Picking a Tug Toy

As promised on Monday, here are some questions that can help you pick a better tug toy for your dog. I don’t think I’m capable of writing the “ultimate guide to tug toys,” but there are definitely some common problems that good toy selection can help you with.

First up, let me say, I am neither teaching you how to play tug with your dog nor debating if you should do so. I’m assuming that you have a dog who is a pretty good candidate and that this is a game you want to play. I strongly recommend that you make some rules to govern tug games at your house, but that’s not the point of this post.

Secondly: I will tell you that Silas thinks every toy ever invented is a tug toy. Feel free to be inventive.

Silas with a Kong Tugga

Question 1:  Does your dog spit out the toy when you ask for it? If not, you need a toy that you can physically control. You will never get a stretchy toy away from a dog who won’t let go on cue. There are lots of tactics for teaching the dog to give back the toy, but for any of the ones I’ve seen you need a toy that you have full control over. Good options will probably seem very boring to you–rope toys, fake sticks, fire hose bumpers, etc–but dogs who won’t let go already have plenty of value for the toy.

Question 2: Does your dog sometimes grab your hand instead of the toy? I said that technique was outside of my range here, but do be careful with how you are presenting the toy. It’s easy to angle the toy so that your hand is more tempting than the toy is. Also, have some rules about this. Your dog will pick it up quickly. Generally, though, you’ll want a bigger, longer toy. Give the dog lots of room to grab as far away from you as possible. Silas loves to play tug with his huge Hol-ee Roller ball, which I think would be great here.

Tug!

Question 3: Does your dog clamp down firmly enough on the toy? Some dogs who aren’t really that excited about tugging will just let go of the toy when you pull. That’s a different problem. But it’s also easy to get a toy that’s just challenging or unpleasant for them to hold. The jute toy that I showed on Monday was a lot more fun for Silas before the jute got prickly. I’ve seen a lot of tug toys lately that are going to be too large for most dogs to get a good grip on. If you aren’t getting a solid bite down, try to find something your dog will enjoy having in his mouth. A softer toy that isn’t overly large will probably serve you better. Which leads to:

Question 4: What size toy do you need? There are several angles to this one. A lot of our favorite tug toys are for smaller dogs, because we just don’t have a lot of space. A four foot fleece rope means that Silas backs into the furniture and scares himself. That said, not all smaller toys can handle the force generated by a larger dog. If you have a small dog, a longer toy is easier on your back and can keep you from looming over the dog while you play. A larger dog may get too much leverage with a long toy. Sometimes you need a toy you can hide in your pocket, while sometimes a big toy can help your dog’s attention.

Question 5: Is your dog going to destroy the toy, or play thirty minutes of keep away, if he gets it away from you? You’ll want to address that behavior no matter what (playing tug on leash is a good place to start), but in the meantime look for a toy with a good handle. You want to keep a good grip on the toy. Also, see question one about picking a boring toy.

Silas playing tug

Most importantly, Question 6: What does your dog love? Toys that you can waggle on the floor for maximum pouncing? Toys that are good for fetch afterwards? Fuzzy things? Are noises awesome, or terrifying? Beyond a certain point, that’s all that matters.

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Our Favorite Tug Toys

Last week one of my commenters mentioned being overwhelmed by picking a tug toy for her dog. There are lots of choices out there. Today I’m going to talk about our favorites. Later in the week I’ll be posting some things to consider as you look for your own.

Silas, let me just say, is an equal opportunity tugger, as you’ll see from his bizarre collection of favorites.

(Not pictured: packing tape, preferably just pulled off a box; twisted up bits of brown paper bag; and real sticks, which I only allow in park emergencies.)

I rummaged through our collection and pulled these out as the best of the best:

Best dog tug toys

I thought I would be able to number these. It turns out that I’m not that patient. So, working roughly from top to bottom, left to right:

1. Salty Dog Canvas Raspberry

2 and 3. J.W. Pets Hol-ee Roller, big and little I don’t think these are officially a tug toy, but they’re great for it. I can see them being especially awesome if your dog tends to get your fingers instead of his toy. You’ll notice that we have lots of toys in two different sizes. 30 pound dogs apparently aren’t a marketing niche, so we usually have to pick between too big and too little.

4. Salty Dog Canvas Orbee

5. A random rope toy. This used to have rubber chewy parts on it. I untied the toy years ago and got rid of the rubber bits,  and then used this nice length of skinny rope to teach Silas his “out” cue.

