Features October 2002 Issue

Terrifically Tough Dog Toys

Engaging chew-resistant products that can survive shark-mouths.

There are just a few companies who specialize in chew toys for canines with shark mouths – dogs who instantly shred the majority of toys. If you are looking for something that an aggressive chewer can take under the kitchen table and gnaw on for any stretch of time, you’d best stick to those few. (See sidebar.)

However, “chew” is not the only game that dogs like to play – even dogs who also happen to be aggressive chewers. Alas, when you have a strong-mouthed dog, just about any game that involves chasing, retrieving, tugging, or pushing a toy is over before you really get going. With a habitual chomper, a game of fetch with a standard plastic Frisbee (for example) generally lasts for only three or four throws – at which point you have to “call” the game due to the lacerations on the dog’s tongue and gums, and maybe even your hands.

For this article, we wanted to find toys that could last long enough to entertain us and our shark-mouthed dogs for more than a few hours or days.

My Scottie was delighted when we were given the assignment to find a variety of tough toys that would stand up to the rigors of shark-fetch, shark-tug, and other interactive games. Teeth ready, Dubhy and I unpacked boxes of toys and, to our delight, found a number that passed the tooth test in several categories.

However, we also found many toys that were not suitable for aggressive chewers. Generally, we list and describe all the products we reviewed, good, bad, and indifferent Rather than listing and describing all of the duds in this specialized niche – really, the majority of toys on the market – we’ll focus only on the toys that met our criteria for four-paw or three-paw products (see our rating scale, in products sidebar).

Remember, we found the following toys to be the most likely to survive rowdy romps with a “mouthy” dog; these are NOT toys intended for hours of lie-down and chew-your-heart-out activity.

Flying discs
There are a number of important properties for a good canine flying disc. It should fly long and true, be sturdy enough to stand up to an aroused dog’s teeth, soft enough that it won’t cause undue wear to a dog’s dentition, easy for the dog to pick up, and light enough that it won’t knock out a tooth or cause injury if a miscalculation causes a mid-air dog-disc collision. In addition, if a tooth does puncture the surface of the disc, it should not leave any sharp edges that might lacerate the dog’s lips, tongue, or gums on the next retrieve.

The original Frisbee falls short of these standards in several areas. Anyone who has tossed one of these plastic discs for their dog knows that they quickly succumb to a dog’s canines, often on the first fetch, leaving dangerously sharp, jagged edges. In addition, if a standard Frisbee lands on a flat surface such as cement or asphalt, it can be very difficult for the dog to grasp the lip of the disc and pick it up.

However, a number of flying disc products have been developed specifically for dogs, and many of those do meet our criteria for a decent dog disc. Here are some of our favorites:

The Soft Bite Floppy Disc was one of the earliest flying discs made for dogs, and it continues to be a favorite. It is a classically-shaped disc made of soft neon pink and green nylon, sewn over a flexible rim.

It exhibits excellent flight capabilities, soaring straight, flat, and far, even for a novice disc tosser (me). It’s easy for the dog to grab out of the air, and it’s also extremely resistant to tooth punctures. Its soft nylon would not cause harm to the dog’s mouth even if he did manage to puncture it, and the light weight of the disc poses no danger if it hits the dog. The Floppy Disc is also easy for a dog to pick up from any surface. It folds up and stuffs into a pocket, and floats well enough to make a good water-fetch toy. Its bright neon colors make it easy to find in deep grass. We also appreciate the fact that it comes in two sizes, with the small one sized just right for little disc dogs.

The Chuckit Flying Squirrel rates high on the cuteness scale. It is a flat square of blue and orange nylon with a small bump on one side for the head, and a foot added onto each corner, so that it resembles a flying squirrel. This would be a great “something different” gift for your friends who have disc dogs.

