'Tis the season for finding that perfect gift for those we love, and for many of us that includes the special furry family member in our lives! There is nothing more joyous for dog owners than to see their dog's excitement and joy as they enjoy a special new toy. But with so many choices, how do you choose a toy that your dog will love and won't end up gathering dust at the bottom of the toy basket? A dog's toy preference depends on her personal style of play. Here, Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Faculty Member Laurie Luck offers these suggestions for finding your dog's play preferences and choosing the perfect toy.
Finding and fostering play preferences
Some dogs are natural retrievers—fetch is their game of choice. Other dogs like to chase or be chased. Still other dogs like physical play—roughhousing is fun for them. To determine what play your dog enjoys naturally, watch your dog when he’s with other dogs. Does he like to body slam and wrestle with his doggie friends? He might enjoy an interactive toy such as a tug. Does he chase other dogs? Does he like it when other dogs chase him? He might enjoy a toy he can chase or retrieve.
When you know your dog’s play preferences, next comes the fun part: shopping for toys! There are so many toys on the market, you are sure to find one that fits your dog’s preferences. If your dog likes to chase things, take a look at toys like the Kong Ball. Or, try the Chase ‘N Pull—a stick-like pole with a sturdy rope to which you can attach just about any toy. Whip the Chase ‘N Pull back and forth or up and down, and your dog will be hooked!
Maybe your dog loves the water? Find a water-worthy toy and get him involved in play in his element. look for bright, floating toys that you can toss into the surf such as the Kong Safestix.
Does your dog go crazy for toys that make noise? If squeaking is what your dog is after, your options are almost limitless. There are toys that squeak, rattle, and crunch! Some toys, like the Kong Ocean Buddies Octopus include multiple squeakers (Outward Hound’s Long Body Gator includes 12)!. If your dog likes to chase things and enjoys squeakers, toys like the Kong Jumbler Ball can be very enticing! Buy several toys with different squeakers and see which type of squeak your dog likes the most.
If you’re looking for a fun game to play with your dog during the long winter months, try adding in a game of tug to your dog’s daily routine. Tug is physically and mentally tiring for dogs, and it’s a great way to strengthen your bond. Tug toys come in many varieties, from simple rope toys like this braided fleece toy to rubber toys like the Kong Tug Toy. Some, like the Wooly Bungee Tug, have fleece bite bars that help engage your dog’s prey drive. Others, like the Invincible Snake and the Kong Trekker Goat, contain squeakers for added excitement. For tips on how to incorporate tug into your play routine, see How to Teach Your Puppy to Play Tug of War.
If your dog doesn’t seem to like any particular game or toy, there are toys with little pockets you can put food into. The Classic Kong Toy is the gold standard of treat toys, but there are also many other fun options. Puzzle treat toys, like the Kong Quest Wishbone, the Snufl Enrichment Mat, and Orbee Tuff Snoop, are a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and even encourage natural foraging and problem-solving skills!
Top Choice = You
Don’t forget that the opportunity to play with you can be the best holiday gift of all! Working play into your daily interactions with your dog is valuable for a myriad of reasons. First of all, it’s impossible to measure the fun! Fun is an effective reinforcer in training, too, whether you are training basic manners or more advanced skills and tricks. Don’t forget that amazing side effect of playing with your dog—your relationship with your dog gets better and better.
Now get out there and play with your dog!