6. A homemade braided fleece tug.

7. (Onto the second row now) Jute Bite Stick with Handle. Silas was mad for this, until the jute started to get a little hairy. Now he’s more so-so. But if you have a dog who seriously bites down, you should give this one a try. Sturdy with a great handle.

8. Another random rope toy; I believe this one is Pet Co’s Organic Cotton line. Looks boring to you; Silas loves it.

9. West Paw Hurley. This one is the large size. We also have the small one, buried in a park bag somewhere. Silas is only okay with the small one because he has excellent mouth placement on the toy. If you have a big, indiscriminate dog, even the bigger one might be a little short. I like these because they have just enough flex.

10 and 11. Kong Wubbas.  A classic for a reason. I can’t remember if our big one is the Large or the X-large. It’s almost too big for Silas to hold. The little one is tiny, and he adores it.

12. Flea Toy, a gift from my mom. I’ve seen these in stores, but I don’t know the brand name to look it up online. I can put Flea Toy on the ground and waggle his legs, and Silas just goes crazy. It’s held up to this surprisingly well, but Silas isn’t that hard on his toys.

13. The Udder Tug. There are not words for how much Silas loves this thing. It’s probably his favorite toy in this pile. Warning: these are recycled from the dairy industry, and they will smell exactly like a cow barn for quite a while. Strongly. But it’s a great toy.

14. This is some kind of real fur (sorry, my vegan friends) on a wee little tug toy. I’m 97% sure I bought it from Clean Run, but now I don’t see it on their site.

15. Kong Tugga Wubba. This one is Tugga Wubba 2.0. I bought the bigger one this time, hoping it would hold up better, but it hasn’t really. It’s also a little too big. I’d say get the small size for dogs Silas’s size and under and save the big one for dogs over 40 pounds.

16 and 17. Tiny Kong plushies. These are really pushing the boundary of tug toy. Silas’s favorite toy on the entire planet was a little beaver from a hide-a-toy. When I went to buy a new version of the hide-a-toy, and thus secure two backup beavers, it had been remodeled to include squeakers. Squeakers meant we couldn’t use them in obedience class. I bought these (with removable squeakers) instead. These are seriously only about two inches long, but they’ve held up pretty well. Silas has a preference for the frog, probably because he has legs to pull on.

18. West Paw Bumi. Another toy that we have in multiple sizes. This is the larger one, which is (again) really a little big for Silas. I’m not sure where the smaller one has gotten off to.

 

What’s your dog’s favorite toy?

 

Summer Pack

Here in opposite land, it’s summer that requires the most gear for dog walks. If we have an emergency, it’s most likely to be heat stroke related. In general, the word of the season is caution. I avoid the heat of the day or anything with extended sun exposure. I don’t let Silas run unless we’re almost back to the car. I set sensible limits on how long we’re out.

I also carry a different set of gear, which I thought I would share. Keep in mind that it is hot, so our outings are usually short. My list is not intended for serious backpacking or even long hikes.

Summer essentials for dog walks in hot climates.

The pack itself is an Osprey Raptor 10, which I got on a screaming deal when Osprey did their last redesign of the line. It’s designed for mountain biking, but Osprey makes great packs in general. Because this is made for active use, it’s pretty well ventilated in the back, which makes it bearable. Most importantly for my repurposing, it has a hydration bladder that holds three liters of water with a handy drinking tube. I can put out a pretty good stream of water from the tube, but I have thus far been unsuccessful at getting Silas to drink it. That’s why the other main feature is Silas’s beloved Paws for Water bottle. I wish this bottle were smaller, honestly (and that it didn’t randomly leak), but at least I never have to worry seriously about Silas running out of water. Most importantly, he drinks from is more readily than he does from a portable water dish, so I suck it up.

The other things here fall somewhere between generally useful and extremely overcautious. Moving roughly from left to right, we have
1) a 15 foot leash for playing around
2) a very old stuffing-free toy that Silas will play with outside
3) poop bags in a handy clip container
4) Quart sized freezer bags, to make sure that said poop bags don’t leak inside my pack
5) A lotion-style insect repellant. This one has DEET and is NOT dog friendly, but I can use it without risking Silas sticking his head in the over spray. If Silas were more of a licker, or the mosquitoes here were less horrible, I’d switch to something less toxic.
6) Iodine tablets, which are really, really overkill
7) A travel-sized tube of sunscreen. I’m always coated head to toe, so this is just for touchups.
8) A packet of Silas’s stomach medicine
9) His most beloved tiny toy of all time
10) A basic medical kit. This one is mostly bandages and a few medications. For longer expeditions, my husband has a bigger pack and carries more extensive medical supplies.
11) A short back-up leash
12) A ziploc bag of treats. On longer outings I carry more than pictured.
13) A clicker, just in case a good training opportunity arrives. (I rarely use the clicker at home, but it seems to help Silas focus outside.)
14) Zipties. These are left over from the pack’s mountain biking days, but I keep them in case a harness buckle or leash clip breaks.
15) and 16) are not pictured because Silas stole them before I could get the picture–a soft floppy frisbee and the world’s loudest squeaky ball. The world’s loudest squeaky ball is a pretty good emergency recall aid.

