Updated: Sep 19
Play is an important form of bonding between two beings, be they two humans, two dogs, or one of each! It teaches teamwork and instills trust in one another.
A black & white Border Collie plays tug with a flying disc with his female owner, who is crouching to play at his level. They are in an open, grassy field with trees in the distance.
Play with toys is also an excellent way to move away from food rewards when training your dog. Ask your dog for a SIT, and when he does, praise him, say his Release Word and toss a ball for him. As he learns to understand his Release Word, you can toss the ball while he is sitting without giving the Release Word until he looks at you. Voila! You’ve just taught a STAY with distractions, worked on impulse control, and built up the value of attention training all in one exercise! (NOTE: most dogs will need a few steps in between.) “But my dog won’t play with balls,” you say. That’s alright, there are toys for every play style! From catch to chase, from tug to fetch, or something in between, the possibilities are nearly endless! But before we get to my favorites, let’s talk about some things to avoid when choosing toys for your dog:
Toys to Avoid:
Toys made in China (While stuffing-free toys are least dangerous, avoid any toys made anywhere other the USA, Canada, and Germany.)
Vinyl toys (These leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals which may cause cancer or other chronic diseases, and they are easy to chew into choking-sized pieces.)
Cotton rope toys (Many dogs will chew and swallow strings from the ends, causing blockages or even slices in their intestines; they are usually far too short in length to safely tug with so you can mostly only fetch with them; they are heavy and may hurt you or your dog when being tossed; and they are difficult at best to wash/dry when dirty, even in a washing machine.)
Tennis balls (The “fuzz” scrapes the enamel off of your dog’s teeth and it can be peeled off and choked on; they can mildew; there are also many cancer-causing chemicals used in the process of making them.)
“Knobby” or “Jelly” toys (These are almost always made in China; they contain various harmful chemicals; they are not very durable and end up being choking hazards for many dogs.)
Any toy with only one hole (Your dog’s tongue can get suctioned into it and then become swollen to the point of requiring surgical removal of the toy and/or tongue! There must ALWAYS be TWO holes.)
Anything that is smaller than your dog’s muzzle (If it can fit all the way on your dog’s mouth, he could swallow it or get it lodged in his throat, even if he didn’t mean to.)
Anything that isn’t a dog toy (Keep in mind that kids’ toys weren’t meant to be chewed on by sharp teeth and strong jaws, and sticks or rocks aren’t worth the $1000’s in potential emergency vet bills.)
Now to get to the good stuff. Keep in mind that every dog will have his/her own preferences, and what may be durable for one dog may not be durable for another. Please remember that this list is NOT a chew toy list (that will come later)!
Ruff Dawg Stick (My dog’s favorite! Use it for fetch and/or tug – and it floats! It’s also lightweight, so it’s safe to play fetch in the house on non-slip floors. A great replacement for dogs who love to play with sticks. Just don’t get the cheap no-brand knock-off – it’s heavy, it sinks, and it cracks!)
Skinneeez Stuffing-Free Toys (Perfect for puppies with tiny mouths. Any brand should be fine, and I’ve found that PetSmart frequently has seasonal designs on clearance.)
Fleece Rope (Etsy has a million options, including ones with other toys --or even real fur-- braided in. You can easily braid your own with old fleece blankets or fleece remnants from a fabric store, cut into 4-inch wide strips that are 2-3 feet long. Braid tightly! Easy for puppies to bite into and fairly durable for adults, with no strings or threads to choke on. To clean, just throw them in the wash with your towels.)
Chuckit! Ultra rubber “tennis” balls (These come in 3 sizes to match your dog, and unlike actual tennis balls, these are durable, non-toxic, washable, and they can’t be peeled. They won’t ruin your dog’s tooth enamel, they have a high bounce, and they’re very difficult to pop.)
Kong Safestix (Despite their odd appearance, most dogs love these and they are incredibly durable. Play fetch or gentle tug, even at the beach or lake because it floats! It was designed for dental safety and to prevent choking or other injuries; another great replacement for dogs who love sticks.)
Holee Roller (6.5in Large or 8in XLarge) (While I will admit that these are made in China, they are independently tested for harmful chemicals in the USA. You can roll it, kick it, toss it, tug with it, or even stuff another toy or ball inside of it to make a puzzle. It also makes a great food puzzle toy when stuffed with treats wrapped up in fleece strips!)
Chewber Tug ‘n Toss (This toy is for the big and rough pups. Use for fetch, catch, and tug; it’s a guaranteed super durable rubber frisbee-type toy that even doubles as a travel food or water dish. In case you were wondering, it’s much tougher than tha Kong frisbee, although it doesn’t fly quite as well.)
Tuffy Dog Toys (Play fetch, catch, and tug, but this toy is not meant for chewing. It’s a super durable soft toy, and any shape is great with each design having it’s own “Tuff Scale” rating.)
goDog Chew Guard Toys (These toys aren’t as tough as Tuffy toys, but they are far more durable than your average soft dog toy, and they have minimal stuffing for less mess and less risk of your dog swallowing fluff. Our Large dragon has lasted nearly 3 years in a home with both a tugger and a chewer.)
Outward Hound Tail Teaser Toy (This is like a giant cat toy for your dog! Great for terriers and other high energy dogs; you can burn off extra energy in your home [on carpet only] or in your yard [on grass only], or even at the park [not a dog park]. If used thoughtfully, you can also use it to teach your dog to control his prey drive!) The Squishy Face Flirt Pole is more appropriate for medium-to-large breed dogs.
Now go have fun with your dog!