Using toys to improve the health and psychological well being of dogs and assist in obedience training
Overview of dog toys
There are so many dog toys to pick from that deciding which is "the best toy", can be overwhelming. Who hasn't stood in the toy isle at the pet store and wondered where to begin.
When considering which toys to get, its important to keep in mind who your dog is. You want to provide age, breed and size appropriate toys. Otherwise you may needlessly frustrate or endanger your companion. For many toys, these factors don't have an impact but for some they do.
How toys can lend a hand during training
For instance, today, tennis balls for dogs come in a wide range of sizes. If you have a small dog or a puppy, there are small tennis balls that are just the right size. Just remember, as your dog grows in size, the smaller ball can become a choking hazard, so be sure to put it away and replace it with a ball of suitable size.
One approach to the decision process is to view toys as tools for training behaviors. The goal is to use the right tool for the job. A theme we will return to repeatedly in this website.
A good example is the game of fetch. One of the most important commands we will teach our companion is recall or "come". Once you've introduced your dog to the concept of "come", fetch can become a fun way to reinforce this command. In this way, a tennis ball has now become a simple instrument for training a very important command.
What if your dog does not like to play fetch? Sometimes the solution is simply up the ante. In the beginning, you may need to throw a high value treat to get them used to chasing after something you've thrown.
One of the most frustrating behaviors your dog will develop is chewing on things they shouldn't.
Whether it was your old gardening shoes, dirty clothes on the floor or your best furniture, you'll want to correct it immediately. See our full discussion on destructive chewing and how the use of chew toys can help your dog learn what is off limits.
Crate training is another area where the strategic use of toys can make the training a whole lot more enjoyable for both you and your dog. See a full discussion of successful crate training techniques and which toys to use.
The toy basket
The 5 essential toys you want in your dog's toy box.
Some toys you'll want to bring out at the appropriate moment, while others you'll want your dog to access whenever they're in the mood. Having a box or a basket that holds their toys and is accessible anytime will help develop a healthy toy play behavior. Its important to remember to omit from the toy basket any chew toys that require supervision.
Variety and access. A theme repeated throughout this website. Just keep in mind, not every toy will be a hit all the time.
Once your dog is beyond the puppy stage and doesn't require constant supervision, having a toy basket that contains a variety of toys they can safely play with on their own is a must. Place the basket in the room where the family hangs out. The basket should include one or more types of balls, a few natural and synthetic bones that are appropriate for your dog, an antler, a knotted rope or other type of tug toy and several treat stuffing toys for starters. The stuffing toys should be withheld unless they are stuffed and only place one at a time in the basket.
The first step is getting them in the habit of checking the toy basket on their own. This can be facilitated by periodically filling the treat stuffing toy with something they like and placing it in the basket without them seeing it.
The toy box serves two purposes, first it provides a place where your dog can search for a toy to play with on his own and second, a place where he can grab a toy that he brings to you when he wants a companion to play with. Teaching them to put their toys back in the basket when they're finished is another story.
While there may seem to be an endless variety of toys, there is a short list of must-have toys to keep on hand.
Treat stuffed chew toys
These toys are usually made of rubber and resemble any number of rubber chew toys with one exception, they include a cavity. Placing peanut butter or the dog's favorite kibble inside the cavity will keep them busy for awhile.
The toy with a surprise inside
Today, treat stuffing toys are composed of either rubber or synthetic material and the cavity may be specialized to fit the manufacturers own proprietary shaped treat. The pros and cons of these and viewer's feedback on which types really keep your dog busy are discussed on the Synthetic & Rubber Chews page.
If you would rather provide your own treats for stuffing, there is no shortage of toys designed for off-the-shelf treats. Also, many of the toys are designed to be filled with tasty pastes. This can be as simple as peanut butter or if you like check out these tested recipes for stuffing.
Many dogs only play with a ball if it is thrown. Whereas, some are more creative and will toss the ball in the air for themselves. There are also a variety of crazy rubber balls that bounce in unpredictable ways and are ideal for the self starter.
