For dog owners, there’s endless pleasure to be had in watching your pooch having fun.
Playtime is a serious business for our canine friends and, although the temptation is to focus on it in the cold winter months when your dog is likely to be inside more, Steve Mann, who runs the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and author of Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy, explains: “Play should happen every day of the year – it’s not seasonal.
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“For dogs, play can develop the ability to bond, to improvise, to be social and to practise impulse control.
It’s important throughout a dog’s life but especially so in the early stages of puppyhood as it increases their ability to form relationships.”
Mann recommends that dog owners have toys in “a selection of sizes, shapes and textures to offer variety”.
He emphasises: “Especially during the teething phase, puppies will like to vary texture of their toys.”
As for the ideal toy, it will depend your dog’s preferences and personality, so try different things – from tug-of-war toys to retrieval games and hide and seek.
"Watch your dog closely to see which it enjoys the most and – very importantly –oversee your dog’s playtime to check that no small or risky-looking parts are being chewed off and swallowed – even the toughest toys aren’t invincible.
“As long as it’s safe, anything can be a toy,” says Mann. “From a tea towel to a sock, what it is isn’t important, but what it gives access to is where the magic lies.”
Pet proof your house. To keep your pet healthy you should research what household products and foods can harm your pet. Make sure these are kept in secure locations so your pet cannot get into them.
Nina Ottosson dog hide n’ slide: £20, Nina Ottosson
Our chief tester, a Jack Russell terrier, absolutely loved this toy from Nina Ottosson, who believes that it’s important for dogs to exercise their minds as well as their paws. This hide-and-seek game not only offered an enjoyable challenge to our canine tester but was a bonding activity between the owner and pooch, too.
The owner hides treats inside the circular sliders and compartments in the base of the game (to make it harder you can swivel the flippers to hold the sliders in place) and the dog has to find them. Made with a non-toxic composite material – half wood, half plastic – this toy has a natural look but doesn’t splinter and is easy to clean. The only problem was our tester didn’t want to stop playing.
KONG wild knots bear: From £8, Pets At Home
Industry leader KONG has been going for 40 years and anyone who has bought one of their toys will understand why. Innovative and extremely durable, KONG toys are much loved by pet owners and dogs alike. This gorgeous bear belongs to the knots collection: while it looks soft and fluffy on the outside, its knotted-rope skeleton makes it tough on the inside. Perfect for being thrown around.
We think the fact the traditional white stuffing is kept to minimum is a plus point too, but keep a close eye on it – and on the squeaker, too – especially if your dog is the destructive type. The wild knots bear comes in two sizes: small/medium and medium/large.
Smart Pet Love snuggle puppy: £30, Smart Pet Love
Anyone who’s witnessed a puppy’s first night away from its mother will know how distressing the experience can be for everyone involved. Snuggle puppy – there’s a feline version, too – has been designed to comfort and calm young animals going through this transition.
Tactile and appealing, this soft toy mimics the pup’s mother with a heat source and heartbeat, both of which you zip inside it. Our tester, a 12-week Dachshund puppy, wasn’t a huge fan of the noise of the heartbeat, which you can switch on and off when necessary (it might be more successful with a younger pup). Nevertheless, she very much enjoyed snuggling up to the toy without it, as well as giving it a good shake in her waking hours. Snuggle puppy comes in four different colour combinations and is machine-washable on a gentle cycle. The disposable heat source lasts for 24 hours and is non-toxic and safe for people and pets.
Rosewood soundbite treat ball: £9.99, Millbry Hill
Our Jack Russell tester enjoyed playing with this, with and without dog biscuits in it. The adjustable opening allows for different-sized treats to be put inside this robustly made ball, which squeaks as it’s rolled around. The combination of treats, squeaker and, well, it being a ball made it very popular indeed.
Large KONG gyro: £15, Pets At Home
The KONG gyro was also a huge hit with our tester. The idea is to unscrew the central spinning ball and hide treats inside, which will be dispensed when it’s rolled around.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: The United States has the highest pet dog population in the world. Approximately 75.8 million in fact.
Like other KONG toys, the gyro, which is available in large and small sizes, is very robust and could withstand some pretty heavy pawing. In fact, the level of noise and mania that accompanied playing with the gyro recommended it as a good one for short five-minute bursts of play, although our tester could have gone on for a lot longer – this was one of her favourites.
Dog bone toy with aniseed: £9.95, Pets Pyjamas
The sweet smell of this anise-filled bone announced its arrival to keen canine noses as soon as it came through the door. The Natural Pet Toy Company prides itself on high-quality toys and this one, in 100 per cent cotton fabric, looks the part with its stylish Carnaby striping.
Designed and handmade in England, the bone measures approximately 18cm by 11cm. The makers recommend it for breeds that like to carry their toys around, such as labradors or retrievers, rather than those that might rip it up.
Danish Design Rodney the rabbit: £5.20, Millbry Hill
Rodney the Rabbit was a huge hit with the labrador who tested him. The brainchild of Danish designer Susanne Mortensen, Rodney is a simple yet stylish bunny without any filling (though he makes a crunchy sound when he’s squeezed and features a belly squeaker).
He’s too pretty and, we would hazard a guess, not tough enough for more destructive breeds or individuals, but the gentle giant who tried him out couldn’t have been happier. At £5.20 he’s also very reasonably priced.
The Good Boy bobble ball dog Toy: £5.99, Monster Pet Supplies
One of a collection that marries the appeal of a soft toy with the durability of a harder chew, this starfish is encased in a tough bobble ball, which offers a good variety of textures to gnawing teeth.
This was just one of the gifts picked and tested by Milo the Beagle from Milo’s Mail , a monthly subscription box for dogs, which arrives with a range of toys, treats and accessories for your pup. The arrival of the box with a personalised message and adorable doggie stamp caused much excitement in our tester’s household. It’s beautifully presented and comes highly recommended as a subscription or one-off treat.
Keep boredom at bay
PawBakes doggie biscuit baking kit: £4.99, Paw Bakes
Not strictly a toy, the PawBakes biscuit-making kit arrived in the package from Milo’s Mail and definitely provided a fun activity that our canine tester could witness – and smell – if not actually join in with…
The peanut butter and honey dough smelled fantastic as it cooked and the fact that the biscuits didn’t turn out in quite the perfect bone shape of the cutter we’ll put down to the inexperience and error of our tester’s human. Luckily, dogs aren’t too fussy about such aesthetic details and these freshly baked treats were gobbled up. Perfect for a tea pawty.
Use a Food Dispensing Toy for Fast Eaters. If your dog eats too fast use a food dispensing toy (we love the Kong Wobbler & Bob a Lot), or place a few tennis balls in their bowl to slow their eating. Not only does this keep them from eating too quick, it gives them a nice mental workout.
Crufts squeaking plush badger toy: £4.99, Crufts
Made by the creators of the world's most famous competition for dogs, you can rest assured they know a thing or two about what dogs want. And this lovely badger has a gorgeously soft coat and a decent squeak when he’s squeezed to keep dogs entertained.
Part of a range of animals considered to be quintessentially British, including foxes, hedgehogs and rabbits, the badger is the first to make his debut.
Verdict: Dog toys
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