We’ll give it a “good” rating in flight-worthiness. You have to be careful to keep it level as you toss if you want it to fly straight and flat. It scores better in toughness, seeming extremely resistant to tooth puncture and made of heavier nylon than the Soft Bite disc. While the light weight of the disc poses no danger if it hits your dog, the spinning feet could conceiveably cause damage in the unlikely event that they happened to hit your dog in the eye. The Flying Squirrel is easy for dogs to pick up from any surface, and its bright orange color makes it easy to find in deep grass.

The Fling Thing is a completely different sort of flying disc, and a fairly new entry to this market. It’s an eight-inch triangle-shaped toy that flies well, made of a uniquely soft, lightweight, almost squishy but durable rubberized material. As the warning on the package says, this toy is not a chew toy and should not be left for dogs to play with unattended – yet it’s a surprisingly tough toy. Aggressive chewers can sink their teeth into the toy, but can’t seem to puncture or tear it – not while engaged in play, anyway. (If they were left alone with it, that might be a different story.) The maker claims that dogs’ teeth actually get cleaned as they bite the toy. West Paw Design also makes a ball (the Bowwowzer Ball) and a ball on a rope (the Throw-N-Go) out of the same material.

Tug Toys
Trainers disagree as to the value of playing tug with your dog. I stand squarely in the “Tug is a Great Game” camp, provided you play it with rules that don’t allow the dog to become too pushy or aggressive in play (see “Play and Train by Tugging,” WDJ March 1999). A tug toy should be sturdy yet gentle on the dog’s teeth, appealing to the dog, long enough that teeth are far away from human skin, and comfortable for the human to hold onto. With lots of tug toys to choose from, here are some of our favorites.

JSR Enterprises makes two tug toys we like a lot: the Braided Buddy Tug Pull Toy & Large Tug-N-Tassel Toy. These two-tone toys are made of very durable braided nylon webbing. They include a comfortable loop handle on the human end, and a two-inch knot for the dog to grab. Our only concern is that a dog’s tooth could snag in the braid, although our test dogs did not experience this in extensive play.

The length of any tug toy is of supreme importance. You want the dog’s teeth a safe distance from your hands, in case he regrips when you aren’t paying the utmost attention. The 20-inch Tug Pull Toy is an ample length, even for a dog just learning the rules of Tug. The knot of the Tug-N-Tassel is six inches closer to the handle, and should be used with dogs who already know the rules of Tug.

The Donkey Tail is a four-foot long piece of braided synthetic fleece. This product has risen in our estimation since our first review of it several years ago. Although we were turned off initially by the fluffballs that it sheds when new and the fact that it stretches over time, we have since been impressed by its longevity. We have one that has survived extensive supervised canine abuse for five years!

The soft fleece is very attractive to most dogs, and is soft on the human’s hands, although, with no handle, it’s kind of hard to hold onto with a strong puller. At four feet long, there is plenty of distance to keep your dog’s teeth at a safe distance from your hands.

Jolly Pets took their very popular Jolly Ball, made a channel through the center, ran a cotton tug rope through, and knotted the ends to create the Romp-n-Ball, a fun hybrid between a tug toy and a ball. Although you could use it for human-dog tug games, the best application is for tug between two dogs – our two canine tug players loved alternating between playing “tug” and “chase me” games with each other – or for a dog who likes to grab the rope and drag or fling the ball around.

Jolly Balls can generally stand up to buckets of abuse. Because of the channel through the center, this one might be a little more vulnerable to chewing damage. Considering this, and the rope, this should be used for supervised play only.

The total length of the toy is 20 inches – ample distance to keep teeth away from hands. The ball in the middle also prevents dog teeth from creeping up to human skin.

Balls for fetch
Dogs and their humans have long been captivated by ball-chase games, and there are so many different kinds of balls on the market it will make your head spin!

