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If you’re one of the approximately 48 million American households that own a dog, you know just how important it is to keep your pup occupied and active throughout the day. According to a January 2021 survey from online pet network and marketplace Rover, nearly half (49 percent) of dog-owning respondents said they welcomed a new dog during the pandemic. And in addition to purchasing new pet parent essentials, getting the right toys for them can have multiple benefits, from helping them fight boredom when they’re home alone to providing comfort when they’re nervous.
Best dog toys: safety and materials
When choosing any kind of dog toy, shoppers should consider safety and ethical conditions, according to The Humane Society, which largely depends on a dog’s size, activity level and preferences. It’s also important to buy toys suitable for your dog’s size to avoid large dogs swallowing and choking on small parts. The nonprofit recommends altering toys by removing ribbons, strings, eyes or other small parts that can be chewed off and swallowed, while also checking labels to ensure they don’t include dangerous fillings like nutshells and polystyrene beads.
Keep in mind that most common materials used to stuff dog toys, including polyester fiberfill, aren’t fully digestible. Dogs should always be supervised when playing with a toy they can rip apart, especially regarding squeaky toys — they can rip open the toy to find the source of the squeak and ingest it. 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.’”
While they’re a popular toy for fetch, typical tennis balls can be an unsafe option since, 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 from playtime if it starts coming apart. Similarly, you should always ask your veterinarian before entertaining your pup with bones and rawhide chews. JoAnn Morrison, DVM and director of veterinary science at Banfield Animal Hospital, previously told us that rawhide chews can break into large chunks and turn into choking hazards — she 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.
Best toys for different types of dogs
Keeping in mind safety, your dog’s specific personality and their stage in life, we’ve compiled some highly rated dog toy options based on expert guidance and our past coverage.
Best toys for puppies
The Nylabone teething pacifier is both durable and made from a nylon material for your puppy entering the teething stage. “The different grooves on the pacifier and ring massages your puppy’s gums,” said Khara Schuetzner, a professional dog trainer and the immediate past chair of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) Board of Directors.
Mark Forrest Patrick, the current chairman of the APDT Board of Directors, 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 lets 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 a small and large size.
Fanna Easter, a certified dog trainer and owner of Positive Pooch Behavior & Training, noted while toys that can be filled with food are a daily enrichment opportunity for pups, owners should watch portion sizes to ensure they’re not overeating.
Schuetzner recommended the Multipet Chilly Bones for teething puppies since they can be frozen and 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 this toy since it can be ripped and expose the internal filling. Similarly, Bennink recommended rolling up damp washcloths and freezing them, which “helps reduce biting and chewing associated with teething.”
Best toys for small dogs
The Kong Wubba is offered in a small size and is a good option for both solo and interactive play. Schuetzner recommended this toy due to its “tassels for the dogs to grab,” and the additional squeaks for engaging your pup. And if they’re inclined to shake or tug at toys, the Kong Wubba is made from a durable reinforced nylon that can avoid easy ripping and tearing.
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 an extra-small or small/medium size that’s ideal for smaller pups and 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 as the Wild Knots but includes more throw-friendly and floppy limbs.
The hollow and mesh-like design of Chuckit!’s Breathe Right ball can facilitate airflow to your dog’s lungs while running and fetching, and can be especially useful for small breed dogs with breathing problems. The ball is made from lightweight natural rubber, floats in water and can even be stuffed with treats due to its open design.
Best toys for big dogs
Does your big dog love playing fetch but your average ball just doesn’t cut it? The large option from Chuckit! has a 7.5-inch diameter and has bright colors that can make it easy to detect. The ball is made of rubber and foam, which means the ball can float in water and makes a good playtime option in the backyard, at the beach or at a swimming pool.
Schuetzner recommended this goDog chew toy for bigger dogs because they have minimal stuffing and a durable squeaker that’s difficult to remove. The brand offers different types of this toy like dragons, dinosaurs and alligators, as well as multiple sizes, including large and extra-large for bigger dogs. The toy has reinforced seams to withstand rough play — if it does break, the brand offers a one-time replacement valid for 30 days from the purchase date.
Best toys for active dogs
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. “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 a small size (24-inch pole) and a large size (36-inch pole).
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. 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 toys are famously strong and durable, and initially designed in the 1970s for dogs with “destructive chewing habits.” 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 “helps slow my canines at mealtime, create problem solving skills and teach the dog impulse control.”
Made from nylon, these long-lasting bones are designed for heavy chewing and “they’re durable enough for those chewers who need to reach the back molars,” according to Schuetzner. It has a curved wishbone shape for a paw-friendly grip and is offered in three flavors: bacon, chicken and peanut butter. The brand recommends 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. Benebone provides a visual guide for shoppers to know when to replace their bone.
Best toys for nervous dogs
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. 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 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.”
In the realm of aromatherapy, this toy is made with a lightly chamomile-scented rubber that can be used to help calm mild anxiety in dogs. It’s also interactive and can keep them distracted throughout the day by stuffing it with treats and kibble. 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.
Best toys for inquisitive dogs
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. It’s offered in four sizes: small, medium, large and extra-large (which includes six squirrels).
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).