Saturday, August 20, 2011

Choosing toys for your dog: How to find the perfect plaything

Liam the pug loves stuffed toys
Liam and one of his favorites.
Liam has a toy obsession. He enjoys chew toys, balls, Nylabone keys, stuffed toys, rope toys and cat toys stuffed with catnip. He likes to use them as pillows when he sleeps. He likes to fetch them if you throw them. He likes to chew on them at the end of a long day. And he often likes to carry his favorite toys around in his mouth. Often, these toys completely obscure his vision, and he runs into chairs and tables. He's mad about toys.

My first dog, a Boston terrier, was the exact opposite. He would play with toys if other dogs were around, and he would engage in the occasional game of tug-of-war, but he had no interest in playing with toys on his own. Many of the toys I bought for him 10 years ago are still in the toy basket, and now Liam plays with them.

I find that most dogs do have innate toy preferences, and it can be a bit difficult to ferret those preferences out. 

While Liam will play with all toys, he has a specific preference for toys made of a curly fabric. I have no idea why. Other toys made of smooth fabrics get occasional play, but they're not nearly as popular. Toys that weigh more than 2 pounds are also not popular. When Liam is playing, I take note of the objects he's passionate about. Rather than trying to guess what he likes, I let him tell me through his play. 

To do this, you'll need a toy box filled with toys of different shapes, sizes, weights, noise-making capabilities and colors. Then, let your dog have at it while you take notes. In a few days, you'll have a very good idea of what your dog does and does not like. 

And at the end of that testing period, you can put the rejected toys to good use.

Hard toys like Kong toys, tennis balls and Nylabone toys can be donated to the Oregon Humane Society to help stimulate the pets there. Make sure the toys are in good condition. And be sure to wash them before you drop them off.

Small, stuffed toys are harder to find homes for. Kenneled dogs at shelters often can't be given these toys. If they rip the toys apart in the middle of the night, they could face fairly serious medical problems. These toys can be donated to Goodwill, where other dog owners can pick them up at a reduced cost and give them to their dogs to use while supervised. You might also have friends who would love your dog's rejected toys.