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How To Pick the Right Toy for Your Dog

With so many types of dog toys out there, you might be wondering how to pick the right toy for your dog. What’s safe and what’s not?

Choosing the right dog toy for your pup requires understanding your dog’s needs, activity level, and chewing ability. What’s a perfect toy for one dog, may not be at all safe for another.

When it comes to how to choose the right dog toy, here are seven things you should consider.


Size Matters

When it comes to choosing the right dog toy for your pooch, size matters. The size of your dog and the size of the toy.

Smaller dogs need smaller toys, and vice versa.

Too big a toy can lead to broken teeth in a small dog. Too small a toy can be a choking hazard for a big toy.

Consider the classic ball toy. A Chihuahua can break a tooth or strain his jaw if he tries to grab onto a ball that’s larger than his own head. On the other hand, a St. Bernard can accidentally swallow a tennis ball or get it lodged in her throat.

If you have a little dog, look for toys that are designed with small dogs in mind.


Age Matters, Too

As your dog ages, his ability to play with toys changes as well. More specifically, his ability to destroy toys, thus endangering himself changes. A small puppy with baby teeth can safely play with a soft rubber or plush toy without fear. But once that puppy starts teething and those little nippers get stronger, what is or is not safe changes.

Chew toys designed for puppies are a particularly good toy choice for young dogs. They’re designed to be chewed on but are not too hard as to break sensitive young teeth.

Through most of your dog’s adulthood, which toys you choose will be dictated by his size, play style, and personality. But as he reaches his senior years, his teeth and jaw strength will diminish. Where once a hard KONG toy used to be perfect, you might need to go softer as he gets older.


Hard vs Soft Dog Toys

How to choose the right dog toy also means knowing whether your dog will do better with a hard-backed toy or something soft.

Soft toys are not designed to withstand rough and tumble play. They’re ideal for gentle dogs that are more interested in snoozing with their toy than ripping its head off. Hard-backed toys are for dogs with lots of energy that want to chew on it or shake it around.

Big dogs, those with strong jaws, or those who will chew anything they get their teeth on will do better with hard-backed toys. These durable options allow dogs to chew and shake to their heart’s content without risking injury to themselves. (Always throw away a hard-backed toy that is starting to break or splinter.)

But give that same toy to a Papillon and there’s an excellent chance your tiny little pooch will end up with a broken tooth. A soft rubber or plush animal-shaped toy might be better for her.

For dogs looking to snuggle with their toys, you want something that’s small enough for them to carry around. But not so small, it can be accidentally swallowed.

Soft plush toys are also great for small puppies, but you’ll need to take them away if you notice your puppy is starting to chew through them. Even a little bit of ingested stuffing in a puppy can cause a life-or-death blockage the needs to be remedied immediately.


Simple Is Better …

All those ribbons and extra accessories that make a toy look cute? They’re all choking hazards and should be removed before you give the toy to your pup. Better yet? Don’t bother buying anything that has extra frills. Your dog doesn’t care if that floppy rabbit has glued-on eyes or his new teddy bear has a bowtie. He just wants something he can carry around, chew on, or shake.


… Except When It Comes to Puzzle Toys

The different types of dog toys serve various functions. Some help keep your dog active. All should help keep him amused and happy. Some toys also help stimulate his mind. When choosing toys for your dog, try to always have a few of each.

With puzzle toys, a treat (or treats) is hidden inside the toy and your dog must figure out how to get to it. Puzzle toys can be easy or hard. Which you choose should depend on your dog. Try one that has more than one skill level, so you can ramp up the difficulty the better at figuring it out he gets.

One extra note on puzzle toys. Be careful of toys that have levers, as they can be dangerous. Levers can poke your dog’s eyes or break off during play and cut your dog.


Interactive Dog Toys Encourage Bonding

While your dog needs toys he can play with alone, most dogs love playing with their owners too. In fact, the more time you spend playing with your dog, the tighter the bond between you.

When choosing toys for your dog, look for options you can play with together. Balls and frisbee-type toys are great for dogs with a natural inclination for retrieving.

Tug toys are another interactive choice. Not only can you and your dog play tug-of-war together, but if you’ve got more than one dog, they can play together too. When choosing a tug toy, always go for something with extra length. That way if your dog needs to regrip, he won’t end up biting your hand by accident.


Beware the Squeaky Toy

Any dog toy with a squeaky inside is a potential choking hazard. But that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe dog toys. It simply means they may not be right for your dog.

If your pooch is famous for destroying every toy you give him, avoid toys with squeakys. It’s way too easy for a heavy chewer to rip through the fabric and bite down on or swallow a squeaky. At best, you need to buy a new toy. At worst, he needs surgery to remove an intestinal blockage.

Not only big dogs are at risk from squeaky toys. Puppies love to chew things and even if their teeth and jaws aren’t strong enough to destroy every toy, they can be powerful enough to get through a plush toy with a squeaker inside. And that can be life or death.