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ByAnne Dennon Home Technology Writer

Anne has covered home security and home automation for Reviews.com for two years. She's interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics.

The Best Dog Toys

For the domesticated dog, play is the key to physical and psychological health. It allows them to perform innate actions—stalk and hunt, run and tear, comfort and cuddle. One of the five freedoms of animal welfare is the “freedom to express normal behavior.” With guidance from animal behaviorists and veterinarians, we sifted through the vast marketplace of dog toys to find the best for your pup’s preferred style of play—fetching, chewing, tugging, or riddling out a treat.

The 4 Best Dog Toys

West Paw Zogoflex Jive

Best for
Fetch

West Paw Zogoflex Jive
West Paw Zogoflex Jive
A molded, erratically bouncing ball, that comes in three sizes and fits in ball launchers.
Pros
Unexpected movement
Tennis ball design
Weighty material

Why we chose it

Unexpected movement

Some dogs, like terriers, were bred to hunt. This heritage gives them an innate desire to chase and capture. Anything darting by at a good clip, be it squirrel or cat or car lights reflected on the wall, can trigger the instinct. But anything worth chasing does more than land and lie still. West Paw Zogoflex Jive has sculpted cutouts that cause it to bounce and roll in surprising directions.

Tennis ball design

There’s discs and frisbees, but the old tennis ball is an iconic dog favorite. However, a 2017 study revealed 48% of pet tennis balls tested contained lead, a known human carcinogen. Zogoflex Jive is roughly the size and color family (three shades of neon) of tennis balls, but is made with natural, recyclable materials, and is blessedly lead-free.

Weighty material

A somewhat heavy ball makes for stronger, farther throws. And if your arm gets tired, try using a launching device. Long, fast throws help stretch the legs of athletic breeds, and the Zogoflex Jive is made to fit most launchers. While most balls with the heft you need for a good lob are also hard, the Zogoflex Jive is a softer (but still guaranteed durable) option. The squelchier rubber surface also makes it easier for dogs to get a good gnaw on their prey as they carry it back to you.

Similar options to consider

  • Kong Extreme Ball - With Kong’s patented uber-rubber, the Extreme Ball is a better fetch option for dogs that tend to seek-and-destroy.
  • West Paw Echo Zwig - If your pup tends to ignore balls and haul branches back to you, this fun, bendy stick-like fetch toy could be a better pick.
  • Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Squeak - Some dogs live for the squeak—it’s the sound of active prey. Here’s a vocal fetch alternative to the classic ball.

Kong Classic Dog Toy

Best for
Chewing

Kong Classic Dog Toy
Kong Classic
The king of durable, all-natural rubber toys can survive power chewers and give them a treat for their labor, too.
Pros
Sturdy construction
Size range
Versatile

Why we chose it

Sturdy construction

High-quality rubber is perfect for aggressive chewers with strong biting instincts. Kong delivers some of the toughest rubber on the dog toy market and calibrates its strength to suit various chewing styles. If you have a power chewer on your hands, upgrade to the Kong Extreme. But for most dogs, the Kong Classic provides more than enough resistance, promoting healthy chewing behaviors while helping dogs scrape plaque from their teeth.

Size range

Offering the right size of toy for your dog is important across every toy category, but it is especially important for chewing toys. They should be large enough to encourage chewing from the side rather than up and down (that kind of direct pressure can be damaging to dogs’ teeth), but small enough that your dog can carry it around with ease. The classic Kong comes in six sizes — XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL — offering something for ankle biters and big-mouth pit bulls alike.

Versatile

Chew toys provide a diversion, a heck of a masticating workout, and promote dental hygiene. The Kong Classic extends this list: It’s also a fun fetch toy with an ear-plug-like shape that bounces in unpredictable directions when thrown. Its hollow interior is also perfect for hiding treats or a dollop of peanut butter.

Similar options to consider

  • Kong Extreme Ball - If you have a power chewer, you know it. The Kong Classic provides enough durability to stand up to most chompers, but level up to the Extreme if you are used to seeing toys destroyed in seconds flat.
  • West Paw Zogoflex Tux - A shapely alternative to the Kong, this treat-dispensing option has three knobs to keep your dog gnawing.
  • Nylabone DuraChew Bacon Flavor - For a safer spin on the bone your dog is instinctively craving, try this bacon-infused chew toy. Bonus: it features raised bristles to scrape teeth clean.

Mammoth Cottonblend 5 Knot

Best for
Tugging

Mammoth Cottonblend 5 Knot
Mammoth Cottonblend
The braided cotton of this sturdy tug toy delivers interactive playtime while flossing your pup’s teeth.
Pros
Length prevents biting
100% natural cotton
Different sizes

Why we chose it

Length prevents biting

If you like playing tug-of-war with your pup, you should have a single designated tug toy. This keeps tugging from being an acceptable play behavior with whatever toy, shoe, scarf, or Thanksgiving turkey you happen to be holding. According to Todd, “Ropes are great toys for dogs that love to play tug (be sure to let them win often!)” Mammoth Cottonblend is perfect because the lengthy design is tug-specific, and keeps hands clear of your dog’s chompers.

