PetHub's CEO, Lorien, and her 4-month old Boston Terrier explore the world of puppy toys and have selected some of their absolute favorites.
If you have a new puppy (or are getting ready to bring one home), don’t forget an essential supply that you must have on hand -- TOYS!! This isn’t a place to scrimp, in my opinion, because your toy arsenal will save you oodles in destroyed shoes, power cords and furniture corners.
That said, there are SO many dog toy options out there, it can be overwhelming and expensive (seriously, I have a compulsion to buy a doggo toy whenever I see one in the store -- yes, I need help!!), and if you are a new dog parent, it can be challenging to know what to look for. Not all great dog toys are great for puppies, and shopping for toys for a puppy should not be taken lightly. Here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Size: You will want to pick toys that your young pup can easily pick up and carry around, AND not so small that they can be swallowed (big breed puppies should not be given really small chew toys just because they are puppies)
- Safety: Puppies will chew and try to eat EVERYTHING, so you don’t want to give them things that can break into small pieces and be swallowed
- Softness: Really hard chews are not good for puppy teeth and should be avoided -- so look for chews specifically designed for puppy teeth
- Variety: Puppies are naturally inquisitive and look for texture and sound exploration everywhere -- if you don’t peak their interest with a wide variety of toys, they’ll find it by gnawing on your stuff
- “Designed for Puppies”: This is always an easy way to know that the toy is probably a good option (and possibly NOT good once they get older). With that said…. ALWAYS supervise your puppy with toys, even if they are designated as “made for puppies”
At our home, we have a small army of toys in every room. Why? Because I want to have items ready when our 3.5 month old Boston Terrier pup, Hedy, inevitably finds something of MINE she wants to “explore.”
My strong recommendation is to not scrimp on toys, but rather buy a bunch up front and be prepared to engage the “distract and switch'' maneuver often while your pup is going through teething (which can take a looooooong time). The good news is that many puppy toys are slightly cheaper than adult dog toys (cuz they are generally smaller), so hopefully you won’t break the bank.
When shopping for puppy toys I look for products in these five categories:
- Balls & Bouncy Stuffs
- Puzzles, Brainworkers & Food Dispensers
- Chew Toothy Toys
- Cuddle Bug (aka “Kill the Squeaker”)
Let’s dive into my list of the favorite puppy toys we currently have in our home to inspire you and your wee pupper:
Balls & Bouncy Stuffs
JW Holee Roller - Favorite Toy Overall
We are HUGE JW fans. You’ll see a LOT of JW toys on this list, in fact. But the BEST toy for doggos of all ages in my opinion is the Holee Roller. It was my former Boston Terrier, Penny’s, absolute favorite toy and it lasted a dozen years (until her younger brother Ullr finally managed to tear it). So, of course, it was the very first toy purchase I made, and it has once again proven to be the favorite of young Miss Hedy Pawmarr.
Why is it so awesome? Let me count the ways:
1. Super easy for small dogs to grab and carry around, yet big enough to not be a choking hazard for bigger dogs
2. Lightweight with a lively bounce (which is particularly awesome for games of indoor fetch)
3. Hollow and great for putting biscuits in for a bit of “brain work” play
4. Durable as HECK -- it was only after about 12 years and LOTS of rugged play with two doggos before our first Holee Roller finally started to tear (so we gave it a proper toy burial in the garbage so it wouldn’t break into pieces that could be swallowed)
5. Great for “self-fetch” -- yes -- both of my BT’s have figured out the Holee Roller is awesome for tossing in the air and catching sans humans
6. Doubles as a tug toy -- not sure if it is MEANT to be used as a tug toy -- but every dog I’ve known goes there with it. It should be noted that it is probably not durable enough to have a big ol’ doggo tugging on it, and it puts you close to the pup’s mouth -- so proceed with caution (but yup, both of my BT’s love a little tug and head tussle before they drop it for more fetch)
JW iSqueak Funble Football - Runner Up Favorite Ball
Much of what makes the JW Holee Roller awesome (durable, lightweight, super bouncy) applies to the Funble Football (there is ALSO a version of a Holee Roller in a football form, FWIW). Our son LOVES playing fetch with Hedy and the Funble Football -- and loves to squeak it to get her attention, too! It’s got a really nifty groove in each side that makes it easy for little hands and little pup mouths handle and maneuver.
JW Crackle Heads
At first, Hedy was not that interested in this little ball, even though it is perfectly sized for her and has the “Holee Roller” shell. But after we had taught her the joys of fetch with other balls, she started engaging with it more. Once she engaged, she realized that it had a very satisfying crackle-crunch when she chewed on it, and that fueled her to start chomping with wild abandon. Is it me, or do some dogs just REALLY get off of making things make noise??
