Dog Toys are Essential for the Modern-Day Dog

We know dogs need to play, have fun, and engage in other activities that will expend their energy. While many pet owners would like to be the primary source for their dog’s energy expenditure, we simply cannot always be there to meet all our furry companion’s needs. When we can’t be there to meet our dog’s needs dog toys are the perfect alternative.

Dog toys serve a vital purpose in a dog’s mental development and can provide great physical exercise. They can also help strengthen the human-animal bond, as well as help as a powerful tool for behavior modification. When choosing a dog toy, we need to understand the fundamental question, “Why do dogs need to play with toys?”.

Domestic dogs have been working alongside humans for thousands of years, originally bred specifically for hunting and farming protection. Some of you may be thinking. “We never had half these toys back in my day and my dogs were fine”, and whilst that might be true, the job description and lifestyle of the modern-day pampered pooch has changed significantly over the last century. From active hunter or farm dog to a fluffy companion, live (albeit cute) couch pillow, and provider of love and comfort.

To stop us from all having to quit our jobs to become full-time hunters or live off the land on our own farm with our doggy companion, modern-day dog toys have emerged to help entertain and train our furry friends. In the absence of a “job,” dogs look for things to do to occupy their time and fulfill their chewing needs. If you don’t want your dog to choose their own chew toys, such as your sofa, pillows, or toilet paper rolls, dog toys provide them with appropriate outlets. Behaviors such as digging, barking excessively, clawing and scratching can all be curved with the right toys as well.

Toys are excellent mental stimulators that encourage active play and minimize periods of boredom. This reduces the risk of destructive or attention seeking behaviors manifesting in your pet. The best dog toys will literally enrich your dog’s life. This means that they will increase the behavioral choices of your dog (make them more creative), they will encourage dog appropriate behavior (and reduce abnormal behaviors) and increase their ability to cope with challenges and stress.

Experiment with Different Types of Toys

Many dog breeds were created to do certain tasks during a hunt. For example, Border collies chase and stalk, retrievers bring back game and pointers find prey. If you have a breed dog, you may find that your dog enjoys toys that encourage the behavior they were bred to do. The best dog toys for your dog may be those that encourage their inner instincts.

There are many different types of dog toys. Some toys are great for active play like balls to fetch, ropes to play tug-of-war and squeaky toys to arouse your pet to play. Other dog toys are good to keep your dog entertained and ignore distractions (like guests), these can be interactive dog toys you can fill with food or chew toys your dog can lay down and munch on. There are also stuffed toys which some dogs love to shake, “kill” and dissect while other dogs like to use them as comfort blankets and carry them everywhere they go.

The best dog toy depends on your unique individual dog and the many factors listed above. Dog toy selection not only depends on who your dog is but what life stage they are in. The following dog and toy factors may be helpful when considering what toys to buy your dog:

Dog factors:

  • Dog’s personality
  • Dog’s temperament
  • Dog’s breed
  • Dog’s preferences
  • Dog’s play style and energy level
  • Environment – the dog toy will be used in (pool, park, home, apartment, on walks, beach, while training, etc.) And what the weather is like where the dog will be playing with the toy (cold, warm, hot, sunny, cloudy, rain, water, mud, or dry, etc.)
  • Dog’s age
  • Dog’s health

Dog toy factors:

  • Dog toy materials
  • Dog toy scent
  • Dog toy color
  • Dog toy taste
  • Dog toy texture
  • Dog toy composition
  • Dog toy size
  • Dog toy longevity/durability
  • Dog cruelty-free certification. No testing on animals, harming animals or the environment
  • Dog toy cost. Dog toys can be expensive, especially if your dog is a destroyer of dog toys and a strong chewer. If that’s the case, consider making your own! 


Rotate Dog Toys to Keep them New

Dogs are neophiles; they love new things and experiences. Novelty is stimulating and dogs often get bored with the same familiar 5 block walk, backyard jaunt, same dog friends, people/family, and same dog toys on a daily basis. Because dogs become bored quickly with old familiar things, people, toys, and experiences, it behooves us pet parents to take advantage of a dog’s neophile qualities and expose a well-rounded, healthy dog to many new experiences on a daily basis. Dog toys are a simple way to ease boredom and stimulate, enhance, and enrich a dog’s life experiences.

When dogs get bored with their toys, the value of the toy as a mental and physical outlet is lost. You may notice that your dog will play with a new toy for about 2 to 5 minutes, then…it’s over!

