What’s the point of dog toys?
Why do we buy toys for our dogs? What are they for? Like most people, I love a bit of retail therapy every now and again. I am seduced by cute, furry toys, with funny faces. I love buying presents for my dogs. They love receiving presents from me! They are so happy to have a new toy, running around waving it about and making sure to give it a good shake, or a squeak.
I suppose one of the reasons for buying toys is that it gives us and our dogs pleasure. They enjoy the stimulation of having something different to play with.
The trouble with buying cute cuddly toys for your dog is that they don’t last long! Puppies have sharp teeth and they absolutely LOVE ripping toys to shreds. They scatter the stuffing all round the room and eat ears, feet and hands, which then end up littering the garden when they reappear. Oh dear!
The thing is, if you don’t give your puppy toys to play with, they will find other things to chew and destroy! That’s what a puppy does best. So far we have lost a phone cable and a cushion to our darling Quin, but I know there is more to come, because this morning we found a tooth.
At around 4-5 months of age, puppies lose their baby teeth and their adult teeth come through. Just like with human babies, that is annoying and painful for puppies. They find relief through chewing.
In the wild, they would chew sticks and roots, or probably bits of fur and skin from the animals killed by their mother. You can buy bits of animals for your puppy to chew, such as chicken feet or pigs ears. Beware antlers though, as these can break teeth, leading to expensive vet bills for dentistry work. Luna lost a canine to an antler. Teething puppies can also be soothed with food, such as frozen Kongs, carrots or ice cubes.
Different toys for different tasks
When shopping for your dog, you need to think about meeting a variety of needs. Soft toys are great for playing with, squeaking and believe it or not, cuddling! My dogs definitely love their soft toys and some last for ages. Others, not so much.
Dogs definitely need hard toys to chew. These are often bone, or stick shaped and made of plastic, rubber or nylon. Beware rawhide, as these have been shown to be produced using hideous chemical processes, which are bad for our dogs. They also cause blockages.
Balls are of course essential. Most dogs love chasing after a ball. My dogs have a box of tennis balls they have discovered on walks; Aura is the queen of the ball. They have so much fun running around after a ball, giving it to one another – they hardly need my input at all!
A word of caution about ball chuckers: I used to use one to give the dogs long, fast runs, but decided that it was just too problematic. Too much running at top speed and jumping for a ball leads to early onset arthritis, joint damage and other possible injuries. It is also too stimulating, which can just make your dog hyper, rather than tiring them out, as you probably intended. Oh and chewing tennis balls has now been shown to erode teeth, so again, this needs to be managed.
Tuggy toys are another must have for many dogs. I use tuggy play to engage with my dog and keep their focus on me whilst training. It is super rewarding and really helps stop my puppy reacting to things going past him whilst on walks. At agility, it’s a great way of stopping dogs getting wound up by other dogs training, or competing. Some people think tuggy play can be too distracting for dogs and lead to undesired behaviour, so again, this needs to be kept in context. Dogs will play tuggy with each other, which can be fun, as long as it doesn’t lead to fights.
Alternatives to toys
If you don’t have endless funds to spend on buying toys, there are alternatives. Soft toys can be made from old socks for example. A pair of socks, one inside the other, filled with the stuffing and squeaker from an old toy can provide plenty of fun. Or buy soft toys from a charity shop.
You can use yogurt pots, juice or water bottles, or flower pots for dogs to chase around and chew. If you fill a bottle with gravel that provides an extra level of sensory play. Watch the chewing of this plastic though and take it away once it starts to break up as the pieces are much sharper than plastic bones.
Tuggy toys can be made from bits of vet bed, cut into strips. Or how about getting an old pair of jeans, tearing it into strips and plaiting it? My puppies love playing with these and they last a good while.
As you have seen, most toys have limitations. They need managing and you need to be aware of what your dog is doing, as much as possible. But they are safer than chewing sticks or stones. Ultimately, it is about keeping your dog occupied in a manageable way, rather than letting them destroy your home. There are now plenty of toys available to help challenge your dog, such as licky mats, snuffle mats etc.
When they are teething, people often despair and think about re-homing. Like many stages of puppyhood, this will pass. Most dogs stop chewing, most of the time.
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.