If you’re one of the nearly 70 million U.S. households that owns a dog, you probably already know just how important it is to keep your pup occupied and active throughout the day. In addition to food, treats and beds, dog toys are an essential that can keep their minds and bodies engaged, fight boredom when they’re home alone and provide comfort when they’re nervous.
SKIP AHEAD The best toys for different types of dogs
However, it’s important to keep an eye on your dog when they’re testing out new toys, and determining the safest options for your furry friend can be the difference between a play session and a trip to the vet. To help you find the best toys for your dog, we spoke to professional dog trainers about the various safety considerations to keep in mind while shopping and highlighted the best toys worth considering based on their recommendations and guidance.
What to consider when shopping for dog toys
There are plenty of toys out there for all kinds of dogs, whether they’re young puppies or large, aggressive chewers. And dogs usually have their own preferences when it comes to what they like to play with. “Take your pup to a local store and let them pick out their toy — it’s so much fun to see what your dog prefers,” said Khara Schuetzner, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of training facility The Doggie Spot, which also sells dog toys in its store in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Choosing the right toy for your dog can depend on a few factors, including your dog’s size and their activity level. Experts broke down what to consider when shopping for a dog toy.
It’s important to buy toys suitable for your dog’s size — large dogs, for example, should avoid small toys that they can swallow or potentially choke on. “If you're getting a toy that they are going to be chewing on, you want to make sure that it’s not a toy that they can actually [fit] into their mouth and potentially swallow,” said Mark Forrest Patrick, owner of Tuxedo’s K9 Training Camp, Inc. “I always tell people that if the dog can put it in their mouth and it sticks out the side of their mouth, then it is big enough that they can't swallow it,” he added.
While they’re a popular toy for fetch, tennis balls can be an unsafe option — depending on the size of your dog, they can become lodged in your dog’s throat and block their airway. Any pieces that are chewed off can also get stuck in your dog’s intestinal tract, so it’s important to remove the toy if it starts coming apart, experts told us. Dogs should also always be supervised when playing with a toy they can rip apart, especially when it comes to squeaky toys — they can rip open the toy to find the source of the squeak and ingest it.
The material a dog toy is made of can present all new challenges. You should always be checking labels to ensure toys don’t include dangerous fillings like nutshells and polystyrene beads, according to The Humane Society. Even the most common materials used to stuff dog toys — including polyester fiberfill — aren’t fully digestible (this can be a problem if your dog is known to destroy their toys and other possessions).
Benjamin Bennink, a certified dog trainer and owner of New York-based Good Doggy Saratoga, recommended avoiding toys that are too hard for your dog’s teeth. “The ‘thumbnail test’ is commonly used and states that if the toy gives to the pressure of your thumbnail, it's safe for their teeth,” he said. “Harder toys like the common hardened nylon bones should be considered ‘at your own risk.’”
Similarly, you should always ask your veterinarian before entertaining your pup with bones and rawhide chews. Patrick said that rawhide chews can break into large chunks and turn into choking hazards — he suggested always keeping an eye on your dog when chewing larger treats. For a safer chew toy option, experts suggested toys made from a hard, durable rubber instead.
Patrick advised against any toys that are made from materials resembling items in your own home. “For example, you don't want to have toys with strings if you have carpet since that’ll make your dog think, ‘I can chew on the string on my toy, but I can also chew the string on my carpet,’” he said.
Generally, you should be careful about small pieces or any hanging fabric as well. “I generally avoid anything with ribbon, plastic eyes, string or anything that can be chewed off and swallowed,” said Robert Haussmann, a certified dog trainer and co-founder of dog training service Dogboy NYC. “There are lots of toys available that are cheaply made and are designed to make humans want to buy them — [they’re] not necessarily designed to be safe for your dog to play with,” he added.
Interactive dog toys can be great to “create a fun game of sniffing and getting rewarded — when a dog hunts for kibble, the dog’s mind is engaged, thus creating more mental exercise for the dog,” Schuetzner noted. However, Patrick said you should be careful about stuffing your dog’s typical biscuit treats in these toys: “I encourage my customers not to put a treat inside of a toy and either use their kibble soaked in some warm water or add blueberries or cantaloupe — if your pet’s treats are inside and [they] get excited or stressed, they can choke on those [treats],” he said.
Best toys for different types of dogs
Keeping in mind our experts’ safety advice, the following dog toys are designed in various sizes and designs that can fit your dog’s size, temperament and stage of life. Some of the toys were recommended by our experts, and the others are highly rated and in line with expert advice.
Best toys for small dogs
Our experts widely recommended Kong toys for all types of dogs since they’re durable and come in a variety of styles to fit your pet’s play preferences. The Kong Wubba is offered in small, large and extra-large sizes and can be a good option for both solo and interactive play, according to Schuetzner. The toy has tassels for the dogs to grab, as well as squeaks to engage your pup. And if they’re inclined to shake or tug at toys, the Wubba is made from a durable reinforced nylon that can avoid easy ripping and tearing, according to Kong.