As you can see, the emergency I’m most prepared for is being overtaken by the urgent need to play a game of tug. We do a lot of play-sessions at the park as a way to help Silas get over his fear of strange places.

Notable things that are missing include dog sunscreen and insect repellant. Silas is terrified of things that spray, so I’m still looking out for a good solution. My bandana has gone AWOL over the winter, and I’m all out of human trail snacks.

What do you carry in the summer? Is it different from your winter gear? Am I missing something on your essentials list?

Blasphemy

I’m going to jump right in and make some waves today.

I don’t like front clip harnesses.

To backpedal, slightly, I’ll say that I think they’re much better than any other mechanical means of teaching good leash behavior. Even if you’re a fan of prong or slip collars (which I am not) you have to admit that almost everyone who uses one is using it wrong. I mean, I saw a dog on a prong collar and a flexi-lead last weekend. Huh?

My problems are three-fold. First, I think they’re naturally a bad harness design. We’ve had two models, and on both of them you have to be ridiculously attentive to keep the leash out from under the dog’s legs. Maybe with taller dogs that’s less true. Second, on every one I’ve seen (and trust me, I’ve looked at a lot of them) the belly strap sits right behind the dog’s front legs. If you have a short-haired dog, your dog is going to experience a lot of friction on the tender skin under his front legs. And, while we’re at it, that harness construction is very easy for a dog to back out of, especially if the leash is clipped to the front. If you have your dog in a front-clip harness because he tends to panic, you’d better be using a backup connector of some kind.

I also don’t think they work all that much better at teaching good leash behavior than any other method. We used one with Silas when he was a puppy, and it taught him to walk exactly at the end of his leash. This put us in a bad training situation. He technically wasn’t pulling, but he was obviously not doing what we really wanted, either. Obeying the letter of the law, if you will. To get right down to it, no training aid is a substitute for actual training. Loose leash walking is a sign of a human and a dog who are on the same page, and you can’t fake it. If that’s what you want, you’re going to have to work for it.

Now, to really scandalize all of the positive-only trainers out there who promote front clip harnesses. I think front clip harnesses are more aversive than people realize. They’re no prong collar, and they’re better than letting a dog choke and gag pulling against a collar. Still, they aren’t comfortable. They chafe your dog’s underarms. Some models buckle very low in the front, which can inhibit your dog’s natural gait. And, what was really the last straw for me the last time I used ours, the heavy leash clip slaps against your dog’s chest every time he takes a step. Unless he’s pulling the leash tight, that is, which is a conflicting training message if I’ve ever seen one. Not to over-anthropomorphize, but how crazy would that make you? Have you ever backpacked with a poorly-fitted pack, or hiked in pants that rubbed? Did you have a good time?

I’m not saying that they’re wrong for every dog in every case. Some of the problems Silas has with his harness wouldn’t even be noticed by a dog with thicker hair, which is almost every dog. Small women who walk large or strong dogs may really need the extra leverage you get with a front-clip. It takes monumental patience to teach a dog wearing a back-clip harness not to pull. I know. I did it, and I had many an internal temper-tantrum doing it. There are many poorly designed back-clip harnesses out there, too. I’m really uncomfortable with front-clips becoming the “no brainer” default recommendation, though.

Wasteful

Every January I go through the house and get rid of stuff. We’re planning for our next move to be into an even smaller house, so I’m trying to empty as many closets and drawers as possible. This year, the annual January downsizing coincided with a lot of reading about the environmental implications of trash, which has made it extra-guilt-inducing.

As part of this process, eventually I got to Silas’s stuff. And boy, is there a lot of it.

I won’t even list the number of coats and jackets and harnesses and grooming tools. We won’t talk about the mountain of food products that are either in use or sitting around because they caused an allergic reaction.

