If you are like most dog owners, your house is littered with any number of dog toys. But you can’t figure out why, with so many toys of his own, Fido doesn’t really seem interested in them. It is because they have very little value to him. In reality, your dog doesn’t need more than a few toys to be fulfilled…you just need to know how to make them valuable and fun for him.
Dog toys range from balls to fleecy/plush animals to squeakers to interactive toys (I.T.). They are a necessary component to a good relationship with a dog. What your dog will ultimately play with depends on his tastes and what you allow him to have, and what you have given value to. His tastes may change periodically, which is fine. Experts agree that rotating toys keeps the games fresh and fun–which keep your dog more interested.
What toys are best?
As a professional dog trainer, people often ask me what dog toys I recommend they should buy and which ones I use for my own dogs.
Here’s the answer: Your dog doesn’t need more than three toys. Rotate them, so he doesn’t get bored. But remember: We’re talking about an animal that eats the same food, day in/day out. And while your dog needs mental stimulation in the form of play and obedience training, they will be perfectly happy with chewing on the same toys, for years. (Much the same way young children can watch the same Barney movie 100 times without getting bored!)
So… what are the three best dog toys in my opinion?
- The Kong© rubber toy or something similar. The benefit of this toy is that they can chew on it for months and months, in most cases. It doubles as a pacifier and an interactive toy. You can also stuff it with doggie treats, cream cheese, peanut butter or whatever. West Paw Design and Planet Dog have similar rubber toys which are sometimes more durable than the Kong.
- The rope toy. This is usually sold in either white or multi-strand colors. It is a thick piece of soft rope, tied in a knot on each end. Knotted rope bones are safe for playing fetch, and can be used for teething puppies. If you give your dog a rope bone, however, you must be mindful that some dogs actually chew and swallow the fabric. This habit can be deadly! There are alternatives such as the nuts for knots which doesn’t have the fringe for dogs to chew on.
- The Nylabone. This is sold in various materials to fit the various strengths of chewing abilities dogs have. Unlike rawhide and bones, Nylabones can be washed in the dishwasher and won’t splinter or swell in your dog’s throat.
I recommend that dogs have toys appropriate to their size and temperament– Toys that encourage cooperation between pet and handler are the best (fetch can be played with almost anything).
If your dog is home alone for extended periods interactive toys that your dog can play with alone are great to occupy the day. An example is the Buster Cube, in which you place a portion of kibble and the dog releases it by turning the cube every which way. These types of toys stimulate the dog’s desire and need to learn. Another is the Intellicube which has the dog learn how to remove fabric squeak toys from a fabric cube.
Now how do I add value? Keep this maxim in mind: “Anything we get in excess, we value less.” Here is a simple regimen that is nearly foolproof, if you follow it to the letter: 1.) Put ALL the dog’s toys away for at least 24 hours. 2-3 days is best. Make sure they are out of sight. (NOTE: the dog should have at least one chewing device available at all times–chewing devices are NOT considered toys for this purpose.) 2.) After the restriction period is over, bring out one of the toys when your dog is not completely distracted by something else–we want to make him inquisitive! 3.) Ignore dog. Exclaim to the world in general (not looking at dog) how wonderful the toy is, toss it in the air, wave it around, giggle, talk silly to it, make yummy noises as you pretend to eat it, & whoop it up big time. Run all over the house with it, dog jumping in excitement and you completely ignoring him–and DO NOT allow the dog to have it!! This is important! 4.) After a few minutes of this crazy fun, put the item away again while the dog watches. 5.) Switch yourself “off” and go do something else. 6.) REPEAT the above 5 steps twice a day (once in a.m., once in p.m.) for 3 days. 7.) On the 4th day, “accidentally” allow the dog to “get” the toy as you are making a fuss over it. Play with him with it for a couple of minutes, and then put it away again. 8.) Repeat step 7, gradually drawing out the play sessions up to 5 minutes or so. Keep them fun! 9.) Continue to put the toy away after each session–this is the only way it will remain valuable! 10.) Rotate “valuable” toys occasionally just to keep Fido interested.