Well for a lot of dogs, toys are just that manky rubber tugger and tatty bit of knotted rope that are under the sofa and have been for donkeys years.
Toys? Yeah, my dog has a couple of toys... what's so important about toys?
Some dogs aren't too fussed about toys and that's fine - on the whole, those dogs are adults who lead very fulfilling lives with plenty of mental stimulation coming from other sources, but modern dog toys are a bit of a revelation, so read on anyway!
Toys need to be about the dog - not about the human!Obvious isn't it - and yet there are THOUSANDS of toys out there that are all about amusing a human and have very little to do with the dog. Those countless rubber tuggers for example - only the die hard tug enthusiast is going to bother with those and there's one very simple reason for this - they taste FOUL. Natural rubber has a VERY strong flavour and odour and a huge number of dogs actually don't like it!
Then there's all those plastic squeaky carrots and bones and newspapers - again whilst some dogs go wild for a squeaker, once that's been killed the toy is reduced to something for the dog to bring you to hint that he'd like to play - very boring if you happen to be busy.
Finally, there's often a clash between humans and their dogs about what their dog does with a toy or how their dog plays, and how THEY want to play or think their dog should play.
Humans want dogs to carry teddies around and curl up with them - dogs want to rip teddy limb from limb and remove his stuffing.
Humans want to throw the tennis ball a few times - dogs either want the ball thrown 10'0000 times, or to skin that ball like the fluorescent yellow bitch it is... that's right, kill that mofo dead!
Yeah, I don't give my dogs soft toys or squeakies because he wrecks them...Yep, I bet he does and you know what, that IS play - he plays the way he wants and needs to. The fact that it makes a tiny little bit of you cry inside as he rips the head off the fluffy zebra is not relevant here.
There are thousands of dogs out there who don't get toys, who would love toys, because the way they want to play is not the way their owners think they should play. Sometimes it is because they are buying the wrong toys of course, sometimes its because they can't accept who their dog is!
So, what toys SHOULD I be getting my dog?First thing to do is separate out the kinds of toy available. There are interactive toys, where you need to help - there are food dispensing toys - there are chewing toys/shredding toys.
I'll list a few examples with links to where you can get them (please note I am not endorsing any of these stores, its just they happen to stock them!):
Interactive toys - these toys require some input from you:The Nina Ottoson 'Dog Tornado' - the dog has to spin the sections to find the food hidden inside. Like all the Nina Ottoson range, these toys can be made a little harder as your dog gets better at them. There is now a huge range of puzzle toys from Nina Ottoson and other makers - this ones available from VetUK
I call these 'hide inside' toys - plush toys that comprise a cube or cage or some sort of container, with individual, often squeaky toys that you stuff inside and your dog has to pull out. Brilliant for dogs who love de-stuffing toys. There's a great range of these available these days, with the iCube being the original and still brilliant, and the Hide-a-bee and Intellibone and and more than I can list! Awesome toys!
This is a similar idea - pull out the eggs hidden inside the penguin.
Both these toys and a LOT more awesome positive training stuff including toys, are available from Training Lines
Along similar lines, Kong make a range of soft toy animals in two or three sizes which have a velcro closed compartment inside that holds a squeaker, or you can take the squeaker out and replace it with something else - great for dogs who like to rip open a toy and pull something out. Not the hardest wearing of toys (I've mended our Errol's Platy Duck a few times now!) but a lot of dogs are actually satisfied once they have ripped the toy open!
All these toys will require supervision from you and are not designed to be given to your dog unsupervised at all. You need to be there to ensure your dog isn't getting the food from a puzzle toy by flipping it upside down or chewing the lid off! You need to be there to stuff the eggs back in the penguin, etc etc.
Food Dispensing ToysThese toys all require you to stuff them and/or put them together but your dog can be left with these whilst you get on with something else.
Here's the original and brilliant Kong. It comes in a variety of sizes (don't bother with the tiny puppy size) and also in black for power-chewers. Now some dogs HAVE managed to wreck Kongs but they are few and far between, and this generally happens when a dog is given a Kong that has been stuffed in such a way as it is too difficult for that dogs skill level. You MUST teach a dog how to use a Kong, working your way up from 'food that almost falls right out' to 'hardcore frozen, gonna take hours' or you will frustrate your dog into wrecking it, or he will give up.
From left to right, Busy Buddy Twist n Treat, Linkables, Kong Genius and Tug-a-Jug. All available from Training Lines as above.
These are all variations on the same theme - fill them with food, let your dog figure out how to get at the food.
There are a lot of other food dispensing toys available, this is just a VERY small selection and I would encourage anyone and everyone, to get hold of two or three or four of these toys and use them instead of a food bowl for at least one of their dogs daily meals. You effectively get 10 - 60 minutes mental stimulation all for the price of 5 minutes stuffing them!
You do need to think about what your dog likes best however - the Tug-a-Jug is a great toy but if your dog likes to fling things a long way, it could cost you a flat screen tv or a picture window. Better for non-flingers or inside a crate! The Twist n Treat is good but not for dogs who have figured out they can chew it open - great for dogs who like to lick though, fill it with some meaty food and freeze!
The Linkables and the Genius are I think some of the most innovative toys around, satisfying a dogs urge to pull things apart, chew and lick, and you can buy as many sections as you like and link them together in different ways so the toy is much less likely to become over familiar and boring.
First two available from Training Lines, Crackle Head ball by JW, from VetUK
Chew toys need to give a dog a reason to chew - the above toys give you somewhere to put cheese spread or peanut butter, kibble in the rip-tug and the Crackle Head ball is an amazing invention, containing the plastic we use for pop-bottles that dogs LOVE to chew, but without the sharp edges or lid that make such things dangerous. JW get a massive thumbs up from me for really thinking about what dogs LIKE to do!
This is the Cuz version - the Cuz, by JW is basically a tough rubber ball... with legs! The Bad Cuz also has horns - whilst this may mean your dog chews off the legs and horns, before he does so you have a throw-toy that bounces unpredictably.
The original Cuz toys These bounce unpredictably due to their feet and horns - they squeak, but unlike standard squeaky toys these produce a much less ear-bleeding tone, more like a grunt or fart!
Mixed textures are also a good thing - this is the Petstages Orka chew/tug bone - it combines a durable, NON-nasty tasting rubber with knotted cotton giving your dog two textures to go at, and giving you a toy you can throw, he can tug, and he can chew!
Petstages make a wide range of interesting toys - do check them out and look for them in shops or online stockists.
Theres more cool stuff out there, too much for me to list but go on a google-hunt, try Zogoflex, Goughnuts for really tough chewers! For dogs with a lot of chase instinct, try Skineez and tie them to the end of a lunge whip or make your own flirt pole using a length of broomhandle and some para-cord.
I firmly believe that at the very least, all puppies should have a toy box filled with the likes of the toys above, and if your adult dog doesn't have an appropriate outlet for their chewing needs, they need mental stimulation or something to do when left home alone, then you really should invest.
I hope this post has given you some idea of the innovation thats gone into dog toys and what is actually out there - as I say, there is a massive range of stuff, I have barely scratched the surface, but I hope it inspires you to fill your dogs toybox with the good stuff and ditch the boring things!
(NB - None of the stores or manufacturers listed here paid me or gave me stuff to feature them - if they'd LIKE to, they'd be more than welcome!)