Kong Wild Knots
Similar to the Wubba, the Kong Wild Knots toy has an internal knotted rope skeleton that “gives the small dogs something to grip,” said Schuetzner. This toy is available in extra-small, small and medium sizes that can work well for smaller pups, according to the brand. It comes in a variety of colors and animal shapes, including a bear, eagle or flamingo. Kong also makes a Floppy Knots option, which has a similar design to the Wild Knots but includes more floppy, throw-friendly limbs.
Chuckit! Breathe Right Fetch 2 Ball Set
The hollow and mesh-like design of Chuckit!’s Breathe Right ball can facilitate airflow to your dog’s lungs while running and fetching, which can be especially useful for small breed dogs with breathing problems, according to the brand. The ball is made from lightweight natural rubber, floats in water and can even be stuffed with treats thanks to its open design, the brand says.
Clean Run Biggies Bungee Bunny Pouch
Schuetzner said she’s a fan of tug toys since they give the owner a chance to join in on the fun — she recommended this mini pouch for small dogs since “it’s soft for the dog to bite down on and you can hide treats in the pouch to encourage your dog to bite it.” The “bungee” handle is made from soft-touch nylon and is designed to act as a shock absorber between you and your dog while playing — it provides a good amount of resistance for your dog without you having to pull too hard, according to the brand.
Best toys for big dogs
Chuckit! Kick Fetch Ball Dog Toy
The large option from Chuckit! has a 7.5-inch diameter, comes in bright colors that can make it easy to detect and is made of rubber and foam, which means it can float in water and makes a good playtime option in the backyard, at the beach or at a swimming pool, according to the brand. Select editor Morgan Greenwald said her dog, Suzie, loves playing with this toy, which has withstood hours of throwing and chewing. Greenwald added that she throws the balls at the park using the Chuckit! Launcher, which also lets her carry them around without getting her hands dirty with slobber and dirt.
Schuetzner recommended this goDog chew toy for bigger dogs because it has minimal stuffing and a durable squeaker that’s difficult to remove, according to the brand. This toy comes in a variety of animal styles — including dragon, dinosaur and alligator — as well as multiple sizes, including large and extra-large for bigger dogs. The brand says the toy has reinforced seams to withstand rough play — if it does break, the brand offers a one-time replacement up to 30 days from the purchase date.
Best toys for puppies
Nylabone Puppy Teething Chew Toys
The Nylabone teething pacifier is a durable nylon chew toy for puppies entering the teething stage. “The different grooves on the pacifier and ring massages your puppy’s gums,” Schuetzner said. Nylabone also offers teething rings and a dinosaur-shaped teething toy.
Kong Gyro Interactive Treat Dispensing Dog Toy
Patrick recommended the Kong Gyro for puppies because it’s “a great paw and eye coordination toy with an instant food reward.” The toy features a spinning orb in the center that helps the toy roll around freely and a durable plastic outer ring. It dispenses kibble and treats from a small opening on the ball and is offered in small and large sizes. While toys that can be filled with food are a daily enrichment opportunity for pups, our experts recommended that owners monitor portion sizes to ensure their dogs are not overeating.
Multipet Chilly Bones for Teething
Schuetzner recommended the Multipet Chilly Bones for teething puppies since they can be frozen to soothe your puppy’s gums — you briefly soak them in water, place them in a plastic bag and throw them in your freezer. They’re designed for small and medium sized dogs, and the brand recommends supervising your dog when playing with them since they can be ripped open. As a do-it-yourself alternative, Bennink recommended rolling up damp washcloths and freezing them, which “helps reduce biting and chewing associated with teething.”
Best interactive toys for dogs
Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Squeaky Puzzle Plush Dog Toy
Schuetzner likes hide and seek toys like Outward Hound’s Hide-A-Squirrel puzzle because “the dogs love pulling multiple smaller toys out of them and playing with the extra squeak items.” For this toy, you can fill the plush tree trunk with three stuffed squeaky squirrels and toss it, encouraging your dog’s hunting instincts to kick in. My dog, Bella, has both the squirrel and the bee versions of this toy, and they keep her entertained for several minutes as she works to get each small toy out — it’s great for when she's bored around the house. It’s offered in four sizes: small, medium, large and extra-large (which includes six squirrels).
Starmark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Pet Toy
Patrick recommended toys from Starmark because of their innovative designs — this Bob-A-Lot interactive toy from the brand has a dual-chamber design that dispenses treats or kibble as your dog plays with it. It has adjustable openings at the top and bottom of the toy to help accommodate most types of dog food while letting you regulate the difficulty level, and its weighted anti-slip bottom makes it wobble to encourage your dog to play, according to the brand. The toy is made for dogs under 40 pounds and can fit up to three cups of food, Starmark says.