100% natural cotton

Woven cotton rope makes for a strong tug toy that’s non-toxic and can also help clean their mouth as the rope fibers essentially floss during chewing. While there are dental benefits to tugging, keep in mind it can be overly strenuous for the teeth of puppies and senior dogs.

Different sizes

One size never fits all when it comes to dog toys. Mammoth Cottonblend comes as a three-knot rope (available in five sizes) and a five-knot rope (available in two sizes) — so you’re always the right distance away from your canine’s canines.

Similar options to consider

  • Mammoth Cottonblend 3 Knot - Smaller dogs want to tug, too. The 3 Knot is available in five sizes, starting at just 10 inches, so you can fine tune your pup’s tug toy to their size.
  • West Paw Zogoflex Bumi - The S-shaped design of this tug toy provides safe spots for your hands and their mouth, a nice change-up from yanking on rope.
  • Kong Floppy Knots - Tug toys simulate the joy of the kill, and these rope-made critters provide a realistic mouth feel that your doggo will enjoy wrestling with, whether he’s playing with you or alone.

Nina Ottosson Dog Brick

Best for
Interactive Play

Nina Ottosson Dog Brick
Nina Ottosson
This toy combines tricks and treats to keep clever dogs occupied.
Pros
Rewarding play
Mentally stimulating
Increasing levels of difficulty

Why we chose it

Rewarding play

Dogs are happiest when they solve a problem and then get a food reward—happier than they would be with just the solution or just the treat. The researchers who discovered this call the ultimate treat a dog’s eureka moment. Dogs crave this kind of intellectual stimulation, and that’s where food delivery toys come in. Nina Ottosson is a design pioneer in this category.

Mentally stimulating

If you have a pup who gets bored or anxious when they aren’t getting human attention, or tears up toilet paper if left to their own devices, chances are they are in need of a more productive outlet for their mental energy. The Dog Brick features hinged and sliding pieces that need to be maneuvered with nose and paw to reveal treats tucked into its compartments. Customer reviewers say their dogs love solving the puzzle and prefer to have their food delivered to them via the Dog Brick than in their bowl.

Increasing levels of difficulty

A new toy, especially a new and challenging toy, will always focus and occupy a dog’s attention. Prolong their interest and stimulation by upping the difficulty level of the Dog Brick. Let them take a first shot at the toy with not all the bricks in place, then up the difficulty by including more pieces and swapping.

Similar options to consider

  • Starmark Treat Dispensing Pickle - Not all interactive toys need to contain a lot of small pieces. The gash in this football-shaped toy creates a pocket for treats that your pup will fixate on retrieving.
  • West Paw Quizl - The bendy, hourglass profile of the Quizl can hold long, thin treats in addition to smaller ones, perfect for pups who yearn for bully sticks.
  • Kong Stuff a Ball - For power chewers who enjoy the chase, this bouncing ball features slits and openings that shake out treats with enough play.

Guide to Dog Toys

How to encourage your dog’s playful nature

Make time for play

Dogs need play and humans enjoy playing with dogs—it’s not clear which came first in the process of domestication. Either way, play is a central part of dogs’ positive welfare. When you see puppies scuffle, you’re seeing social cohesion being built between dogs. When you play with your dog, the same cohesion is at work. Cooperative relationships between and across species are strengthened by play.

“Regular, real play between a dog and owner does not revolve around commands, and is important to strengthen their bond.”

Know your dog’s behavior with different toys

Before leaving your dog alone with new toy types, know what he is most likely to do with them. Some dogs play gently, or bore of a single pursuit quickly, while others go into seek-and-destroy mode, disemboweling fluffy critters and seeking the noisy heart of a squeak toy. Since most toys become choking hazards if sufficiently torn apart, being aware of your dog’s characteristic response will help you decide whether certain toys are safe for them, or if you should simply leave them with a sturdy Kong.

Rotate available toys

Offer a rotating group of four or five toys that hit all your dog’s play behaviors—tugging, chewing, “killing,” and carrying. Dogs love novelty but you can fake new toys by having your pup discover oldies but goodies around the house and yard. Giving a toy a new scent by washing it in the washing machine, rolling it in the grass, or storing it in the herb cupboard—any of the above will up its appeal. Above all else, if you seem excited about a toy, he will be too—he mostly wants to play with you.

Keep a favorite comfort toy available at all times

Comfort toys are plush items that your dogs soothe themselves with by carrying around and babying. Comfort toys should be left out at all times. This is a toy your dog has bonded with and probably likes to sleep with. The best comfort toy will be small enough to carry, and maybe analogous in size to your dog breed’s prey (rabbit, duck, mouse), as some dogs like to shake and “kill” their soft toys. Just keep in mind most comfort toys generally aren’t good for power chewers.

