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Fall 2001 litter

Toys! Toys! Toys!

11/15/2001 Puppies and play go hand in hand. Running, wrestling, tumbling and chasing, puppies love to play. But play is so much more than a fun-filled passage of time or exertion of energy. Play is essential to ensure proper mental, physical and sensory development. Puppies need an enriched environment that will foster both mental and physical stimulation through play with toys, people and other dogs.

Puppies should be given toys that are both stimulating and interactive. Toys like Kongs and The Buster Cube encourage problem solving in order to gain bits of food hidden within. Other toys like Nylabones, Booda Bones, cow hooves and natural bones provide an excellent outlet for chewing activities. Squeak toys and fleece toys add additional sensory stimulation through sound and touch. If you puppy isn't given toys he can chew on when he is teething, he will find something of yours to chew on! If, and only if, you catch your puppy chewing on something he shouldn't, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, then offer him an acceptable chew toy instead and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.

Toys should be readily available to puppies at all times, providing them with appropriate stimulation and play. By rotating the toys available to a puppy at a given time, they remain interesting and fun. Praising puppies when they are playing with their toys lets them know that we are pleased and that this is an appropriate activity.

Toys are a great way to occupy puppies when we can not. But for puppies, playing games with their human friends is "where it's at". Games like fetch, keepaway, hide and seek, tug or come-tag not only foster bonding but are stimulating and educational as well. Puppies' owners are often afraid to play such games for fear of teaching over-excitability or other bad habits. The games themselves do NOT teach puppies to be uncontrollable, ill mannered or aggressive. The lack of established rules and guidance does. Just like our games, puppy play must have guidelines and structure that is absolute. Lack of structure and guidelines or inconsistency will contribute to confusion and frustration. This in turn will contribute to misbehavior. By saying "Let's play" just prior to initiating games and stating "Enough" just as we end a session or take a break, we can help our puppies to understand that they must wait until we initiate play and must also honor that we end it. Also, by stating "Enough" and ending play momentarily when puppies bite or jump or become too boisterous, we can clearly relay that these behaviors are inappropriate in play.

There is no “right” or “best” dog toy. They all fulfill a part of a puppy’s (or dog’s) development. Toys should be appropriate for your dog’s current size. Balls and other toys that are too small can easily be swallowed or become lodged in your dog’s mouth or throat. The ball that your puppy had when he was small may choke an older dog. Some dogs inhale rawhide chews, and may get an intestinal obstruction. Watch how your dog plays with toys, and how he chews on rawhide. "chewies" like hooves, pig’s ears and rawhides, should be supervision-only goodies. Take note of any toy that contains a "squeaker" buried in its center. Your dog may feel that he must find and destroy the squeak-source and could ingest it, in which case squeaking objects should be "supervision only" toys.

So many toys, so little time!

Toys We Recommend

Active Toys:

  • Very hard rubber toys, like Nylabone-type products and Kong-type products. These are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and are fun for chewing and for carrying around.
  • "Rope" toys that are usually available in a "bone" shape with knotted ends.
  • Tennis balls make great dog toys, but keep an eye out for any that could be chewed through and discard them.

Distraction Toys:

  • Kong-type toys, especially when filled with broken-up treats or, even better, a mixture of broken-up treats and peanut butter. The right size Kong can keep a puppy or dog busy for hours. Only by chewing diligently can your dog access the treats, and then only in small bits - very rewarding! Double-check with your veterinarian about whether or not you should give peanut butter to your dog.
  • "Busy-box" toys are large rubber cubes with hiding places for treats. Only by moving the cube around with his nose, mouth and paws, can your dog access the goodies.

Comfort Toys:

  • Soft stuffed toys are good for several purposes, but aren’t appropriate for all dogs. For some dogs, the stuffed toy should be small enough to carry around. For dogs that want to shake or "kill" the toy, it should be the size that "prey" would be for that size dog (mouse-size, rabbit-size or duck-size).
  • Dirty laundry, like an old t-shirt, pillowcase, towel or blanket, can be very comforting to a dog, especially if it smells like you! Be forewarned that the item could be destroyed by industrious fluffing, carrying and nosing.

Get The Most Out Of Toys!