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball
The Tricky Treat Ball has a soft vinyl texture and can be filled up with your dog’s favorite treats or kibble pieces — the food is dispensed from small holes as your dog plays with it, according to the brand. “The food gets stuck inside the ball and then your dog must roll it around for the food to be dispensed a little at a time — it can provide hours of entertainment for you and your dog,” Haussmann said. The ball is available in small, medium and large sizes.
Nina Ottosson Challenge Slider
Schuetzner recommended this toy because it not only serves as a challenging and mentally stimulating game for your pup, but you can also “use it to feed your dog's entire meal.” You simply hide your dog’s favorite kibble or treats in any or all of the 24 compartments and encourage your pup to seek them out by pawing at the sliding tray. It requires an advanced skill level, reaching a number 3 on a scale from 1 (easy) to 4 (expert).
AWOOF Pet Snuffle Mat
Haussmann recommended a snuffle mat for dogs to stay mentally stimulated, even during meals. “Snuffle mats are thick shaggy pieces of fabric in which dry food can be tossed into and then sniffed out piece by piece by your dog,” he said. Greenwald’s Suzie eats her meals in this snuffle mat at the recommendation of both her trainer and vet. “[The snuffle mat] prevents her from eating her food too quickly, which she will do otherwise,” Greenwald said. Similarly, Haussmann also recommended lick mats, which are flat silicone mats with textured surfaces that you can spread wet food items on — “the food gets stuck in the textured service and your dog has to lick it for a long time to clear it out,” he explained.
Best toys for active dogs
Squishy Face Studio Flirt Pole
The Flirt Pole comes with a pre-attached “lure” at the end of a bungee cord that your pup can chase. It features a non-slip grip pole that you can move around, encouraging them to run, jump and change direction, according to the brand. “I love flirt poles — you can teach your dog to do a drop from it, tug with it, in addition to other obedience cues, and all while playing with your pup,” said Schuetzner. The toy comes in both a small size (with a 24-inch pole) and a large size (with a 36-inch pole).
Mammoth Flossy Chews Color Rope Tug
If tug-of-war is your dog’s preferred game, this knotted rope toy by Mammoth is made from durable cotton and polyester yarns that can withstand their pulling, according to the brand. It can also be tossed during a game of fetch or used as a chew toy during solo play time. It comes in multiple sizes, from a mini 10-inch rope for dogs under 15 pounds to an extra-large 36-inch toy for dogs over 80 pounds.
Best toys for aggressive chewers
Kong Classic Dog Toy
Patrick said he loves Kong toys since they’re famously strong and durable — they were initially designed in the 1970s for dogs with destructive chewing habits, the brand says. The classic Kong toy is made from natural red rubber and can be stuffed with Kong’s Easy Treats or other delicious snacks like dog-safe peanut butter and kibble. “You can stuff and freeze them to make it a more difficult problem for the dog to solve,” said Schuetzner. She also recommended the Kong Wobblers, which serve as a larger version of the classic toy and “[help] slow my canines at mealtime, create problem-solving skills and teach the dog impulse control.”
Benebone Real Bacon Durable Wishbone Dog Chew Toy
Made from nylon, these long-lasting bones are designed for heavy chewing and are “durable enough for those chewers who need to reach the back molars,” according to Schuetzner. The brand says the toy has a curved wishbone shape for a paw-friendly grip and it’s offered in three flavors: bacon, chicken and peanut butter. Benebone recommended checking with your veterinarian to determine if the bone is right for your dog’s teeth, and warns to keep an eye out for wear and tear over time — the brand provides a visual guide for shoppers to know when to replace their bone.
Best toys for nervous dogs
Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Dog Toy
If your pup has a hard time coping with everyday stressors, this option from Smart Pet Love recreates the physical warmth and intimacy of another body, according to the brand. It features a battery-powered simulated heartbeat that can be switched on and off and includes a disposable heat pack that lasts up to 24 hours, the brand says. The heat pack starts warming up as soon as it's removed from the outer packaging, so no microwave or electricity is required. If your pup has separation anxiety, Schuetzner also recommended playing calming music specifically for canines, like “Through A Dog’s Ear.”
PetSafe Busy Buddy Dog Toys
Though many essential oils can be toxic to dogs, chamomile is a safe and mild relaxant for dogs, according to the VCA Animal Hospitals. This toy is made with a lightly chamomile-scented rubber that can be used to help calm mild anxiety in dogs, and it can be stuffed with treats and kibble to keep them distracted throughout the day, according to the brand. It comes in a small size for dogs between 10 and 20 pounds and a medium size for dogs over 20 pounds, and the brand says it’s dishwasher-safe.
Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date.