Selecting the Right Dog Toy

Toys are an important part of owning a pet.  Selecting the right dog toy is just as vital.  They provide entertainment, enrichment and can contribute to dental health.  Not all toys are created equal and more often than not, the toy is ignored or the other end of the spectrum – torn to bits.  Here is my guide to selecting the right kind of toy for your pet.

For any of these toys, any time you introduce a new type to your pet, always monitor them before leaving them alone with it.  Every pet is different and it’s always best to know before you come home to some sort of disaster.


Chew Toys:

The purpose of a chew toy is pretty self explanatory  (hint – to chew!) but many people don’t realize that the rope toy they bought does not make a good chew toy.  What does?

  • Indestructible (as close as possible) – toys that can be ripped apart easily, are not considered chew toys (stuffed animals, rope toys, etc)
  • Firm (to withstand chewing) but not too hard!  This is an important aspect of a chew toy because toys that are too hard can wear or break the teeth.  A good test for a chew toy is to press your fingernail into it – it should have some give.  It is for this reason that I don’t like nylon toys, cow bones, antlers, etc.  This is especially true for dogs who are large, with powerful jaws.  In fact, before I was properly educated, I suspect that Enzo’s broken upper fourth premolar (the large tooth in the very back of the mouth) was cracked because of a nylon toy.  That extraction wasn’t fun for him or for my pocket book.  There are too many good toys on the market to run the risk.  Still not convinced? Dr. Marty Becker backs me up!  Okay – not really me, just the notion that some toys are not appropriate for dogs to chew on.

I’ve mentioned it before, but Kong puts out a great rubber chew toy product.  I won’t say that they are indestructible, as I’ve known some dogs of the pitbull variety who do tear them up, but I think they are one of the best on the market.  I have two boxers and have had to replace their kong toys maybe once or twice in their life due to wear.  I love that you can stuff them (so they double as an enrichment toy).  They also come in many different varieties.  *I did just notice that Kong has a deer antler advertised on their website.  See my above notes on deer antlers for my opinion on them.

For any toy that is intended to be a chew toy, monitor the toy for signs of break down.  These toys aren’t meant to be eaten.  I knew I needed to replace my kong because there were cracks in the rubber where they frequently chewed.

Tug Toys:

Tug toys are not usually developed to be chew toys.  Their purpose is to initiate a tug game between a dog and their person or two dogs.  They come in all shapes and sizes but are most commonly found as threads forming a rope that’s wound into a bone shape.  tug bone

Here’s where watching your dog with a new toy comes in handy.  A lot of dogs (mine included) will start to chew on the loose end of the rope bone.  With very little effort, they start to yank the threads loose.  If a dog ingests a lot of these (say – being left alone for a day and chewing to their heart’s content), they can cause problems.  I keep my tug toys stowed until I am around to make sure they don’t start chewing on them and instead, use them as intended.

Not all dogs enjoy tug toys.  A lot of them do.

These need replacing more often than the chew toys.  My dogs are avid tuggers and I’ve found that the rope knot gets gross with their slobber.  I don’t know if washing will break it down faster.  It’s just easier for me to buy a new one after a while.  I’ve found that some of the rope toys are made better than others.  If yours starts breaking down, just replace it.

** Use some caution with tug toys to help protect their teeth.  Never jerk or yank the toy from your dog’s mouth.  Never attempt to “lift them” off the ground with the toy.

Fetch Toys

Who doesn’t love a good game of fetch?! Just a person and their dog – connected by a brightly colored, well-loved toy.


Most fetch toys shouldn’t be used as chew toys.  They aren’t made to be as durable.  Since a good game of fetch is done with you, the toy that you use shouldn’t be left out unless you are around.  I’ve lost many a tennis ball to an enterprising boxer deciding it should be shredded instead of thrown.

These can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Tennis balls, rubber toys shaped like sticks, frisbees, and for some smaller dogs – stuffed toys.  It should be large enough for your dog’s mouth so that they don’t present a choking hazard when thrown (some dogs are very enthusiastic).

As much as I like to advocate for interaction with your pet, there are some very interesting devices out there for dogs who like to fetch.  iFetch Pet Toy is one of them.  I haven’t actually tried this out but I do know fetch-loving Goldens (like the one in the picture) who would love it.  It isn’t cheap, but for dogs who will use it – it’s priceless.


Dogs benefit from games that make their minds work.  These toys serve some purpose.  Sometimes, supervision is required and sometimes, not.  Kongs are considered enrichment/puzzle toys and are a good example of something that doesn’t usually need supervision.

The few that I’ve seen in pet stores are expensive (at least, to me).  A while back, I did a search for homemade dog puzzle toys and was satisfied with the results.  One of them had you get an old muffin pan.  Crumble sheets of paper to place in the cups, place a treat under one of the crumbled papers, obscuring it.  Let your dog sniff it out.

A lot of these puzzle toys require interaction.  You can’t expect to set a puzzle down in front of your dog and expect them to just know what to do.  It’s like putting a new game in front of you, without instructions, and expecting you to know what to do.  Ease them into it.  Maybe make it obvious at first (in the above example) and just put a treat in one of the cups without the paper.  When they get the point of finding a treat in one of the cups, then you can progress.

This is a neat DIY toy.

This is a neat DIY toy.


Selecting a Toy

When selecting a toy, think about the purpose you want for it.  Do you want something that your dog can do by himself?  Do you want something travel-ready, a tried and true favorite?  What about something that can bond you together?  This will help you choose which toy is appropriate.  If you are trying a type of toy for the first time, always supervise your dog first.  Just like most things that involve pets, each pet is different and knowing the relationship your pet has with toys is the first step.

What breed do you have?  Sometimes the type of toy can depend on the breed of dog that you have.  The mighty Labrador Retriever would love to fetch for you all day long.  They will need to fetch something durable and hardy like a tennis ball or rubber stick.  They may not like a tiny stuffed toy that doesn’t really go anywhere when you throw it.  Likewise, your dachshund may love to dig little stuffed squirrels out of their little stuffed cage and may look at you like you’re crazy when you throw a water toy into a lake and expect them to go and get it.



List of inappropriate toys:

  • rawhides (not digestible – many better alternatives)
  • bones (of any kind – too hard and likewise not digestible)
  • antlers (too hard)
  • toys made of hard plastic (you know the kind, throw it wrong and it breaks something)
  • any toy that your dog chews into bits with or without supervision (you don’t want anything that could either be a choking risk or an obstruction risk)

Hopefully, this made it easier to select the right dog toy. Am I missing any type of toy?  Do you agree with the above?  Disagree?  Let me know! I always welcome input.

2 thoughts on “Selecting the Right Dog Toy

  1. Great info! The Kyjen Hide-a-Squirrel that you pictured is one of our dogs all time favorites. We are also big fans of Chuck-it frisbee’s and have established quite the collection.

    Our favorite toy of the past year is definitely the Puller by Collar company (review linked in our name above). It is a set of durable foam rings that are ideal for tug, fetch, training and exercise. Our Golden Charlie is obsessed and they are still going strong a year in.

    • Thanks for the comment! The pictures of Charlie and the Puller toy are beautiful! What a handsome boy. He looks like he’s having a blast with it. I haven’t tried the squirrel one yet. Enzo likes to shred stuffed toys, so while he would love it, it might not have a very long life.

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