Still, the perception is that U.S.–made means safer. At an H.H. Backer pet trade show in Baltimore, Pattie Boden looked hard for new toys made in the U.S. She found just one. Ironically, the only certified organic toy she could find was made in China. But a few U.S. companies are indeed producing quality toys, and the shorter the production path, the better. Some companies use recycled materials (though that’s not synonymous with safer toys, it’s better for the planet). And a company focused on “earth-friendly” products is more likely to avoid problems with toxic materials.
What makes a toy special to a dog may escape human logic, but knowing your dog can help you make wiser choices.
Do you have a Type-A chomper? Technically, dogs don’t chew toys, but rather, tear and shear them as they would prey, using their premolars and molars. These teeth are situated farther back in the mouth, and any toy that finds its way into this set of grinders is a potential victim—so look for appropriately sized toys your dog can’t work to the back of his jaws. Martin relies on her dog Kodi’s play style to choose his toys. The 160-pound Newfoundland is a power chewer who “eats rather than plays with toys. He has some very good squeaky toys he has not destroyed,” she says. Most of his playthings “are the heavy-duty rubber kind.” Kodi’s style, not his large size determines Martin’s toy selection; a small dog can be a power chewer just as a giant breed can be gentle on toys.
From hyper puppyhood to senior moments, knowing your dog also means selecting toys based on his life stage. A dog who’s teething doesn’t play like an old soul whose teeth are worn. A rambunctious adolescent craves different toys than a placid adult dog.
Before buying, use your senses. Strong chemical smells indicate residual chemicals. Brightly dyed fabrics may contain toxic ingredients and leach dye when wet. (Fabric dyes aren’t tested for consumption.) Avoid toys treated with fire retardants or stain guard, as they may contain formaldehyde and other chemicals. Study labels and visit manufacturers’ websites for additional information. Conscientious companies are transparent about their processes.
Safe fun: two words that often collide in a dog’s world, where mysterious edges and flimsy seams can make the most alluring objects. As long as the toy industry is an unsupervised playground, it’s up to loving owners to keep their eyes on the ball …and ring and squeaker.
Here are a few companies that make toys worth a woof.
Realistic plush toys that will thrill most dogs, but aren’t suitable for aggressive chewers. A new proprietary process (Chew Guard technology) has been added to some stuffed products, enabling them to withstand more rigorous play. The toys, made in China, are double-stitched, reinforced and machine washable. Their label, “New Material Only,” means the product is not made from reprocessed fabric, vinyl or plastics.
Kong is based in Colorado, and all of its rubber products are made in the US. The original Kong is a treat-holding, nearly indestructible object with a tantalizingly odd bounce. The Kong Flyer, a soft rubber disc, is top-notch Frisbee equipment. The squeaky toys don’t hold up to power squeakers—a bummer for dogs who thrill to the squeal—but the silenced squeaker remains safely inside the toy. Think durable fun for power chewers (and hope for upgraded squeakers). Their website offers a breed search to help shoppers to determine the right size toy.
Nina Ottosson Zoo Active
These unique wooden puzzles operate on the principle that dogs actually enjoy working for their grub. Power chewers may also discover that brute force isn’t as effective as using noggin and nose. This Swedish company’s interactive games are available in the U.S. from pawlickers.com.