The ideal ball is indestructible, and too big for your dog to accidently swallow. But the other requirements for the ideal fetch ball are contradictory. Fetch balls should be soft and light enough that they won’t knock the dog out if there’s a miscalculation, but solid enough that they aren’t easily destroyed. This leaves out the ubiquitous tennis ball, which an aggressive chewer can strip of its covering in mere minutes. A solid Cressite rubber ball is probably the best fetch choice for a dog who assertively chomps the ball as he brings it back to you; just be careful when you throw it, so you don’t clonk him on the head.

You don’t have to worry about that with Jolly Tug ’n Toss Balls. These are soft, low-density plastic, undeflatable balls with handles. Dubhy loves to play fetch with his 6-inch Jolly Ball, and the 10-inch version has survived more than a year at our Chew Chew Doggie Day Care Center. They don’t come much tougher than that!

However, unlike the regular Jolly Ball, the Jolly Tug ’n Toss Balls are not indestructible. They are made of a softer material than the regular Jolly Balls, and feature a handle. This handle enables the balls to be used for fetch and tug, but is also vulnerable to dedicated chewing. The material is durable enough that the toy will hold up to all sorts of play – the punctures that result from play don’t damage the integrity or usefulness of the ball – but if your dog lies down to chew, take the toy away.

We were skeptical about the durability of the Giggler Ball when we first saw it, but the manager of one of our favorite independent pet supply stores encouraged us to give it a try. Her own “test dogs” had been unable to damage the toy in supervised play sessions, and we enjoyed the same results with our testers.

This is a hard rubber fetch-sized ball with a hollow interior that contains a “giggler” mechanism that makes a noise that many dogs find to be very stimulating. You can use the Giggler Ball to entice a dog who normally turns his nose up at boring “regular” balls. The material resisted all sorts of assertive mouthing with only minor dents and no punctures. It could succumb under the long-term attention of an aggressive chewer, and the small “giggler” mechanism inside could pose a health risk if ingested; so put it away when you are not supervising play and discard the toy if your dog chews it open.

Push balls
Jolly Ball Push ’n Play Balls are the most durable toys we’ve ever seen. Made of sturdy polyethylene, they can survive years of unsupervised play with barely a scratch.

We have only two caveats: The ball should be sized appropriately so that it is too big for the dog to grasp in his mouth – he is supposed to push it around with his nose or paws. And we’ve heard of dogs who have worn the skin off their noses by obsessively pushing balls around; truly obsessive fans of the balls may need to have their playtime meted out accordingly.

The large sized ball offers one unique feature: It can be filled with sand or water to make it heavier, to give large dogs more exercise.

Zanies Jumbo Tennis Ball is a nine-inch tennis ball – way too big for dogs to pick up, or even get their teeth around in an attempt to peel it, as so many aggressive chewers like to do with tennis balls. The ball comes deflated, but the package includes a needle for inflation with a bicycle pump.

Because the ball is inflated, it must be taken away from your dog immediately if it is punctured and the ball deflates, but the size of the ball makes this unlikely.

The owners of dogs who enjoy pushing Jolly Balls around will enjoy the fact that this softer ball does not crash as hard into furniture and roll as loudly as the Jolly Ball.

In its own category
We couldn’t fit the Gum-Gum Bar into any of our other categories, but this latex fetch stick is such a great and simple toy that we had to include it in a class of its own. We tested both the longer, thinner bar and the shorter, thicker bar.

Surprisingly durable for something that’s so squishy, our test Gum-Gum bar survived repeated bouts of two-dog fetch, where one dog fetches the stick and the other tries to take it away, ending in a raucous game of tug. Not even a puncture mars the surface of our bar, although it would probably not survive constant attention from an aggressive chewer. The Gum-Gum Bar is lightweight, and unlikely to cause an injury if your dog accidently gets hit by a bad throw. It also floats, and makes a great water retrieve toy.


Also With This Article
Click here to view "What You Can Do."
Click here to view "Support Your Local Independent Retailer."
Click here to view "Supervision Needed Even with Products Meant for Tough Chewers."
Click here to view the products reviewed.

-by Pat Miller

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