Finding the right toys for your dog can be tough. We have spent hundreds of hours reviewing dog toys on your behalf. Our team of veterinarians have reviewed toys to bring you the best dog toys in 2021 for your beloved dog.
Keeping a dog happy is not just about giving them food and taking them out for walks. It’s also about how you relate to them the rest of the time – it’s about making them feel like valued members of the pack, and it’s about socializing and playing.
This is where dog toys come in. And it’s why choosing the right dog toy can so often be the difference between a happy dog and an unhappy one. And in fact, as we will see, the right dog toys can also actually be very useful for improving your dog’s health in a whole host of other ways. And let’s not forget that dog toys also keep our dogs nicely distracted so that we can get on with other things!
WHY DOGS LOVE PLAYING
The best way to understand dog psychology, and thus to ensure that you provide for the cognitive and emotional needs of your pet, is to remember that they are descended from wolves. This is what we call “evolutionary psychology”: looking at the traits of an animal in regards to what their value would have been in the wild. Your dog likes playing because as a puppy this is how it would have learned a lot of valuable skills. Play fighting with siblings taught it to fight, to use its senses, and to operate socially.
At the same time your dog has also gone through a lot of breeding since it was a wolf, and this will have affected its psychology in various ways as well that are crucial to understand. Basically, dogs are bred selectively to enhance certain traits and these are both physical and psychological. That means that there is going to be some difference between how a Sheep Dog and a Pit Bull behave. A Poodle for instance is a hunting dog and is very intelligent. This makes them responsive to dog training and it means that they are likely to use their nose a lot and enjoy bringing you “presents.” On the other hand a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, which is bred for fighting, is more likely to be aggressive with other animals and you need to bear that in mind when dog training.
All dogs have been chosen for how social they are with humans. This is a trait that has been selectively bred for over countless generations, and the result is that all dogs are generally a lot softer and friendlier than they would have been in the wild.
In fact, it has been postulated that many dogs have been bred to be “puppy like.” They are psychologically stunted so that they maintain that desire to want to play but never develop to become fully aggressive predators. For obvious reasons, this suits humans well.
Remembering that your dog is a combination of wild wolf, combined with domestication over countless generations, will help you to better understand the merits of each of these dog toys.
TYPES OF DOG TOYS
With all of that said, let’s take a look at some of the best types of dog toys and what makes them so popular.
The most popular and well-known type of dog toy is the chew toy. Put simply, this is a toy that a dog can wrap its jaw around and use to chew and bite. This is great for dogs because it gives them a form of stimulation, and simultaneously actually helps them to clean their teeth and encourage teething as puppies.
Teeth cleaning is a common issue for dogs. You want them to develop strong teeth, but brushing regularly isn’t always easy or practical. Letting your dog chew a chew toy on the other hand can help to a) remove plaque by scraping against their teeth and thereby removing bits of food and bacteria, and b) help to encourage the production of that saliva. Dog saliva is naturally antibacterial, and so this simple process is actually often enough to ensure that they kill off the bacteria and germs in their mouth.
Did you know that not only does this help your dog to enjoy healthier, cleaner teeth, but it also ensures that they actually have better-smelling breath? That’s because the bacteria is also what’s responsible for causing bad breath in the first place! This is a double win for sure.
When choosing a chew toy for dogs, there are a few things to consider. The first is that it needs to be resilient enough to last. Keep in mind that dogs can very quickly destroy something like a stuffed toy, so you want something that they can have a proper go of and still enjoy a few weeks later.
Another thing to consider is that a good chew toy should have multiple different textures, and different widths and shapes. This gives your dog different places to get their teeth stuck in. Finally, some chew toys also have interactive or multisensory elements, or something that a dog can try to ‘accomplish’. For instance, dogs like trying to unscrew tops of bottles, and some well-designed dog toys will replicate this aspect. Likewise, you can find dog chew toys that are scented, or that squeak. Both of these can have a greater appeal for a dog rather than something that is wholly inert.
Kongs are a type of dog chew toy that have become very popular. These toys are chew toys made from a proprietary rubber that has been shown to be very satisfying for dogs, while also being resilient to them when chewing. These are very good for your dog’s teething, but also generally highly resilient and well designed.
Kongs are generally shaped like beehives and start narrower at the bottom compared with the top. This means that they have different areas that are perfect for different parts of the jaw. At the same time, it is possible to buy some Kong toys that come with a way to store a treat. This is the perfect way to make a toy that is more stimulatory and that offers more of a goal. Your dog now has to find a way to work the treat out of the toy, which engages their brain and which also makes the toy more addictive and fun for them. This is particularly good for those smarter breeds of dog like poodles that might become more easily bored by a simple piece of rope.
Kongs also come color coded in order to denote the best option for your size of dog. For instance, the orange Kongs are ideal for extra small dogs. They are suitable for up to 5lbs. The next size up is small – the yellow Kong – which is ideal for dogs up to 20lbs. This continues in increments all the way up to XXL, which is suitable for dogs over 85lbs. You can also get Kongs that are designed for different levels of toughness. You can get puppy Kongs, classic Kongs, extreme Kongs, and senior Kongs.