Balls made from a variety of materials do more than just bounce
The tennis ball was long the standard ball for a dog, but today that simple ball has morphed into a marvel of sight and sound.
Having several types of balls available is a good practice. When your dog is ready to play, he'll learn to present you with a ball if its available.
Balls are not the only toy dogs will have fun chasing. There are many frisbee like toys that dogs also enjoy chasing. If your dog is one of these, include his favorite frisbee in the basket.
For a complete review of all types of balls and the various brands see the discussion on which ball is right for your dog.
What is the right bone for your dog? In addition to raw beef bones, bones may be processed using a variety of methods including boiled, bleached, smoked and flavored. See Hard Natural Chews for a complete discussion about different types of bones and how to pick them for your dog.
Bones are a favorite chew for most dogs
Chewing on a bone is a favorite pastime for most dogs and its a great toy to have in the toy basket. Once your dog has learned to check the basket, they'll quickly learn to search for their bone when they want to lay down and relax while chewing.
A bonus feature of many bones is that they are hollow. This is an ideal opportunity to stuff the bone and hide it in the toy basket. Let your dog discover the treasure on his own and he will be well on his way learning to check the toy basket when he's looking for something to do.
Check the condition of the bones every time you pick up. If the bone has been chewed down to a small piece or it shows signs of cracking, replace it with a new bone.
If your dog is an aggressive chewer, avoid antlers or you may end up with broken teeth. If not, these are very popular with dogs and will be one of the chews your dog will search for in the toy basket.
Observe how your dog chews. If they take the antler in their paws and tend to gnaw on one or both ends, this may be a good option. However, this may not be a good choice if they take the whole antler in their mouth and attempt to crack it using the teeth in the back of their mouth. For more details on the pros and cons of antlers see the section on antlers on the Hard Natural Chews page.
Antlers are another hit with most dogs
If antlers are a good option for your dog, they will enjoy chewing on these for extended periods. This makes antlers ideal for working on quiet time in a bed or crate. Just be sure to supervise the progress they are making and when the antler gets too small, replace it.
Knotted ropes and stuffed toys
Some dogs are able to entertain themselves with these types of toys while others are going to need a helping hand.
The knotted ropes can be chewed on and may actually provide some oral hygiene much like flossing. They're also instrumental in the game of tug. Most dogs really enjoy playing tug and its a great bonding tool.
If you have several dogs, this can be a way for multiple dogs to play together. For a full discussion on knotted ropes and other tug toys, see our full description on these types of toys.
The soft toys
The soft furry stuffed toy that was a popular chew of many dogs has spawned several new variations on the popular chew toy. Dogs loved chewing up the little stuffed toy, shaking it to pieces, then removing and piercing the little squeaker that was the heart of the little furry toy, leaving you the chore of cleaning up the stuffing scattered everywhere.
For more on the do's and don'ts of stuffed toys, see our page on plush Squeaker Toys.
Today there is a new option available for the furry animal chew toy. The stuffing has already been removed, saving you from clean up duty. For many, the question is whether their dogs will enjoy the unstuffed toy as much as the stuffed toy?
The response has been mixed. To stuff or not to stuff is thoroughly covered in Unstuffed Toys.
The toy manufacturers either independently or in response to the concern the unstuffed toy would not gain traction, introduced the unstuffed animal that has incorporated throughout, a heavy rope.
In some versions the rope may contain a series of knots inside the animal. In others the rope may be looped or braided in various configurations.
Its important to keep in mind that not all stuffed animals are created equal. Cutting corners can get your best friend in trouble. Many stuffed animals are not manufactured with the intent of being chewed up by a dog. They may contain embellishments that when chewed off become choking hazards.
Sign up for our FREE report.
"What Trainers Say About Using Toys During Training"
To receive a digital copy of our 15-page report, click on the eReport image above. The book covers some interesting applications of toys used by dog trainers to reinforce behaviors.
Your email address is totally secure and will only be used to send you the report.