How To Pick The Best Dog Toys

By Sarah Jeanne Terry

When it comes to shopping for your dog, the options feel endless. And that's doubly true when it comes to toys for our dogs. From bones to adorable little plush toys, the dog aisles in pet stores go on for miles, but it turns out there's a reason. Our dogs actually like lots of different toys, and certain toys serve certain purposes. But if you're new to dog ownership, or if you've never really thought too hard about what toys to pick for your dog, don't worry. We've got your complete dog toy guide right here.

A Sheltie puppy playing with a small green and black ball
credit: molka/iStock/GettyImages

The types of toys that dogs love is actually based on science. According to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol's Veterinary School, there is a formula for the perfect dog toy. The study, published in the animal behavior journal Animal Cognition, dug into the science behind why dogs like some toys and reject others.

It turns out, novelty is the most important quality in a toy.

Dog Toys
credit: Mexitographer/iStock/GettyImages

The study offered two different toys to Labrador retrievers. Researchers took note of which toy the dogs preferred. While there were things about the toys that dogs preferred, they were overwhelmingly likely to go for the toy that was new versus the toy they had already played with.

That's why a monthly toy service can be a great option because it automatically offers your dog a variety of new toys each month. BarkBox is one of the most popular options, costing $25 per month (for a 6-month subscription). There's also RescueBox, which donates food and vaccines to rescue animals. RescueBox costs $25.45 per month (for a 6-month subscription).

To maximize your dog's enjoyment of a toy, get one that's soft, malleable, and makes a sound.

Obviously, we can't buy new toys for our dogs every day, so there are some toys that tend to hold your dog's enjoyment longer. Dogs interact with their toys in a similar way that wolves interact with their prey. Dogs prefer toys that are soft, manipulatable, and make a sound. That's why we see so many squeaky toys in pet stores.

A co-author of the study, Anne Pullen, explained, "Dogs quickly lose interest in toys with hard, unyielding surfaces, and those that don't make a noise when manipulated."

Squeaky Toys

Great soft, squeaky toys include plush toys or soft rubbery toys. This adorable stuffed cupcake with a squeaker inside from Petco ($4.99) is a great option.

Cupcake plush.
credit: Petco

Your pup might also love a squeaky character that bounces, like this adorable octopus from KONG.

You can find at Chewy.com ($4.43).

Octopus toy.
credit: Chewy

However, even the perfect, squeaky chew toy will quickly bore your dog. But there's one thing that really helps keep them engaged — you.

When humans get involved in the toys, our dogs have way more of an attention span.

dog and owner playing
credit: damedeeso/iStock/GettyImages

Playing with your dog helps them stay invested. Their toys take on a whole new meaning when humans are involved, and that extends their interest. And a simple toy that might not interest a dog on its own becomes much more exciting when there's a human to join in.

A frisbee like this one by KONG can be great fun for humans and pups.

Find this one at Petco ($7.39).

Disc toy.
credit: PetCo

Dogs love to play tug-of-war, and a rope toy is a perfect thing.

You can find a great one like this from PetCo ($5.69).

Rope toy.
credit: PetCo

Interactive Toys

When you can't be around, an interactive toy is the next best thing. Toys that keep your pup's brain stimulated will keep them from getting bored of their toy. This kind of stimulation also helps to prevent bad behavior and separation anxiety. There are a number of great toys that you can find on the market to keep your pup's brain active.

Treat Dispensing Toys

One of the most popular interactive toys is the treat dispensing toy. These toys hold treats or kibble and usually feature a small hole. As the dog plays with the toy, treats slip out, and the promise of treats keeps your pup very engaged. Try a treat like this monster-themed treat toy that dispenses treats out its mouth from Petco ($7.39).

Monster treat toy.
credit: PetCo

Chew Toys

Giving your dog something to chew is another way to keep their mind occupied. Dogs can be entertained by a good bone or chew stick for hours. It's important to be careful when selecting the perfect bone, so check out our guide here. Bully sticks are chew sticks that most dogs love, and you can find them from places like Only Natural Pet ($14.99 for 10).

Older Toys

Don't forget your dog's old toys, because there are a few ways to make them feel new again. Luckily, a dog's obsession with new toys is only transient, meaning that they forget about toys if it's been awhile since they've played with them. So if you change them or make them feel new, you can reinvigorate your dog's interest. Try things like:

  • Put the toy away for awhile, then bring it out later.
  • Change its smell by rubbing it in the grass outside or rubbing food on it.
  • Play with the old toy with your dog to change the toy's value in your dog's mind.
Staffordshire bullterrier
credit: LexiTheMonster/iStock/GettyImages

Knowing your dog doesn't hate the toys you pick — but, rather, they just get bored — can help you keep your dog busy more effectively. Save interactive toys for when you leave your dog on its own. Make sure you always have a new toy (or a toy that feels new) on hand to really get your dog's attention, and keep a regular rotation of toys. And of course, remember to find time when you and your pup both can play. That way, playtime will be fun and rewarding for both you and your dog.

Are you interested in learning more about what you're reading? Scroll through this article about house training your puppy to pick up a few new techniques to use in your home. Also, follow us on Facebook for the latest health and behavior research that will keep your pooch happy and fit!