Picture it: the frayed rope toy in between you and your dog. You’re pulling; your dog is pulling, both of you growling. Your dog accidentally loses bite and quickly pops back, trying to grab the toy but nipping your hand instead. Here is where things could get ugly: your dog could continually pop back toward the toy until grabbing the rope and you might notice the behavior becoming borderline aggressive. Adrenaline rushes – you can see it in your pup’s eyes, more wild than usual. If you don’t gain control over the moment right then and there, it could turn into prey drive toward the rope and you might just happen to be in the way. What if it was a child on the other end of the rope or a stranger who doesn’t know how to gain control over the situation? What if you have left the room and aren’t around to bark orders?
There are many reasons why we give our dogs toys: dental health, comfort or play. In an email interview, Arvella Lesnack, the primary contact for Pet Adoption Services (an animal rescue group based in Kenner) writes, “The first step in choosing a dog toy is to stay away from toys that could present a danger. When choosing a toy for your dog, it is important to know for what purpose you intend it. Will it be a comfort toy, primarily a chew toy or an interactive toy?” The key to choosing a toy for your dog is not necessarily what kind of toy; learning your dog’s behavior is far more important. That will dictate what toy best fits him or her; to figure out which toy best fits your dog, never leave them alone with a toy before you know how they will respond. Here are some of the most popular toys, along with the reasons they are used and possible issues you might face:
These can be considered “comfort toys that can also be interactive,” writes Lesnack. Maybe most importantly, “They are absolutely not for chewers.” If you have a dog that is not much of a chewer, then make sure to follow these parameters: know what material is inside the toy. The stuffed animal should be filled with fiber or fabric. No beans or pellets. Make sure there are no buttons or zippers on the outside of the toy. If there are, remove them and sew up the resulting hole(s). If there is a squeaker inside, you may want to remove that as well.
Most Durable Toys
For strong chewers, hardiness may be the deciding factor for the “right” toy. Depending on Fido’s chewing habits, Kong toys might be a good choice but they are not indestructible. My pit bull Henry does not destroy Kong toys but an adorable and sweet dachshund mix pup I fostered once ripped off the top of Henry’s Kong toy in a matter of minutes. She was generally not destructive with toys, such as stuffed animals, but she could shred a Kong before you realized what she was doing. Non-edible Nylabones have been the best option for Henry, who has always been a very powerful chewer and they “can stand up pretty good to sharp puppy teeth,” according to Lesnack. The DuraChew line is a good option but Lesnack adds that you must make sure the bone is large enough so that it does not become stuck in your pooch’s throat. If you have multiple dogs, purchase bones in the size for your largest dog so that there is no threat of choking.
Rawhide is excellent for dental health since it encourages chewing, but it is not excellent for digestive health. Many dogs experience stomach upset from chewing rawhide bones and may develop extensive digestive problems that plague them in the future, including unforeseen blockages. Lesnack writes, “The biggest concern, though, is that the chewed pieces can become lodged in the dog’s throat.” If you choose to give your dog rawhide chews, then monitor it very closely. However, there are better chewing options, such as Bully Sticks, that do not present the hazards of choking or blockages.
Rope and Tug-of-War Toys
These are interactive toys. Your dog should not be left alone with any of these toys as they are not meant for chewing or comfort. Rope toys, which include most tug toys, present some of the highest possibility of choking or blockages. It does not take long, nor does it take much ingestion, to create a fatal blockage. Additionally, any kind of tug-of-war game should not be instigated with dogs who become easily hyperactive. If you have mastered the “drop it” or other release command and your role as alpha has been enforced with your pooch, then you can safely play this sort of game. Lesnack writes, “Never initiate tug-of-war with a dog you have just met or that you do not know well.”
By nature, squeaky toys trigger hyperactivity. Lesnack recommends that squeaky toys be used for specific events such as photographs, stimulation for young pups or deafness testing. Most dogs become destructive toward the squeaker and some dogs, like Henry, destroy the toy within seconds in order to “kill” the squeaker. Allowing a dog to do this teaches them that it is okay to destroy whatever is making the squeaky noise; this can lead to aggression toward small animals or children. If your dog is not destructive, however, Lesnack adds, “The sanity of the owner should be considered. Anyone who has been in a room with a dog that is incessantly chewing a squeaky toy understands.”
Choosing a toy for your dog is a great way to cultivate the connection with your furry best friend. Learning their behaviors, what triggers them and what brings out their bad side (or their good side) brings you closer to them. Remember to never leave your dog alone with a new toy and also remember that all dogs are different. A toy that works for your friend’s dog may not work for yours. Choose toys that lead to positive behavior and don’t forget that choosing a toy is just as important as not allowing your dog to bite: choosing the wrong toy for your dog can lead to aggression and fear; but choosing the right one can lead to calmness and contentedness.