Not All Dog Toys are Equal: How to Choose Quality Dog Toys
Because playtime for pups needs to be fun AND safe.
Copy: Serena Faber-Nelson
Photography: Serena Faber-Nelson
Styling: Serena Faber-Nelson
Pet lifestyle expert Serena Faber-Nelson is the founder of Pretty Fluffy. A contributor to Everyday with Rachael Ray, Modern Dog Magazine, Cesars Way and more; her modern, stylized take on DIY dog treats has seen her recipes viewed millions of times over.
Serena is the author of the go-to dog mom bible, Dog Mama, and the popular dog treat recipe book, Healthy Homemade Dog Treats.
What do you look for when you buy a new dog toy for your favourite pup?
For me, cute and colourful designs will always catch my eye first; and innovative toys designed to keep my dog stimulated are always a winner.
However with the rise of fast fashion, dog owners like you and me are now facing the issue of quality design and construction – a choice that can end up having serious consequences for your dog.
Big Box Dog Toys – Yes or No?
You’d have to be living under a rock (or at least away from social media) to not notice the the meteoritic rise of big brand stores, such as Kmart and Target, moving into the world of on-trend, fast fashion – including clothes, homewares, beauty… and you guessed it, pet products. (I’m going to refer to Kmart in this post as they are our most popular big-brand, trend-driven store in Sydney, but obviously different regions have different retailers – the message remains the same.) There are Kmart Hack facebook pages, Kmart bargain hunters on Insta, and hilarious memes about how much we love to shop at these places (and we do!)
Now I’m not going to say I’m not a fan of Kmart (because my home would suggest otherwise!) I don’t mind picking up the odd side table, blush throw or storage container from these stores, however in the world of dog products it becomes…a little trickier.
Case in point – with a new furry addition to our family, there was never any question that our new pup Butters needed a variety of doggie toys to keep him entertained. Of course we recruited our must-have toys (in our Hall of Fame below) and tried some new ones, but I also added a few Kmart brand toys in the mix. This is where things got interesting.
Within days, the cheaper toys from Kmart were starting to rip apart and break down. They simply weren’t made for much play. On the other hand, squeaker toys from P.L.A.Y. have kept going strong for months now (even after multiple wash cycles!), and our Kong lives to see everyday being stuffed with delectable treats. Our Zippy Paws Z-Stitch Grunterz has withstood some insane rough puppy play, and our Bob-a-Lot is still bobbing. Even our knitted Zebra Dog Toy remains in great condition (and I see Butters trying to pull it’s mane out every. single. day.)
Yet it was when, right in front of our eyes, Butters was able to chew apart a Kmart toy and inhale it’s squeaker – in seconds flat – that I knew the issue was bigger. Without supervision, he could have easily choked on that squeaker and died.
The False Economy of Cheap Toys
Herein lies the issue. While these toys, at first glance, may look like popular pet products, and sound like them – the reason they cost only a fraction of the price is because the purposeful design, quality materials and rigorous testing isn’t there. Which means, not only do you have a safety issue but you also probably have a toy that’s not going to last your dog very long.
That in itself lends to a false economy – because in reality you’re better off getting a $20 high quality, safe dog toy that has longevity, rather than buying $5 ‘fast fashion’ toys over and over again – especially with the concern they may cause a safety issue.
There are some super cute products in the Kmart pet range – we have a dog food container and soft toy box, both which I love. But when it comes to dog toys, I’d encourage all dog mamas and papas to look for brands that value safety and durability above all else.
Who’s Design is it Anyway?
The extra (and often overlooked) piece of this puzzle is also where the toy designs actually come from.
Stores like Kmart, and Target make a commendable effort in bringing trend-driven pieces under an affordable budget. With their lower prices they allow all of us to dress up our wardrobes, homes and offices without going into debt to do so.
However sometimes this can come at an expense to small businesses and designers who find their original designs imitated by the larger stores and sold in bulk.
So while us as pet owners may be in awe when we find that cute denim doggie vest, or fun plush squeaker toy, at the big box store at a fraction of the price of the original creators, we’ve got to remember…If we, as dog owners, don’t support the brands that are creating original, quality pet products – these brands won’t be able to compete and could very well die out. Leaving us with no more cute new designs or innovative products.
So, if you see a high quality dog product on Instagram or in a pet store and then see a cheaper knock-off version elsewhere, for the sake of the original designer and your dog, choose the higher quality one.
What to Look for in Quality Dog Toys
- Durable Materials – Look for strong rubber for chew toys, multi layered fabrics or felt wool for plush toys, and natural cotton for rope toys.
- Quality Construction – Look for inversed stitching, Z stitching, strong joinery and no small pieces that could be easily broken off and ingested.