JW Cuz Balls
There are a ton of “personality” choices for the JW Cuz ball -- but in essence, it’s a ball with feet (which means unexpected bounces that keep pups on their toes!). It’s also made of the same material as other JW toys, the perfect blend of soft and sturdy for ideal chewing sessions.
We have several of these and they are always a hit. We recently received one that even has a hole to put bully sticks into -- BONUS!! Like every other pup I know, Hedy loves playing fetch with these lil’ guys -- though it is still a wee bit too big for her to get enough purchase to hold onto and carry very far in her mouth -- but that doesn’t stop her from trying. I foresee this ball rising in the ranks as she gets bigger.
SturdiPet RinGO Toy
A late entry to the competition, but only because Mommy found it while unpacking (we just moved, so that means I’ll be unpacking for the next, oh, 3 years). I got this toy a few years ago at a trade show, and because our older dogs had oodles of other toys, it rarely got played with. However, I found a box of doggo stuff, and tossed it over to Hedy. INSTANT LOVE AFFAIR ENSUED.
She loves this thing (it’s a ring covered in fabric that is nearly indestructible). Much like the Holee Roller, she chooses self-play with the RinGO fairly often -- it rolls away from her at the slightest touch and she loves chasing after it and bouncing it off of walls. So glad I kept it (and unpacked that box early!).
Puzzles, Brainworkers & Food Dispensers
Nina Ottoson Hound Smart Puzzle Game - Favorite Treat Dispenser Toy
I wanted to use a puzzle game for some of Hedy’s feeding. Not only does it slow her down, but it also works her brain (tired doggie is a happy doggie!) and keeps her occupied while I’m trying to work (some days -- this is the BIGGEST benefit!).
Problem solving, much like training, can tire a pup out faster than ANY walk and encourage them to have fun, independent play. We've got a lot of puzzle toys in our arsenal, but I decided to start with Nina Ottoson's Smart Puzzle Game by Outward Hound. I can't say enough great things about Nina Ottoson's puzzle games -- all of our pups have loved them! They are durable, easy to set up and clean and really provide great enrichment opportunities for puppies.
The particular puzzle I used for our young pup is a Level One puzzle. Hedy got the hang of the puzzle within minutes, and now she gets VERY excited when I pull it out of it’s box. One of the great things about the Nina Ottoson toys is that they have built in levels of difficulty which helps prolong how long the toy will interest them before they are ready to move on to a new level (and for super smarties -- they can be ready pretty quickly). That said, no matter how smart your pup is -- start with a Level One and let them REALLY refine their skills with it before moving on to the next level.
For the Smart Puzzle Game Level One, simply changing the direction of the bones makes it more difficult (and I also occasionally “skip” filling a bone area, to see if she uses her snout to sniff out goodies -- and she picked up on that trick RIGHT away!).
FWIW -- Tormund the cat ALSO figured out the puzzle pretty quickly, and because he has to have special prescription food ONLY, I cannot leave out the puzzle for any kind of free feeding unless I’m in the room to shoo away Mr. T.
Hedy is just about ready to move on to a new puzzle toy, and there are a LOT of options in the Outward Hound collection to choose from, so stay tuned for more puzzle toy recommendations and reviews in the future!
West Paw Rumbl
I love West Paw toys -- and can’t wait until Hedy is a bit older so she can really enjoy some of their more complex toys that require a bit more strength. That said, the Rumbl is a great starter puzzle toy from West Paw.
At first, I was planning to use the Rumbl for feeding, but I discovered that her puppy small breed kibble was WAY too small for the Rumbl, and just poured out with the slightest paw touch. PLUS, my toddler LOVES “helping” by picking it up and shaking out all the kibble (yay). Instead, I really prefer to use the Rumbl for larger treats that Hedy has to really “work” the ball to get treats (her current favorite for this is Einstein Pets PB’N Jelly Time biscuits).
Outward Hound "Hide A" Toys
Outward Hound also has my favorite “hide and seek” toys. We’ve had MANY of these in our home. They come in several “themes” and they are adding new ones all the time -- squirrels in trees, marshmallows in a mug, colored balls in a “beach ball”, and other brands, like Frisco, have even more options.
The latest in our home is a green “bamboo tree” with panda squeaker toys hidden inside. I’ve yet to meet a pup that doesn’t love pulling the squeaker animals out of these toys. Our dog, Ullr, was obsessed with the Hide A Squirrel Tree -- and would bring it to bed every night (we went through at least a half dozen of them).
