of hide-and-seek.
- Puzzle toys. Puzzle toys are entertaining, safe toys that keep your dog occupied for a while. You put kibble and/or treats in the toy, and the dog has to work on the toy to get the food to fall out. Examples of puzzle toys are Buster Cube, Busy Buddy and Kong Wobble, but there are lots of others. Always supervise closely when your dog is working with a plastic puzzle toy, since his teeth can get caught in small holes and plastic can break into small pieces.
To get the most fun out of toys, keep some hidden away and trade a few out every week or so. That way, your dog will think she’s getting a constant supply of new toys. Also, play hide-and-seek with toys. At first, you may need to teach your dog to seek, but most dogs love the game once they get the idea. If you have a place in the yard where digging is encouraged (a dirt box, for instance), you can bury toys there for your dog to find. And don’t forget good old-fashioned fetch and Frisbee-playing with your dog.
Finally, keep in mind that any product can be dangerous, so watch your dog to find out his habits and preferences, and know how to keep him both safe and busy. Remember, too, that playing with your dog enhances both of your lives; the interaction provides exercise, stress relief, comic relief and bonding opportunities.