What better time than the New Year to think about Favorites.  Among my top favorites are the four F’s….faith, family, friends, and furbabies…..actually there is a fifth one…food….hard to not over indulge with all the holiday goodies beckoning !  Anyway, I also have some favorites for the dogs, and am focusing on toys today…

My very favorite commercial toy for dogs is the Kong…the Classic Kong has been around for more than 20 years, and is a “must-have” staple for dog caregivers. Kong toys are uniquely shaped, extraordinarily strong, rubber toys with hollow centers, and they have an unpredictable bounce that lures most dogs into an ongoing game of catch chase, and chew! This amazing toy can be used for therapy, boredom, separation anxiety, other behavior problems and just plain fun! Every dog should have several Kongs, especially if he is left alone for extended periods of time. One main reason that dogs develop behavior problems is sheer boredom, resulting from a lack of physical exercise and human interaction, so to make life more enjoyable while you are gone, you can offer “fun-work” to do.  A Kong can be stuffed with almost any kind of food your dog likes. Mix some of his meal with a little canned dog food, cottage cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, canned pumpkin …combinations are endless. If you have never given your dog a stuffed Kong, make it easy for her to empty it, so she doesn’t get discouraged…when she learns how to empty easy Kongs quickly, you can stuff them tighter.  Freezing them will make them even more of a challenge.  Hide them around the house and she will have a good time searching for them.

Kong is King of dog toys, but there is also another toy that all dogs’ love– “Crinkle toys” Crinkle bottles are the latest fad in dog toys, costing as much as $12, and they are so cute that it is hard for dog lovers to resist them. However, dogs don’t care how “cute” they are or how well they are decorated. They just like the crinkle-crunch sound that they make, and you can make your own for just pennies. All you need are an empty bottled water bottle and a heavy old sock. Be sure to remove the bottle cap, and the plastic ring around the cap. Place the bottle into the sock, and knot the end of the sock. The dog will love it, and when the crinkle-crunch sound is destroyed, you can replace it with another bottle….and if you want it decorated, just use a magic marker and make your own designs (REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE CAP AND THE PLASTIC RING)    You’ll have fun making it, and your dog will have fun playing with it…and don’t forget to add your dog-related activity to your “Opportunity Journal”!

There is no agency overseeing the $40 BILLION dollar dog toy market, and most pet stores and catalogs are filled with dog toys that look fun, but most of them are not good for your canine. . With the market being flooded by cheap imports, you need to check that you are getting a product that’s safe and non-toxic.  Other hazards can include anything from needles left inside stuffed toys to chemical laden paints and choking dangers.  When it comes to safety, think choking hazards. Although tennis balls are a common dog toy, for example, they can be a problem if the dog chews them in half and tries to swallow the pieces.  Dogs LOVE toys with squeakers, but it is common for dogs to choke on them, and can cause a blockage, often requiring surgery. Dogs also love rawhides which can also become soft when they are chewed and can lodge in the throat.  I do not recommend giving rawhides to your dog!

I urge you to choose products made in North America or Europe over those mass-produced and imported from other countries, where safety standards are minimal. (Sadly the Kong Company is now outsourcing some of their new products, but the Classic Kongs are made in the USA).  Inspect any toy for loose parts or pieces that might easily come off…Don’t give children’s toys to dogs, because they would probably chew off and choke on the eyes and noses of stuffed animals. Avoid balls with single air holes which can create a deadly suction, heavily dyed toys, toys treated with fire retardants or stain guard and soft plastics. Select toys that match your dog’s play style, and never leave him unattended with a new toy.

Remember: no toy is indestructible, and as long as the toy industry is an unsupervised playground, it is the responsibility of the caregiver to keep their eyes on the ball, stuffing, and squeaker!