One thing we’ve experienced is that they are not the most durable of toys -- you can buy replacement squirrels, though when the squeakers are finally ripped out of the critters (and they will be ripped out, trust me). We also found that the “case” (tree, mug, beach ball, etc.) tends to be the first thing to breakdown as it gets a LOT of action. To that end, we just use the “critters” to stuff the other containers.
One fun “challenge” is to hide little treats in the containers -- that really drives Hedy crazy and it gives her great joy to dig out all the critters and get to the treat nestled at the bottom of the tree.
PupPod Rocker with Feeder
This is the newest toy in the arsenal -- we literally got it a few days ago and have just started playing with it. Hedy is super-duper intrigued and I am excited to see her progress with this toy -- because it is an electronic SMART toy that adjusts its play as she learns, and the linked treat dispenser rewards her with treats when she “gets” the challenge. I’ll do a full review in a few weeks and we will link it here...stay tuned!
Chew & Toothy Toys
Kong Puppy Teething Stick - Favorite Chew Toy
Don’t let the “Puppy” moniker fuel you -- I have a feeling this toy will have a very long shelf life in our toy collection (though, when she gets old enough, we might graduate her to the “Dental Stick” version - we’ll see how it goes with the durability).
This thing is SO versatile. On its own, it’s just a good chew toy and has a nice unpredictability in it’s bounce when you toss it, and she loves that. But the real magic is in the grooves -- because yummy, sticky Stuff’N Easy Treat (or peanut butter or other puppy-safe soft spreads) can be squeezed in them and that guarantees at least 30 minutes of focused chewing (yay, Mommy can get some work done!). Note on the Stuff’N stuff -- it can be messy, and Hedy isn’t cooperative with staying on the towel I lay down -- so I only use it on hard floor surfaces.
While she is teething, we take it up a notch and freeze it over night -- ooh...that feels awesome on those sore puppy gums. Another bonus -- the two ends of the stick have different sized openings so you can fit small edible chew sticks (our absolute favorite is Earth Animals No-Hide STIX) in the small hole or and a bully stick or Kong Puppy Stuff’N Ziggies treats in the big hole) -- this guarantees the longest chew session (woohoo!).
One note -- as awesome as this toy is, the edible spreads do dry up and get crusty in the grooves as her chewing and licking are not quite strong enough yet to get it all out. Every few days, I wash it, using a butterknife to get the crusty gunk out of the grooves, then I put it on the top rack of the dishwasher.
Kong Puppy Toy (Classic Shape)
This toy is a classic for a REASON -- dogs love it. You can stuff all sorts of treats inside (Kong has several treats specially designed for it), freeze it, bounce it...it is so versatile and super durable.
I often layer the treats (small kibble in first, followed by a bigger biscuit to “block” the hole and then put the squeezable spread to fill in the gaps. This toy, like the dental chew, will give you a little bit of peace and quiet time while your pupper puts in some serious chew time when she digs for the noms in her Kong. Much like the dental toy, too, it does need to be cleaned regularly to keep from gunk build-up (it’s top rack dishwasher safe).
Benebone Puppy Chews
Everyone at the dog store raved about these toys (and I got a wide assortment of shapes), but Hedy is just now warming up to them and only this week started to really chew on them when they are offered to her, so the jury is still out for her. That said, I decided to put them on the list regardless because I have a feeling she’s going to be using them more and more as the teething ramps up.
Fair warning, the Maplestick Benebone looks deceivingly like a pile of puppy poo from a distance! Be prepared for a few wee heart attacks when you catch it out of the corner of your eye before you’ve had enough coffee (clearly, this has been my experience on more than one occasion LOL!).
JW Puppy Connects - Favorite Interactive Toy
This toy almost rose to the top as “Favorite Overall” because it gets chosen every single evening when the family is all together and Hedy is obsessed with it. It has three sides with “inputs” with three different toy heads that screw into the center base. Petmate sells replacement heads, which is super convenient (and standard water bottles can screw into it, too -- which dogs LOVE to crunch on!).
Right now, it’s the rope tug toy that she really digs. She and our toddler love playing tug-o-war with it. It also has a softer chew toy side and a crinkle ball side (she likes the crinkle ball side 2nd best). This toy is specifically designed for puppies, so it’s likely not going to last into adulthood as her teeth and jaws get strong, but right now -- it’s a perfect toy!