Now of course a Kong is a proprietary dog toy, and therefore fairly expensive. As with any popular brand, Kong can charge a little more than other options. Keep in mind that you can entertain a dog very well with an old plastic bottle, or a secondhand plush toy from a charity shop.
BUT at the same time, Kongs give you peace of mind knowing that the item has been designed specifically with dogs in mind, and that it will last even when those dogs chew hard and for a long time. What’s more, is that you can this way be sure that your kong won’t pose any risk for your dog. There is nothing worse than buying a toy for a dog, only for a small part to pop off and get stuck in their throats. Not to create any unwanted stress, but buying a toy that has been tried and tested and is well known to be highly popular with dogs… that’s a very good option.
A ball launcher is a dog toy designed to help you play with your dog. This is a device that is designed to allow you to play fetch, but in a manner that is going to let them run a lot further and faster.
Essentially a ball launcher works by providing you with a long stick that has a scoop on the end. You use this to scoop up the ball and then swing your arm in order to throw the ball. Because the ball is now attached to your hand via a longer pole or arm, that in turn means that it will travel much further and much faster – the energy is transferred along the lever and therefore becomes much greater. The arc of the ball is likewise faster, transferring even more energy and ensuring a much further throw.
This is an ideal option for people who don’t have a particularly strong throwing arm usually, as it means they can still provide enough of a challenge for their dog and get them to really run!
An automatic ball launcher is a different idea altogether. This is a machine that will fire balls for your dog to run after, which in turn means that they will be well entertained running after the balls without you needing to do so much as lifting a finger!
Automatic ball launchers are a good option for those that have a large yard, and who want to keep their dogs fit and healthy, despite perhaps not having the energy or the health they need to walk or run with their dogs often. They’re also great options for those dogs that just have so much energy that no amount of exercise ever seems enough to let them burn it off!
Remember: your dog is descended from a wolf, and as such they will enjoy chasing after balls because this mimics the process of hunting. Dogs love spotting movement out the corner of an eye and then reacting to it by giving chase!
The great thing about a ball launcher is that it’s a toy that allows you to engage with your dog. Dogs are social, pack animals and as such, they love playing with other people. And remember, their whole playing impulse comes from playing with other dogs!
Therefore, a tug toy is an even better option. This is a toy that both you and your furry friend can pull on and wrestle with. They love having the feedback and getting to play with their Mom/Dad, and at the same time this has all the same benefits as any kind of chew toy because they are using their jaw muscles.
You can get tug toys that are simply ropes with knots in them (knots are great for your dog to get their teeth around). But better yet are toys that are more stimulatory with larger and smaller areas, and that then have some kind of cord or attachment that you can pull in order to wrestle with your dog.
We’ve already discussed the merits of chew toys that squeak, that offer some kind of scent, or that have something for the dog to try and achieve. You can take this even further with an interactive dog toy something that will provide some kind of feedback to your dogs actions. This might mean for instance something that moves or lights up when your dog bats it, or something that is able to outrun your dog.
There are many more multi-sensory dog toys that have lights, sounds, and moving parts, all of which are designed to stimulate and excite your pup!
Nylabone dog toys are dog toys that have been designed specifically to help with teething and to encourage strong healthy teeth. These toys are flavored and often look like bones in appearance, all of which helps to appeal to your dog’s wild nature and to their sense of taste. At the same time though, these toys won’t immediately be destroyed and will last a good while before they need replacing.
These toys are popular because they mimic what dogs would have done in the wild – gnaw on bones in order to get at the delicious marrow inside.
With that said, there have been some warnings issued regarding Nylabone, and specifically with regards to dogs with very sharp teeth. It has been suggested that strong enough dogs may actually fracture and shatter the Nylabones, creating harmful shards that damage their intestines.
This isn’t a problem, however, as long as you choose Nylabones that are explicitly designed for your dog’s breed and size, and as long as you choose those that are made from the right materials.
Finally, you might be wondering what toys would be best for puppies?Any toy that you get for a larger dog will work well for a puppy – from Kongs, to interactive toys, to ball launchers. The main things to remember here though are that puppies are much smaller, they have weaker jaws and more delicate teeth, and they are a lot more easily spooked! An automatic ball launcher may scare a young puppy, while a tough chew toy might pose too much of a challenge for their little mouths.Your aim is to make sure that you pick toys specifically aimed at puppies. If in doubt, then choose those toys that are smaller, lighter, and softer. And keep in mind that puppies are even more social than their elder counterparts – so anything you can find that will let you play with your puppy in order to stimulate and socialize them is absolutely guaranteed to be a big hit!
Amber grew up having golden retrievers and will always have a special place in her heart for the breed. Her love for all things "dog" helped her become a general manager at a small kennel in Ohio for several years. Acquainting dogs and understanding both their needs and limitations have given her deep insights into the boarding process many dogs face in their lives. From consistent details to play time to food and bed time, Amber will always remember the small influences she was able to present to every pooch she cared for.