- Non-toxic – Try to avoid BPAs, PVC, Phthalates and unsafe dyes – they can be just as harmful to our pets as they are to us.
- Machine washable or easily hand washable.
- Tested to meet safety standards.
- Unique designs – Don’t forget to bring the fun to playtime!
Dog Toys – Hall of Fame
We’ve seen and tested hundreds of dog toys over the years. These ones remain our steadfast favourites for fun, safety and longevity.
INTERACTIVE TREAT TOYS
Kong – This classic treat toy is not only safe, robust and ergonomically designed, it can be stuffed with treats, frozen to make a doggie ice block and filled with peanut butter to keep your dog occupied for days on end.
The Odin – A new kid on the block, but this treat toy’s minimal design and quality materials make it a high ranking favourite – especially for smaller dogs.
Bob-a-Lot – This easy to fill, interactive treat ball is a cult favourite of dog trainers for helping with separation anxiety and for good reason. It’s tough, durable and will keep your pooch entertained for hours.
Nina Ottosson – Nina Ottosson puzzle toys don’t only keep your dog busy, they are tricky enough to exercise both your dog’s mind and body, preventing boredom and behaviour problems. They are a firm favourite amongst trainers and dog behaviour experts.
P.L.A.Y. Plush Toys – We’re just gonna list the whole P.L.A.Y. range here as we simply cannot choose a favourite from their collection (it’s that good). P.L.A.Y. Toys are not only safety tested to meet dog standards, but tested to meet children’s toy standards. Their super fun designs make your dog want to play all day, but their double layered fabrics, and inversed stitching means they’re tougher than the rest.
Zippy Paws Plush Toys – With a large, unique range to choose from, Zippy Paws focuses on quality materials and production methods to ensure safe play – no matter what size your dog is (they even let you shop by dog size on their site!) Since their conception in 2011, Zippy Paws have become known for their playful, original and safe designs.
FETCH & CHEW TOYS
Planet Dog – As their name suggests, Planet Dog is all about making safe, sustainable toys your dog will love. They even have a durability guide to help you choose the safest toy for your pup. Buy them here.
DOOG – The DOOG ‘Sticks’ collection are much safer than a real stick (and without the splinters!) Made from recycled material, they are a safe stick alternative for fetching.
Cloud 7 – Their organic wool felted range is definitely not for hard core chewers (if you’ve ever had your backyard covered in white stuffing, you know what I’m talking about). However for soft play and retrieving, you can’t go past this innovative, minimalist toy range.
Handy Dog Toy Tips
- Always select toys that are the right fit for your dog’s age, breed and size.
- Know your dog’s play habits. Do they love to pull out the stuffing? Do they favour rough and tumble tug of war games? Or do they enjoy more gentle play with squeaker toys? Supervise your dog with their toys and buy toys that suit their needs.
- Children’s toys, and tennis balls are not designed for dogs – they often have harmful materials for pets.
- To preserve your quality dog toys, rotate them weekly, having only a few out at the one time (see our Dog Toy Box Tips here). This will keep your dog’s interest and also gives you a chance to repair, wash or discard any worn or broken toys.
- If you dog loves toys, consider signing up for a quality Dog Subscription Box.
- Pay it Forward – if you get your pup a toy they don’t like or use, drop it off to your local shelter where a dog in need can use it.
NEW TOYS ON THE BLOCK WE LOVE!
The Foggy Dog – Their range of canvas, squeaker bones feature not only an upholstery grade cotton exterior, but eco-friendly fiberfill made from recycled plastic bottles specially formulated for pets. Oh and their designs (including Rifle Paper Co prints) are to die for.
Outback Tails – Fresh out this month, this Australian brand new range of toys feature a commitment to quality. Their squeaker toys alone include 7 layers of strong, jute fibre, are coloured naturally with vegetable dye and are 100% non-toxic. They also come is the cutest Australian animal shapes – like crocodiles, koalas and kangaroos.
Dapple and Spots – This simple, cotton, rope toy collection is super strong and durable for even the chewiest of chewers, and the clean design makes for a minimal but effective toy.
Ware of the Dog – With a range featuring felted boiled wool and hand knitted toys, these may not be for big chewers but their all natural materials make them perfect for soft play.
MODERNBEAST – Their durable toys (made super fun and colourful with natural vegetable dyes) are made of 100% cotton (rope tug toys) and wool felt (squeaker toys). Fun fact: Wool felt actually gets stronger over time (not weaker like other fabrics), is 100% biodegradable and not harmful if ingested. Makes these toys a winner!
Copy: Serena Faber-Nelson
Photography: Serena Faber-Nelson
Styling: Serena Faber-Nelson