Charming Pet Rips 'Em Cow
This one almost won for tug toy awesomeness, and in all fairness, it was probably a tie. First and foremost, the total nerd in me just loves how hilarious this toy looks and how ridiculous it looks to watch Hedy drag it around (yes, I do laugh at my doggo’s expense -- and Boston Terriers are natural comedians so she loves making us laugh).
The toy was twice her size when she first came home, but that didn’t deter her AT ALL. Inside is a rope tug toy with one exposed end, and the other side of the toy has a squeaker inside that is just “asking for it.” It also doubles as a favorite naptime snuggle toy.
West Paw Zogoflex Bumi Tug
Hedy is finally getting big enough to play with one of our favorite toys from puppers past. Like all West Paw toys, this is a crazy durable product that was made with eco-friendly methods and doggos love it -- so of course I’m gonna love it, too.
It not only is a really great tug toy, but it has a fabulous, unpredictable bounce when tossed -- and it goes FAR when tossed in the air. It also stretches way out when used as a tug toy, which gives me more peace of mind when she is playing tug with the toddler -- let’s keep those sharp teeth a little further away from the wee human’s fingers, shall we?
Cuddle Bug (aka "Kill the Squeaker")
West Paw Rowdies Darby - Favorite Squeaker Plush Toy
Okay, full disclosure, I think this toy is hilarious. When a bunch of toys are in a pile, this is one of the first ones pulled out -- and the squeaking and frenzied shaking begins! When she first came to live with us, it was bigger than Hedy and I loved watching her carry it around.
She loves the squeaker, it is easy for her little puppy mouth to engage, and it often doubles as a tug toy (don’t all dog toys do that, though??). And it is hysterical to watch her “shake” it -- it beats her around the head and just builds more of a frenzy in the play. The fur on the Darby (and all Rowdies) is super soft, too -- great for snuggling after a rough play session. Bonus -- you can toss a Rowdie in the wash and it will come out good as new (I don’t put it in the dryer so the fur won’t mat up).
Kong Wild Knots Bear
This lil’ bear is a VERY close second in the “Snuggle Bug” category. One of her first toys, this fella has been a comfort item since her first drive home with us. It spends every night in her crate and is a signal for “it’s time to calm down” when we go to bed.
It’s very wee, and is a perfect size for a small breed puppy -- but when she gets older, we may have to retire it as it will be easily destroyed, should it decide to look cross-eyed at Hedy and just “asks for it.” Right now, though, it promotes calm gnawing and licking, so it may have a fairly long life ahead of it. As the name suggests, inside is a rope toy, so should Hedy chew through the fur, the exposed innards will offer yet another layer of play options.
Kong Plush Frog
Talk about tiny! The XS size of Kong’s plush toy line is SMALL -- and perfect for small breed puppies or toy sized doggos! The squeaker is VERY easy to squeak and is soon on its way to being extracted. (They do sell extra squeakers for these little guys -- though I’m not sure why if the body that housed them is destroyed -- unless I take the time and effort to resew them?? Let’s be honest...that’s unlikely.)
I am certain that this frog (they have several species of this toy, ours is a frog) will not be long for this world as she has been driven lately to go for “de-squeakerizing” it -- but for some toys -- that’s the whole point!
BARK Prudence & Imprudence Bananas
This toy was from the clearance table at our local pet shop -- and I’m so glad I snagged it for her! The two banana gals don’t have squeakers, but they do have something just as tantalizing for young teething pups -- crinkles! They are very soft, easy to fit in a small puppies mouth and Hedy loves to crunch, crunch crunch on them. Their size is perfect for her, too, and I wouldn’t recommend them for big, strong jawed chewing puppies as I don’t think these ‘naners will be that durable.
Homemade Fleece Blankie with Squeakers - Favorite Comfort Item
Our breeder sent us home with a lovely gift bag that included a homemade blanket with squeakers sewn in. Most special about this blanket was that it was part of a larger fleece blanket that had been with the entire litter before being divided up among the pups to go home with them.
It was such as comfort to Hedy her first few nights with us, and it is still an instant calming device that she cuddles right into. There are squeakers sewn into the corners of the small blanket, but she frankly just lightly squeaks on them -- so I am hopeful that the blanket will stay intact. If one of the corners is exposed to “kill the squeaker”, this is one toy I will take the time to repair and replace the squeaker.
Bringing Hedy Home chronicles the journey of bringing a new puppy into your life. In this series, PetHub's COO, Lorien, shares all of the joys (and terrors) that come with sharing your home with a puppy and provides some of the lessons she has learned in her lifetime of being a pet parent. This is the 5th article in the series and was written by Lorien Clemens on February 18, 2021.