You can walk into nearly any pet store and get bombarded with a plethora of dog toys. While some are merely for money-making and marketing purposes (does your dog really need a stuffed Easter Bunny that he is going to destroy in 3.2 seconds flat or a squeaky ball with your favorite sports team on it?), the good toy-making companies understand the logical need for a dog to have opportunities for the right kind of enrichment, mental stimulation, and outlet for his energy. This means having a durable item that engages your dog’s mind, that he can chew without destruction or that encourages him to interact with other social beings in the proper way, and which he can enjoy time and time again.
You may find that you already have some toys for your dog and he doesn’t seem interested in them. This could be because they are the wrong kind to fill his particular needs, he doesn’t know how to engage with a particular toy, or he just doesn’t have a preference towards the ones that he has. Every dog is different and what some dogs love, others could care less for. Have you ever met a child that has 20 toys sitting in her toy chest yet she swears she has nothing to play with and wants what her friend has? I often advise my clients that while having a number of great toys to choose from can give you a better chance at success, the number of toys doesn’t mean as much as the quality of the toys and what the dog gets out of playing with them. So to save money, I recommend steering clear of the cute ones that are easily destroyed (and then you have to replace them) or that don’t really serve a purpose for your dog, and instead spend the money to get the good stuff that will more likely engage your dog in the appropriate ways.
This is a list of some of my favorite dog toys and chews, collected over the years through use with a variety of different dogs. These items tend to hold up well, even to strong chewers (though if your dog has a strong propensity for chewing, you will want to monitor him with some of the puzzle toys at first to ensure he doesn’t abuse what the toy should be used for). You should be able to find many of these items either in a local pet store (some of the smaller boutique stores tend to carry this caliber over some of the larger chain stores), as well as online on such sites as Amazon and Chewy.
The allure behind puzzle toys is that they give your dog something productive to focus on, provoking your dog’s problem-solving skills and engaging his brain (kind of like how we humans will do a crossword or Sodoku puzzle, or play video games). They can be a good source for some stimulation and can use up some of your dog’s mental energy.
For many of these you can use smaller treats for beginners/easy play and larger-sized treats for increased difficulty. Some even include adjustable difficulty levels. Just remember – you want to give your dog just enough of a challenge, but you don’t want to make the treats impossible to get out or this can actually build frustration or anxiety for some dogs. If you’re not sure about the difficulty level, test it out yourself before giving it to your dog. If you can’t get the treats out, chances are your dog won’t be able to either!
These are the toys that encourage social interaction and fulfill a dog’s need to engage with other social beings. Sometimes a dog doesn’t want to play by himself – he wants to play with you or another dog! Some of these toys are not meant to be left with the dog unattended so once playtime is over, I recommend putting these toys away. This will also keep your dog thinking they are exciting (for next time) and will also keep the toys in tip-top shape!
A dog takes a lot of his energy out through his mouth – it’s why dogs tend to mouth at you when they’re excited, go to town on a bone when they’re stressed, or chew your furniture when they’re bored. To keep your dog in a more balanced emotional state, I recommend providing natural chews at least a few times a week. Some of them are edible, easily digestible and are not meant to last as long depending on how strong of a chewer he is, while others may last longer and give your dog several days of enjoyment.
I strongly recommend natural chews, as in chews that are actually derived from other animals and whole foods and not created in a lab. The right kinds of these chews have not gone through any chemical processes and are still as close to their biological state as is safe for dog consumption (unlike rawhide, which goes through a major chemical process – if you ever watch videos about how rawhide is made, you’ll wonder why it’s even allowed on the market!). This means no formaldehyde, unhealthy fillers (like corn meal) that dogs’ stomachs don’t process well, and no artificial colors (which have been linked to hyperactivity). In addition, using these natural chews means that more parts of the animal are being used and not wasted when humans harvest these animals for meat.
Using these toys and chews to provide your dog some mental stimulation and an outlet for his energy will keep him in a more balanced emotional state. Particularly on days where he can’t get enough physical activity, these items will at least take the edge off so your dog isn’t raring to go crazy at the first sign of any kind of stimulating situation! Your dog will be happy, you will be happy – sounds like a key ingredient in the recipe to harmony!
NOTE: As with any product, please supervise your dog with these items until you know how he will react to them. With the edible chews, introducing a new substance may initially cause stomach upset or loose stool if your dog has a sensitive stomach or is not used to trying new things. If this occurs, wait a few days and then reintroduce the item gradually (i.e. for a shorter period of time or a smaller piece. Also make sure it is far enough from meal time so he doesn’t take in more than his stomach is used to). If stomach upset still occurs, discontinue use – your dog may have an allergy or trouble processing that particular item. If you have never used an item with this level of value for your dog before and guarding behavior occurs, discontinue use until a behavioral professional can help you teach your dog that he can enjoy these items in peace without fear of them being taken away by you or another animal.
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA