Top tips for choosing puppy safe toys

December 16, 2023 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Dog Toys

Not all toys are created equal, especially when it comes to the safety and development of a puppy. In this guide, we'll explore how to select fun and stimulating toys without compromising on safety.

Understanding puppy play behavior

Puppies live in a constant state of learning and discovery. And this play isn’t just a way to pass the time; it’s a critical part of their early development.

The role of play in puppy development

Playtime is a fundamental part of puppy growth. Through play, puppies learn about their environment, develop important motor skills, and begin to understand social cues. This early learning sets the foundation for their behavior as adult dogs. 

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Different types of play cater to different developmental needs. For instance, a game of fetch helps with coordination and understanding commands, while tug-of-war can teach them about gentle play and strength control.

Puppy tug of war

Puppy play preferences

Just like humans, puppies have their own unique preferences when it comes to play. Some may love the thrill of chasing, while others might prefer the comfort of a soft toy to snuggle with. Be sure to observe your puppy’s preferences: This lets you know how to keep them engaged and happy and helps you select the toys that are right for their individual play style.  

If puppies show a strong preference for chewing, for example, they might do well with durable rubber toys, while those who prefer fetching might enjoy lightweight balls or frisbees.

Play and socialization

Socialization is another important aspect of play. Puppies learn a great deal about social interactions and acceptable behavior through play.

Engaging with other puppies during playtime can be incredibly beneficial, teaching them valuable lessons about social interactions and acceptable behavior. When puppies play together, they learn about bite inhibition, deciphering body language, and appropriate ways to interact with their peers.

If you don’t have another pet in your home, arranging playdates with other puppies can be a great way to encourage this social learning. (Just stay mindful of each puppy’s vaccination status!)

If arranging interactions with other puppies isn't feasible, pet parents can still play an active role in their puppy’s socialization. Just gently engage in interactive play using toys, and expose your puppy to different environments and stimuli.

Evolving play needs

As puppies grow, their strength and size change; as a result, their interests and toy requirements may change as well. A toy that was perfect for a two-month-old puppy might not be suitable for one that's six months old.

It’s important to regularly reassess your puppy’s toy collection and make sure it matches their current stage of development. By choosing the right toys, you're helping your puppy evolve towards a happy, healthy adulthood.

Puppy with toys

The size and materials matter

Selecting the right size and material for your puppy’s toys isn’t just about fun—it’s crucial for their safety.

A toy that's too small can easily become a choking hazard for a playful pup. On the flip side, toys that are too large can be frustrating and even painful for puppies to play with. The key is to find a size that is appropriate for your puppy’s breed, age, and mouth size.

As a general rule, a toy should be large enough that your puppy can’t swallow it whole but small enough for them to comfortably carry in their mouth.

Materials used in puppy toys can range from rubber and plastic to fabric and rope. Each has its benefits and potential downsides. For example, rubber toys are often durable and good for chewing, but you should always check that the rubber is non-toxic and free from harmful chemicals.

Plush toys can be great for cuddling, but they may not stand up to aggressive chewers and can pose a risk if the puppy tears them apart and eats the stuffing or fabric. Always check for labels that indicate the toy is safe for pets and free from harmful substances.

Toys with sharp edges, loose strings, or small, detachable parts can cut your dog’s mouth, pose choking risks, or even cause intestinal blockages. Avoid toys with bells, buttons, ribbons, or anything that can be chewed off and swallowed.

Durability is key as well. A durable toy isn’t just a cost-effective choice—it's safer. High-quality dog toys are less likely to break into small, dangerous pieces. So consider how well a toy can withstand your puppy’s chewing habits. While no toy is indestructible, those made with sturdy materials are less likely to become a safety hazard.

And remember, even with the safest toys, supervision is a must.

puppy with chew toy

Interactive toys for mental stimulation

Interactive toys play a crucial role in your puppy’s mental and emotional development. These toys help you engage your puppy’s mind along with their bodies. They encourage problem-solving skills and provide mental stimulation. 

Interactive toys often involve puzzles that the puppy has to solve to receive a reward, usually a treat or kibble. This helps develop their intelligence and also staves off boredom. Remember, puppies are naturally curious and eager to learn!

Different types of interactive toys offer different benefits. For example, puzzle feeders encourage puppies to work for their food. In addition to being mentally stimulating, this can help slow down their eating. (This can be highly beneficial to adult dogs as well; trust us, you don’t want your dog to suffer from bloat.) 

Treat-dispensing toys also provide mental stimulation, and they can be a great puppy training aid.

Toys that encourage direct play with humans, like tug-of-war ropes or fetch toys, are also interactive in nature; these can help strengthen the bond between pet and pet parent.

Just remember to consider your puppy’s age, size, and level of mental development. Younger puppies might benefit from simpler puzzles, while older ones might need more challenging activities to keep them engaged. Again, choose toys that are appropriately sized to prevent choking or swallowing.

And remember, it’s important to monitor their playtime. Make sure the toy is functioning as intended and that your puppy isn’t becoming frustrated or stressed. Also, check the toys regularly for any signs of wear and tear, especially if they contain small parts or are chewed on frequently.

Picking the right chew toys

Chew toys are an essential part of a puppy's life, serving as a source of entertainment and a tool for dental health and comfort.

Chewing is a natural behavior for puppies, especially when they’re teething. Safe, durable chew toys provide a safe outlet for this instinct, preventing them from chewing on inappropriate items like furniture or shoes. They also help to clean their teeth and reduce plaque and tartar buildup.

During the teething phase, chew toys can soothe sore gums and provide much-needed relief.

Offering your puppy a variety of chew toys can keep them engaged and cater to their changing needs. Use a mix of rubber toys, dental chew toys, and even natural options like specially treated ropes or certain types of animal chews.

However, you should always supervise your puppy with natural chews and avoid cooked bones or other items that can splinter and cause harm.

Chew toys can wear down over time, so it’s important to inspect them regularly for signs of damage. 

puppy with big rope

Speaking of which...

Regular toy check-ups

Regular toy inspections can prevent accidents. They help you identify damage that might pose a risk to your dog, such as loose parts, sharp edges, or exposed stuffing.

Look for tears, breaks, or chewed-off pieces. Squeeze stuffed toys to make sure no internal parts are coming loose. For rubber or plastic toys, check for cracks or signs of significant wear. If a toy contains a squeaker, make sure it’s still securely embedded within the toy.

When a toy is damaged or excessively worn, it’s time to replace it. Continuing to use damaged toys can pose risks such as choking or ingestion of harmful materials.

And remember, cleanliness is next to dogliness. Regular toy cleanings can prevent the build-up of dirt, bacteria, and potential allergens. Most fabric toys can be machine washed, while plastic or rubber toys can often be cleaned with mild soap and water. To avoid damaging the toys, always follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning.

Peace of mind in puppyhood and beyond 

While selecting the right toys is one step toward safety and satisfaction, accidents and illnesses can occur for a variety of reasons. Puppy insurance may cover a wide range of veterinary expenses that can arise from unexpected accidents or illnesses*, allowing you to focus on playtime instead of worrying about potential expenses.

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.