How To Choose Safe Toys For Your Dog
The television remote may have a satisfying crunch to it, but it’s not a safe toy for your dog. She doesn’t know that. The key is supervision: you are the pack leader, and your dog deserves boundaries. It’s up to you to choose safe, appropriate dog toys, make them available to her, and to supervise her play.
Why Do Dogs Need Toys?
Dog toys are not a luxury, but a necessity: they help stave off boredom, provide comfort, and help prevent problem behaviors. Toys also instigate the important business of playtime and help train younger dogs and puppies. Like children, dogs have oral fixations—everything goes into their mouths. It is how they learn about their world and satisfy strong instincts. And some breeds, including our beloved Labradors, also have a chewing fixation. Your obligation as her revered human is to help your dog learn to put sanctioned objects into her mouth to suck and chew, rather than “training out” this intuitive behavior.
What To Consider When You Choose A Dog Toy
- Your dog’s size: choose toys large enough that she can’t work them to the back of her mouth. An avid chewer will replicate what she’d do with prey, tearing and shearing it with her rear molars. Avoid too-small toys for a large dog with a strong predatory instinct, who can potentially work the toy all the way to the throat; a toy that winds up there is a choking hazard. Large rubber toys are ideal for big dogs because they are more difficult to chew and swallow.
- How active she is: her play habits will change as she ages. A teething puppy has different needs from a docile adult.
- Her own doggish play style: she may prefer a rousing game of tug-of-war, or maybe “keep away” is more to her liking. But she might simply enjoy hanging out with her toy.
- Her environment
Choose These Safe Dog Toys:
These dog toys encourage healthy play and sharing the fun. Choose:
- Hard, chewy rubber dog toys
- Indestructible dog toys
- Rope toys with knotted ends
- Tennis balls, under close supervision. The balls should be sized appropriately for her: too-small balls can be swallowed or lodge in her throat.
- Squeaky toys that beg to be attacked
Playing hide-and-seek with a favorite toy is an excellent example of an active, stimulating, and interactive game.
Task-oriented dog toys and play (find the toy, get tasty dog treats out of the toy) can release pent-up energy and alleviate the stress that comes from confinement, isolation, and boredom. Choose:
- Rubber toys with hidden treats or peanut butter
- “Busy box”-style toys with hidden treats
- Antler or natural bone that is specially treated for a dog
Soft dog toys can satisfy gentler “babying” instincts. Choose:
- Soft, machine-washable stuffed or unstuffed plush toys appropriately sized for your dog; check the toy’s label for child safety.
- Your own castoff clothing (e.g., and old T-shirt) with your smell
Keep a variety of dog toys on hand and rotate them. You can also make toys more appealing by marinating them in bouillon, smearing peanut butter on them, or freezing them with Kool-Aid or yogurt inside.
Avoid These Unsafe Dog Toys:
- Toys with string, ribbon, feathers, rubber bands, small plastic eyes, and any other embellishment your dog can remove, chew, or eat. Children’s toys and pantyhose are also dangerous. These are choking hazards and can cause a serious or fatal intestinal obstruction if she ingests them.
- If your dog disembowels stuffed toys, the stuffing itself can be a choking hazard or cause intestinal problems if swallowed.
- Tennis balls can be a choking hazard for large breeds. Additionally, too-small rubber balls quickly become slimy during play and can slip down the throat.
- Toys containing a multitude of toxins. Problems occur when dogs lick and chew toys and the toxins leach into the saliva. Trust your instincts and pay attention to your own senses. Strong chemical smells indicate residual chemicals. Use the “sniff” test: if the toy gives off a strong chemical odor, avoid it. Chemical agents may include: dyes and preservatives, heavy metals (cadmium, lead, chromium), cancer-causing agents, neurological poisons, some latex which may contain phthalates and BPA, stain guard, and fire retardants; these likely contain formaldehyde and other chemicals.
- Balls with a single air hole, which can create deadly suction
- Toys made of soft plastics
- Toys with sharp parts or corners
- Carefully supervise play with rope toys; the shards from this kind of toy can be ingested and cause intestinal blockage.
- Avoid poultry and rib bones, which tend to break and splinter. Rib bones and cow hooves can also fracture a tooth.
- Pig ears can cause intestinal distress because of the grease, nor is bone marrow recommended.
Most of the toys you give your dog should be interactive; she yearns for time with you more than anything, and safe, interactive play will foster the important bond you share. Playing with your dog and a thoughtfully chosen toy can also aid in training and help teach young dogs socialization while discouraging undesirable behavior (jumping up and mouthing, for example). But even the best dog toy alone can never replace the joy that comes from playtime with her beloved human.