The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Toys.

Toys. One of the number one things I am asked about as a trainer. What kinds? Why won’t Fido play with this toy? How do I get Precious to stop chewing up all of the toys? Why do they chew the chair/my shoes/pillows/carpeting/me when they have a WHOLE BOX of toys?!

99% of the time, my response is actually a question. Where are the toys located? And the response is usually: “Well Poochie has a toy box in the livingroom where she will go and pick what she wants…” Well, therein lies the problem. (Note: While, boredom is the most common reason for chewing, it is not the only reason.)

In many ways, dogs are just like children. We hear people call their dogs “fur babies” and “children” they’re not totally wrong! “Mommy, I’m bored!” We’ve all heard it… and we’ve all wondered how this child is possible bored with a playroom full of great toys. Just like that child, if your dog has 24/7 access to toys they are going to get bored with them, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have expendable income to just go out and buy a new toy everyday! The solution: pick the toys up and only offer your dog a select few during “play time”. Then when playtime is over, put them away. My dogs have stuffed animals they have long since destroyed, leaving only the skins of the poor christmas characters… but when I pull these lifeless, tattered skins from the box, they still go nutty and play with them like its a brand new toy, straight from the packaging!

Now, an under-stimulated dog is often a destructive dog. Not only can they become destructive, but if your dog is not mentally engaged they can begin to show behavioral problems such as aggression and anxiety. Play time isn’t only for fun, it’s also a great way to strengthen your bond as well as stimulate your pup.

There are basically two general types of toys; isolation and interactive.

Isolation toys are toys that your pup will play with alone. These are things like the Kong, meaty bones, Nylabones, treat puzzles, etc. Toys that your dog will enjoy alone. While we are talking about this, I never recommend rawhide in any situation, ever. There are many healthier, safer alternatives. Rawhide, especially the bleached rawhide is unhealthy. It’s not uncommon rawhide bones have trace chemicals in it, IE BLEACH. Beside it lacking in the nutrition department, its also dangerous. Often when dogs chew rawhide, they rip of large chunks and swallow it. Depending on the size of the piece, it can get stuck at any point in the dog’s digestive tract and cause a major, expensive problem.

Interactive toys are the kind that require another dog or human to make it fun and stimulating. Things like balls, rope toys, a flirt pole, stuffed animals, frisbees, etc. These toys should only be given to your dog when they have a playmate, whether it be canine or human, for maximum play potential and for safety. We have all picked up the fluff from a murdered Teddy, and that fluff ingested can cause blockages which is a very pricey and potentially painful surgery. A client, just this last week, asked why rope toys are in the interactive category because she was told they “floss” the dog’s teeth if they are allowed to chew it. While I admit, I don’t know whether the flossing theory is true or not, I do know the rope can shed and be ripped apart into smaller, swallowable pieces. These pieces can collect and cause a major blockage. Now, I don’t mean to make the average pet owner fear these toys for they can be incredibly fun for your dog (Who doesn’t love a game of tug?), I simply mean to educate and hopefully help you to avoid some pricey vet bills and potential heartache.

I recommend that dogs are always monitored while playing with toys and the toys are regularly checked over for damages and sharp, broke, ripped or dangerous pieces.

Here are some fun ways to use toys you may have or to even make some homemade toys:

  • A fun summer treat using the Kong is to clog the small end with peanut butter, freeze it. Once the peanut butter is frozen, you can fill the kong with broth of your choosing and again, freeze it. I recommend giving this toy outside for it can become quite the mess, but it will keep your pooch busy for some time.
  • Many dogs enjoy water bottles as toys, something about the crinkle! If you have a large tube sock, you can put an empty water bottle inside and your dog will love it! (Note: when giving dogs water bottles, remove the top as it is small and easily ingested!)
  • Cut up old jeans and tie multiple knots.
  • Take a muffin tray, hide treats in half of the holes and fill the entire tray with tennis balls. The dog will have to lift the ball out to find the treat hidden underneath!
  • A fun game I tell my clients to try is to hide small treats all over your house. Initially you want to lead your dog to the first few treats, but after they get the hang of it, the game can give them something to do while you are at work!
  • Cut a straight line in tennis balls and fill it with treats. Make sure its not a circular hole, but a slit so the dog has to really work to retrieve the treats.
  • Cut old t-shirts, or any material really, into strips and braid them, making a fun, homemade rope toy.
  • Pup-sickles! Get a homemade popsicle tray and fill it with broth, then take bully sticks and stick them in before letting them freeze! A fun, refreshing treat. (You can also use milkbones as the “popsicle stick”!)
  • Lots of dogs LOVE to play with old soccer or basketballs! If your child has outgrown his or her sport, your pup certainly has not!


There are many other ways to make fun toys for your dog, I could go on forever. Please comment if you have any other awesome suggestions and feel free to contact me with any questions!



*May that pesky mailman finally get the hint! Tail wags and puppy kisses.* 


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