Toys, Toys and More Toys
So often, I am asked what kind of dog toys someone should get for their new puppy or adult dog but this isn't always the easiest question to answer because, just like everything else "dog", it depends entirely on that individual dog and what they find the most interesting or the most fun! Not unlike humans, dogs have very individual preferences, likes and dislikes. There are a variety of factors that someone would need to consider before making a purchase. You really want your purchase to be an "investment" in your pet's overall well-being as opposed to money simply "spent" with the hope that you will get a decent reaction from Fluffy.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you begin looking for that elusive "perfect" toy:
How old is your dog? The younger kids (less than a year old) have a tendency to be easily influenced to accept just about any toy that is put in front of them provided the interaction with their new toy is accompanied by their human. At this stage, we can greatly influence their toy-related preferences that go with them into adulthood. Dogs that are more than one year old usually have preferences already established. For example, they might love the flying disc and will chase and jump for it with enthusiasm but visually ignore a ball that rolls past them.
Are they motivated by food? Dogs who are enthusiastic about their food and treats can be easily drawn to treat dispensing toys and puzzles that cause them to have to work and problem solve.
Do they like to jump and/or chase? Dogs who really enjoy running and jumping are usually drawn more quickly to the flying disc whereas the dog who stays lower to the ground will generally prefer the ball.
How small/big is your dog? Most toys that are designed for dogs come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the 2lb Yorkies to the 120lb Great Danes. When selecting a high quality pet toy, you should be looking to purchase a size that will be appropriate for them as a full grown adult. Pet companies make a lot of money from folks who buy the small toy for their new puppy then the medium size when they get a bit bigger and then the large size of the same toy when the dog becomes an adult. This is completely unnecessary when you are buying toys that you would like to see last them for a longer period of time.
Are they a strong chewer? What I am talking about here is the amount of pressure applied by the jaws when the dog bites down onto the toy and the enthusiasm with which they play with the toy. This is not to be confused with a destructive chewer. Sometimes dogs can creatively destroy items in your home if left alone long enough to accomplish the task. Just because your dog eats all of the trim around your door or has chewed your couch or coffee table doesn't automatically make them a strong chewer as opposed to simply a bored and relentless one. Dogs with a strong bite will need a strong toy that will stand the test of time.
Where is their favourite place to play? Some dogs love to play outside in large open areas, some love to play is the forest or a wooded area, others like to play inside the home while some love to swim in the water. The outdoorsy type usually enjoy the balls, discs and sticks and floating toys - the farther they fly, the better! The smaller or more timid pups generally best enjoy the treat toys or puzzles or size appropriate balls.
Now having said all of this, we have to establish the goal of the toy. Some toys are designed entirely to stimulate the dog and result in an entirely physical activity. Some example of these toys would be balls, flying discs and other toys that can fly through the air to encourage a hot pursuit (and ideally a retrieval). For less active dogs or dogs who don't enjoy the thrill of the chase, ideal toys would include problem solving puzzles or treat dispensing toys. These are also wonderful for any dog on rainy/snowy days when you can't get them out for their daily stroll. Fifteen-minutes working with a puzzle will cause the same degree of fatigue as a 1 -2 hour walk.
Today we are going to tackle the chase, jump & swim toys.... there are some important safety factors to consider before making a purchase. There are a lot of pet toy companies on the market and some take safety more seriously than others. The very first thing to look for is long-term durability. As soon as a dog toy is compromised (hole, crack, sharp edges, etc.) it should be immediately discarded. This almost places the traditional tennis ball off of the "purchase list" from the start. Tennis balls should never be left with your unsupervised pet. They are easily compromised with light chewing and, once compromised, can be quickly chewed into bite size piece that are sometimes swallowed - small enough to swallow but big enough to cause a foreign body obstruction and a $3000 surgery. Another thing to look for it to ensure that toys that can be squeezed by the mouth, such as a ball, either has no holes in it's design or has two+ designed holes. Balls with a single hole can easily attach itself to your dog's tongue or cheek when they bite down on it creating suction and causing an emergency visit to your veterinarian.
Another thing to keep in mind in that no matter how much your dog loves spending time fetching balls, sticks and toys from the water on a warm summer day, water intoxication (also known as Hyponatremia) a very real and serious condition. Water intoxication occurs when the pet ingests more water than their little body can handle and as a result deletes their sodium levels to a debilitating level. Symptoms of water intoxication include staggering/loss of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. In severe cases, there can also be difficulty breathing, collapse, loss of consciousness, seizures, coma, and death. Due to the fact that, when retrieving an object from the water, they have to carry using an open mouth that is barely above the water line. When this is happening, the dog will end up swallowing a lot of water and, the more often they go out to retrieve an object, the more water they consume. If they love going to the ocean, be aware of water intoxication known as Hypernatremia which is essentially salt poisoning. Initial signs of hypernatremia include vomiting and diarrhea, but the condition can quickly progress to neurologic symptoms like loss of coordination, seizures, progressive depression, and severe brain swelling. Although somewhat rare, it can and does happen so just be aware. The symptoms appear quickly and an immediate emergency trip to the vet is more than warranted - it's required.
Now, I certainly haven't tried every single toy on the market but I have tried a lot of them with varying degrees of success. Some have been a true investment and some have simply been money poorly spent. Here are a few that the have used and will continue to purchase and use based on their durability and ease of use.