Here’s a handful of great plush toys from brands we love:

Improve their digestion and mood with treat-dispensing toys

Many pups guzzle their food down at an alarming rate, leading to an unsatisfying meal or, worse, a bad case of indigestion. An interactive feeding toy slows them down, creating pauses between bites as they quiz out their next morsel of food. You won’t see their dinner spat back up on the floor, and they’ll derive more pleasure from their food.

Dog-proof their toys

Even well-made, durable toys may eventually succumb to wear and tear. Regardless of your dog’s chewing prowess, regularly inspect any stuffed toys to look for damage to lightly stitched seams, as well as loose, hanging pieces that might fall off and be eaten. If well-loved toys are getting torn apart, it’s time to discard. Examine any new toys and remove dangling strings or loosely attached decoration before your dog has a chance to gnaw them off and ingest them.

Dog Toys FAQ

What about a good old-fashioned stick?

Dogs love gnawing and fetching things like sticks and pinecones. The allure to your pup of playing with these natural materials, covered in intriguing outdoor scents, should be weighed against the danger of mouth wounds and choking on chunks that get gnawed off. The solution? Keep an eye on your dog while they’re playing with natural materials and don’t leave your dog with them unsupervised.

What about a good old-fashioned bone?

Natural bones provide hours of gnawing entertainment as well as a nutritional benefit from its soft tissue—the meat, cartilage, fat, and connective tissue that are still on a dried bone. If you aren’t keen on an animal bone on the carpet, dogs also get a lot of satisfaction (and a good teeth scrub) from Nylabones and dental bones. If you do opt for the natural route, be aware there’s some danger of chipping teeth or choking on large bits of broken bone.

How else can I entertain my dog?

According to the American Kennel Club, Americans spend $50 a year on toys for their dog, and that’s just one part of the multi-billion-dollar pet industry. While you can show affection and generate doggo’s excitement by providing new toys, plush sleeping accommodations, and cute little coats (okay, maybe they don’t care about that), they are other activities you can use for bonding and entertainment:

  • Go for a walk — Be part of the 60% of dog owners who walk their dogs. The physical exercise component is obvious, but don’t discount the value of sniffing time and the opportunity to socialize with both humans and other canines.
  • Take them for a swim — Swimming isn’t as universally loved by dogs as walking and running is, but for many breeds it’s exceptionally appealing. Labs even choose to swim over hanging out with other dogs.
  • Schedule dog playdates — Dogs are social. Evolutionarily pack animals, dogs still love to meet and greet their fellow canines and exercise their instincts in a way they just can’t with their human family. Caveat: Not all dogs like other dogs. In that case, off-leash outdoor time with you is still important.
  • Challenge their nose — Sniffing is a dog’s greatest tool while on the hunt. Give your pupper an opportunity to do what they’re naturally good at with nosework. You can go official with training classes or just play some simple games, like hiding a treat in one of two closed fists and having your pup ferret out the right one.

What are the best dog toys by breed?

Your dog’s personality—rather than their heritage—will be the biggest decider of what toys they like to play with. That said, dog breeds have been engineered for their traits. Here are the most likely behaviors based on breed group:

  • Companion Dogs — These dog breeds are typically (but not exclusively) small, pretty pups—think bichon frise, pug, pekingese, pomeranian. They have historically been prized for the pleasure of their company over any utility, and they can get anxious if left alone. Interactive toys are best, as well as soft toys that keep them company when you’re away.
  • Working and Herding Dogs — Workers like shepherds and collies are intelligent, confident dogs. They put their smarts to use on K-9 police and search and rescue teams. Exercise their physicality and their brains with treat-dispensing games and gnaw-proof rubber toys like Kongs. They are also particularly interested in playing fetch and will have the stamina to play it for much longer than others.
  • Sporting and Hound Dogs — This is a diverse breed group, so arriving at generalized toy suggestions for this one is tricky. By and large, sporting dogs are trained hunters, so they will love toys that allow them to pursue (like flirt poles) or sniff (like a snuffle mat—a shaggy floor mat that hides treats for clever noses to find). They’ll enjoy kibble trails to a bone buried in the backyard, as well as soft toys they can shake and “kill.”

The Best Dog Toys: Summed Up

West Paw Zogoflex Jive
Kong Classic Dog Toy
Mammoth Cottonblend 5 Knot
Nina Ottosson Dog Brick
Best for Fetch
Best for Chewing
Best for Tugging
Best for Interactive Play
Price
$11.95
$10.99
$10.99
$19.99
Sizes Available
S, L
XS - XXL
36" or 72"
N/A
Material
Rubber
Rubber
Cotton
Plastic
Origin
USA
USA
Mexico & China
China

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