Not all dog toys are created equal

My dog is what veterinarians call an “aggressive chewer.” He has a powerful jaw, and he enjoys using it.

Oreo gnawing on a giant rope toy, summer 2013.

Visions of tattered sofa cushions and shredded shoes may be entering your mind, but I assure you, “aggressive chewer” doesn’t always equal “angry owner.” Because in addition to being especially talented with his teeth, Oreo is rather smart and focused. As long as he has plenty of chew toys to occupy him, he won’t touch the “non-toys.”

In fact, Oreo no longer needs to be kept in a crate when home alone (says the proud mother). He simply wanders about the house. That’s why dog toys have recently become a typical purchase during my shopping excursions — Oreo needs to have something to occupy his time, aside from chasing my two cats, which are decidedly non-toys.

So now, after much shopping and Oreo-observing, let me impart some of the things I’ve learned about dog toys.

First of all, you are going to go through a lot of dog toys before you figure out what your dog actually enjoys playing with and what your dog doesn’t destroy in less than 24 hours.

Opinions about dog toy materials differ. Some people prefer natural materials (bones, antlers and raw hide), while others prefer synthetic toys (Nylabones and Kong balls). Regardless, one important thing I’ve learned is that your dog should not be able to break a chew toy into chunks. Worst case scenario, a piece lodges in your dog’s throat and he chokes to death. Best case scenario, you wake up at 4 a.m. to the sound of your dog puking. You then get up and search through the pile of vomit to make sure your dog hasn’t consumed anything toxic (like chocolate) and discover big red chunks of Kong ball. (Thank you, Mr. Aggressive Chewer.)

So, if you get your dog a new chew toy, don’t let him have it when you aren’t at home until you’re confident he can’t break it up into pieces. If you observe him breaking it into pieces, throw it away. Also, learn how to do the Heimlich maneuver on your dog, which is described online at sites such as PetMD.com.

The breed of your dog may guide you in purchasing toys, but I’ve come to find that dogs are quite unique in their preferences.

Dexter (left) and Oreo play with a tattered Angry Bird frisbee, fall 2013.

While Oreo’s exact genetic ingredients remain a mystery, he’s some sort of pit bull mix. With the brute strength associated with pit bulls, you’d think Oreo could destroy a deer antler faster than his playmate, Dexter, a black Lab-collie mix. But you’d be wrong. Petite and nimble Dexter has especially sharp teeth, which I have watched whittle down a deer antler in less than a week; while for Oreo, the antler would have lasted

What the Angry Bird toy used to look like.

months.

Oreo’s favorite toy is simply a rope because “Tug of War” is his favorite game. For chewing, I turn to antlers and the hardest Nylabones I can find.

Then there’s my friend Kim’s white English bulldog Zeus who has a comical obsession with balls — tennis balls, basketballs, workout balls — anything with a round shape. If he sees a ball, Zeus will attempt amazing feats of agility to claim it as his own, despite his squat stature and fits of asthma.

Due to the ridiculous variety of dog toys out there, I like to break the toys down into categories.

1. Practical dog toys: These items are created with the needs of the dog in mind. From my observations, dogs like to chew, chase, tug and be comforted, so practical toys should be for chewing (Nylabones) or chasing (tennis balls) or tugging (rope) or comforting (stuffed animal). However, some toys are practical only for certain dogs. For example, Oreo + stuffed animal = stuffing storm.

2. Dog toys for humans: These products are created to entice and entertain humans and can be broken down to the more specific categories of:

– pop culture dog toys, such as the Star Wars Chewbacca Multi-Squeaker Dog Toy.

– dog toys that reflect personal interests, such as the Harley-Davidson Plush Bone with Motor Sound.

– dog toys with “witty” phrases on them, such as the Multipet “Woofy Cushion.”

– seasonal dog toys, such as the Petco Halloween Zombie Girl Plush Dog Toy.

3. Dog toys that may enforce bad habits: These toys were probably made with good intentions but may encourage your dog to try to play with things that they shouldn’t. For example, recently, I saw a plastic squeaking dog toy made to look like a packet of M&Ms (chocolate is toxic to dogs) and similar toys constructed to look like barbeque fare.

4. Creepy dog toys: These are objects that I don’t want to see on the floor of my house. If I do, I might scream or at the very least shiver with repulsion. Since we’re nearing Halloween, there are plenty of toys that fall under this category for me, but the worst of them might be the Petco Halloween Giant Squeaker Spider Dog Toy (hell, no). But even outside the month of goblins and ghouls, creepy dog toys can be found in abundance — believe me.

Feel free to refer to this purely scientific dog toy taxonomy during your next foray of the pet store.

Read more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s blog posts at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.