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Playing is an activity that can be a high priority on a dogs ‘things-to-do list’ and in today’s society canine toys are big business.  With an extensive range to choose from owners and dogs can be spoilt for choice. Nevertheless, selecting what your pet should play with, and when, requires a bit of deliberation to safeguard against accidents that can arise from an innocent piece of fun.

Each year vets have to treat numerous dogs for the injuries they have received from playing with items that are not suitable for them.  Equally, many pets are treated in emergency situations for the removal of toys which have either become stuck in the throat or intestines. 

Statistically a high percentage of dog owners buy toys for their pooches, especially at Christmas and to mark passing birthdays. However, there are far more uses in providing a dog with toys than pampering them, as many non- dog folk see it. Playthings not only stimulate the canine mind. but also form the perfect basis for owner – dog interaction.

In theory, providing a puppy or young dog with such items helps to safeguard against destructive behavior around the home.  They also offer an ideal alternative to food rewards when training and the use of playthings for retrieve games whilst out assists with keeping a dogs attention on the owner, rather than who or what else is in the vicinity. 

But what should you choose to throw when you are out and what should you avoid?


It is easily done; you shout ‘walkies’ - grab the lead and head out of the door.  It’s not until you’ve let your dog off the lead that you realize you haven’t brought anything along to throw.  Therefore,  ‘Mutley’ looks all dejected and hunts for something.  Bingo! He finds a lovely stick… let the entertainment begin!  However, any game that involves playing with sticks is an extremely dangerous one, whether it is at home or out for exercise.

Sticks of all sizes are a hazard to dogs, even though for countless years it has been portrayed to be part of dog ownership by the media. Countless dogs are injured through playing with sticks, some of the injuries are horrific and sadly too many dogs loose their lives.   A pet with a stick is also a danger to owners and other canines, with damage to eyes being common.   I found this out the hard way, I was tying my shoelace, when my hound decided to pick up a large stick and turn his head to show me his find!  All I saw was a blinding flash as it caught the edge of my eye; although very painful I was lucky not to have suffered any permanent damage.

Any dog playing with such is at risk from splinters that can enter the body via piercing any part of the mouth, face or throat, not to mention the bits that can be swallowed.  Once inside these can stay put and cause abscesses or travel around the body – emerging in a completely different area.  Sticks when caught awkwardly or stabbed into a dog, if they catch on the ground for instance, can damage many major blood vessels and organs. 

Anyone that has any doubts about the dangers that sticks pose should consult the advice of their vet, or if access to the Internet is available visit before contemplating throwing or allowing a dog to pick up another one.  There is a safe alternative available for the stick crazy hounds, which sink into a deep depression without their daily piece of tree, a replica made from latex.

Some dogs will find stones highly amusing objects to play with and owners do get lured into throwing them for their pets!  Apart from the damage that these can cause to the teeth, there is also a high possibility of them being swallowed or lodging in the throat.  All dogs should be discouraged from picking up stones of any dimension to play with. 

Plastic bottles and other litter can also present itself as something to fool around with.  Avoid temptation to such things by keeping a suitable toy with the lead and poop scoop bags, ready to take out.

Balls have long been a traditional item for taking out with a dog for a game of fetch.  Although a glance around a well-stocked pet shop will give you countless alternatives, from rubber rings to Frisbees made from various materials to miss-shaped balls that will bounce off in different directions.   Toys intended for use in water now come in all shapes and sizes, which give endless pleasure to water loving hounds.  The list is never-ending and you can easily find a different item for every walk.

When choosing toys for dogs you have to take account of the dog’s manner and size.  A number of dogs will cherish their toys and never take a piece out of them, whereas others will demolish some such items in a matter of minutes. 
Toys need to be larger than the recipient’s throat and should be designed specifically for canines.  When choosing a ball always make certain that it is of the correct size for your dog, bearing in mind that it will not only have to be sturdy enough to withstand being in the jaws, but will also become covered with saliva. 

Soggy balls can easily slip and block the throat when caught by an exuberant dog if they are not of adequate size.     

Avoid using golf balls; these are nothing more than a coated mass of rubber similar to that of elastic bands, which even small breeds can access with their jaws. Foam, tennis and soft rubber balls can also pose potential hazards due to the destructibility of the material they are made from.

A dog with a destructive nature towards their possesions will require robust toys and should never be left unsupervised with anything that could be chewed up.  Keeping what can be termed as ‘flimsy’ toys
for interactive play only, which not only makes them last longer but also provide a dog with a much more entertaining time.

Pet accessory manufacturers have excelled in marketing toys considered to meet with dog’s behavioral needs, some of which are ideal for use when they are home alone to beat the boredom factor.  In a variety of shapes and sizes these items can be filled with treats that will only become available for eating once the dog has worked to release them.

All playthings require regular checking for wear and tear, anything that is showing signs of being past it should be replaced, this must also include toys that you think are indestructible, as over a period of time the material they are made from can begin to perish – especially if they are left outdoors.

Owners should never be tempted to allow a dog to play with toys intended for children.  Dog owning families need to be strict with tidying away human playthings to avoid any canine misadventure with such items, which generally ends with a visit to the vet and time in the operating theatre.  
It is wonderful to watch a canine at play and to be able to intermingle with his games; it’s even better when you know you are playing it safe.

©   Sue Beckley

      The Canine Academy

Sitting pooch

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