As dog parents, we know that our canines need activity to keep them busy and out of trouble. Exercise is an excellent way to keep our fur kids active and healthy (as well as their humans), but when exercise isn’t possible, we buy them a variety of toys to keep them happy. But what happens when we choose the wrong toy for them?
The consequences could be as minor as coming home to a living room full of stuffing or as major as a trip to the vet for intestinal surgery to remove squeakers.
Here are nine of the most common dog toy mistakes pet parents make and how to make better toy-buying choices in the future:
Choosing a Soft Puppy Toy
“When a client gets a new puppy, I always recommend choosing a hard toy and not the soft dog toys typically labeled for puppies,” said John Charos, DVM and CEO for Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream, NY. “Even puppies can chew through those soft toys and swallow them in large chunks.” Charos said this goes for chew bones as well.
Choosing the Wrong Size Toy
Charos said that the swallowing and choking hazard that can occur with inappropriately sized toys is likely to happen more often with a large dog that is given a small ball, for example. “Big dogs can swallow small toys and balls whole,” Charos said.
“Even with a tennis ball there’s the risk of the ball getting stuck in the back of a dog’s mouth behind the teeth during extreme play, which can lead to suffocation due to the blocked airway,” dog trainer and author Victoria Schade adds. “Make sure balls used for high-drive games are sized so that they can’t become lodged in the dog’s mouth.”
Giving Your Dog Stuffed Animals Meant for Humans
While older human children may understand not to pick the eyes off of their favorite stuffed bear, your dog won’t and could end up chewing off eyes, ribbons, buttons and other possibly dangerous things from a human toy. “Your dog may like it, but there’s a lot to worry about here,” said Charos.
Schade adds that human toys aren’t built to withstand a dog’s powerful jaws, making it easier for them to rip the seams and get to whatever is inside. Dogs that have ingested pieces of toy and have a blockage might refuse to eat, vomit or have diarrhea, and might exhibit abdominal tenderness.
Giving a Dog a Toy Stuffed with Straw or Hay
“Anything with sharp stuffing can be harmful,” Charos said. Coarse toy stuffing can lead to painful mouth lacerations.
Buying dog toys from Other Countries
Charos said there isn’t much data with regards to toys from other countries, but he cautions pet owners to be careful about the origins of their pet’s toys. “There has been a lot of testing done on human toys coming into the country, but no one is really checking pet toys,” Charos said.
To avoid questionable toy quality, Schade suggests buying USA-made toys that are nontoxic and if possible, BPA-and-phthalate–free.
Giving Your Dog a Toy That Doesn’t Motivate Him or Her
Many pet parents use toys to help train their dogs, said Brian Umbach, a certified dog trainer for Reserved Barking in Alexandria, Va., but sometimes, they may be choose toys that don’t excite much of a response in their dog. “If you’re using the toy for training, you have to have something that really motivates your dog,” said Umbach. “For example, my dog loves training with a lacrosse ball. He’ll train with a tennis ball, but he doesn’t show the same enthusiasm.”
Taking a Toy Away as Punishment
Umbach says he instead would recommend giving the dog the toy when he does something good. “If he earns it, that will transfer over time to good behavior,” Umbach said.
Schade adds that using toys that your dog loves as a reward for appropriate behavior is a fantastic way to add variety to your training sessions.
Not Training with Toys Early Enough
Umbach cautions that if you don’t start training early with toys, your dog may become possessive. “Teach, ‘leave it’ to prevent puppy biting,” said Umbach. “Delay this training and your dog may become possessive or toy aggressive when someone tries to take it.”
Not Having Enough Toys
“I sometimes hear pet parents say, ‘my dog has too many toys,” said Umbach. “You can never have too many toys. You have to have enough to stimulate your dog.”
Schade suggests keeping a few toys available to your dog for daily play and keeping a selection put away. That way you can swap out the “old” toys for the “new” ones every so often to keep your dog happily engaged with them.
No matter what toy you give your dog, always monitor them with it to help avoid them swallowing hazardous materials, Charos said, adding that you should always give your canine dog-specific toys and not toys meant for cats.
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist and author who lives in a tiny house with her 5 dogs and husband.