Dogs like investigating new things, but similar to small children, for most dogs the novelty of a new toy will run out in about that time, 2-5 minutes. A scientific study published in 2012 in the journal Animal Cognition shows that dogs get bored with a toy about 2.5 minutes after playing with it. An earlier study shows that dogs prefer to interact with new toys than previously known ones. 

The good news is old toys can be made new again by adding a new sent. For example, you can rub a little bit of scented oil or rub the toy in someone else clothes, park leaves or grass.

Another option is to purchase interactive dog toys. Dogs are thinkers, very inquisitive by nature and they love to hunt! They have a sense of smell that cannot be beaten.  

Food dispensing toys allow you to put food or treats inside them, and leave the dog to roll, nudge, shake and nibble until the food comes out. This requires time, patience and problem-solving skills and will help your pooch enjoy quiet time alone, naturally helping to solve boredom and stop them digging a hole in the lawn. This means that you can re-use a Kong dog toy or any other interactive toy every day, just fill it with different things and make the dog use different strategies to get the food.

A little “insiders trick” is to start giving part of your dog’s daily meal in a food dispensing toy, which works to both stop them inhaling their food in 5 seconds flat, as well as keep them entertained when you go to work.

Dog Toys Should Not Replace Social Interactions

Dogs are social animals and one of the best enrichment activities you can give your dog is to play with him. The best dog toys do not substitute for social interactions. If you don’t interact with your dog and their toys, chances are your dog will start enriching and entertaining themselves, and you won’t like what your dog finds interesting, like eating poop! In addition, any toy that you use to play with your dog will have an added value because now its associated with you and having fun together!

The following are a couple of interactive games you can play with your dog that will satisfy their deep-rooted instincts to search, chase, grab and tug. 

Tug-of-war: As canines, your dog has a natural urge to grab and pull-on things with their mouth, which comes from the act of hunting in the wild. A good old session of tug-of-war with your dog provides a highly interactive activity for both you and your dog, and a great form of mental and physical exercise. The best type of toys for this are those with rope, or a combination of rope/plush or rope/rubber that are made to provide a safe way for you to play with your dog in this way. 

Fetch: The classic game of fetch, usually one of the first things that you teach your dog, right? Hunting and retrieving food are behaviors that have been bred into domestic dogs over thousands of years, so much so that it is now something that is pleasurable and exciting for them. Playing fetch, whether it be with a sturdy ball or a toy that you can toss, is a great form of physical exercise for them, as well as a way to build on the bond you have with your furry companion. The exercise you get is a bonus as well. 

Plush Toys


In addition to interactive and enrichment toys, most dogs also love stuffed plush toys. To our dogs, stuffed animals fulfill a variety of roles, from prey to sibling and plaything to squirrel-substitute. How dogs love their plushies usually boils down to whether they are a killer or a lover. Dogs who have been bred for hunting and retrieving like to have things in their mouth, it is something that is innate in their nature. Another reason could be they can really bite down and shake the toy around, almost like a simulated kill.

Dogs with less of killer instinct will cuddle with plush toys. Plush toys often provide dogs with a sense of comfort and security. For example, you might notice this if the dog always has a stuffed animal with him when there are strangers in the house.

It is important when selecting stuffed toys that you give your dog one that is safe, avoiding anything with plastic eyes or little pieces that can be chewed off as a choking hazard. Similarly, to when you are selecting toys for a baby or toddler. 

Toys Will Get Destroyed

Do not get discouraged when your dog destroys their toys – this is natural, especially for dogs who were bred to hunt. Most domestic dogs need to expend their pent-up energy. Destroying their toys is an outlet and may even be considered their “job.” Many dogs have an innate impulse to capture and to kill, even if it is just a toy. Inherently, they need a job. If your dog’s only job is to be cute, they will look for “work” to do. 

Destroying a toy is your dog’s natural way of performing a job. Tearing apart a toy can provide a sort-of mental challenge to a dog that has nothing else better to do. Working dogs and hunting dogs will most certainly act out in some way if their desire to work is not satisfied. While a bit frustrating and even expensive, it is far better to give a dog a toy to destroy than to allow them to find an alternative job that may be far more painful to pet owners. 

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day toys are an essential part of the modern-day dog’s life.  Toys serve a variety of purposes and provide many benefits to our canine companions. When it really comes down to it, toys are just FUN and they can offer a bit of extra excitement into both you and your dog’s lives.  If you are new to the topic of dog toys the following links are great additional reading:

How to pick the best and safest dog toy

Dog Toys and How to Use Them

Dog Toys: Play Time with a Purpose

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