Instead, we’re talking about this:

Creating Less Waste With Pets

I’ll bet you have a similar box full.

What’s worse, this is just what was in the box. I keep some things down for Silas to use. (Too many toys out at once + dog with a problem relaxing = disaster.)

Silas still generates a lot of trash, even though I’ve been more careful lately, and most of it is really, really trash. Dog food and treat bags are almost always either a plastic/paper hybrid that can’t be recycled or plastic outright. Dog toys tend to be made of mixed plastic (like a “rubber” toy with a squeaker inside) or of unknown materials that are difficult to recycle. Color me a bleeding-heart liberal yuppie, but it bothers me to be filling up landfills with toys my dog didn’t even like that much.

So here are some things tips for cutting the trash and the clutter:

1) Donate used-but-functional leashes, collars, and harnesses to your local shelter, along with those gently-used toys that your dog just didn’t like. Check individual policies before you just show up with an armload. Some shelters particularly don’t want or need toys.

2) See if your friends have dogs that can take those leftover/rejected foods, or if there is a charitable organization in your area that will accept them. Maybe because it’s so hot here that food spoils quickly, but I haven’t had much luck. If your dog eats the same food all the time, consider buying a bigger bag, which usually has less packaging per serving. (Watch for spoilage, though.) Consider baking or dehydrating at least a portion of your own treats. (If I were really a hippy, I would tell you to make sure and buy your baking supplies from the bulk aisle. In reality, I’m skeptical of bulk shopping. Feel free to ask why in the comments–no room.)

3) Check before you throw those toys in the trash. Orbee/Planet Dog takes back cleaned toys for recycling. WestPaw’s Zogoflex toys (you’ll spot several in our pile) are “designed to be recycled,” although the website is unclear about how. 100% cotton rope toys can be composted, as can other natural fibers.

4) Repair things when you can. There’s no hope for a busted tennis ball, but a stuffed toy or dog bed with one bad seam is easy to resew.

5) Remember that your dog doesn’t have the most elaborate memory. Keep most of his toys put away. Once a month or so rotate toys. Look! A new toy! In-home recycling, if you will.

6) Most importantly, stop shopping. Dog stuff is so cute! It’s hard to leave in the store. But seriously, you probably don’t need that new water dish or eight Kongs just in case or a new collar with Santa on it. My own weakness is treats–I just get so excited when I find one that Silas can eat.

7) If you must shop, don’t buy junk. If a toy won’t last more than one or two play sessions, skip it. Also, remember that your dog carries his toys in his mouth, and there are real dangers to ingesting certain kinds of paints and plastics. Personally, these days I will only buy new toys from a few companies that I really trust. As a bonus, those toys tend to be well-made and long-lasting.

Sweater

I’ve been hit by some kind of nasty virus. Maybe the flu, even. I’m having trouble stringing together sentences. Which, honestly, is a big improvement over a few days ago, when I was having trouble stringing together consecutive minutes awake.

I’m going to try my very best to be back in a timely manner to showcase my Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange partner.

Until then, I’ll leave you with the most pathetic dog in the history of dog sweaters:

sweater

Apparently shivering is preferable to wearing clothes. Who knew?

Collars and Leashes

This is a totally frivolous post. I’ll just let you know that in advance.

The behaviorist wants me to try a new kind of harness with Silas. I don’t think his leash manners are really that bad, but whatever. I pay her a lot of money, I might as well take her advice.

What I can’t decide on is the color.

When you have a white dog, the collar and harness world is your oyster. Anything goes. Our current setup is red. I like the red leash, because it has a traffic handle, but six feet is a lot of leash for Silas.

We also have a “neutral” colored four foot brown leather leash. Our last harness was blue. We used the leather leash and he wore a matching leather collar. It looked quite dashing, but the leather collar bothered him. The new harness would be front-clip, so I don’t know about the four foot leash. Will it be enough to keep him out of my way?

This is not counting two long lines, the green cotton web leash that matched his puppy harness, and a basic black four foot nylon leash that I keep in his park bag for emergencies.

So my options are
1) Buy the new harness in red, and use the existing red leash. Keep the accumulation as low as possible, because it’s getting ridiculous.
2) Buy the new harness in any color, and use the brown leather leash. It’s a nice leash.
3) But the new harness in any color, and buy a new leash to match. (I’m thinking green.) Why the heck not?

How many collars and leashes do you own? If you have multiple dogs, you can give a per-dog average. Which one of my options would you pick?