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.


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.


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?


Product Review: Salty Dog Canvas Toys

I don’t review a lot of products here anymore. We have a pretty comprehensive collection of well-made, long-lasting toys. Silas doesn’t eat a lot of new foods. I try my best not to buy him things just to buy them.

At the beginning of August I ran across an entire new toy company, though, and I couldn’t resist.

Salty Dog Canvas is a small Canadian company. The owner learned industrial sewing making boat sails and awnings, then got sucked into the world of dog sports. Now she makes amazing dog toys, entirely from North American components.

I bought two of them:

Salty Dog Canvas toys

(Yes, my photo backdrop is covered in dog hair.)

I love these toys. Both of the ones I bought are a Planet Dog toy attached to a bungee handle. I am a big fan of Planet Dog. Alas, we play all of our fetch indoors, which means that rubber balls either bounce into or roll under something they shouldn’t. Attach that same ball to a bungee handle, though, and it can’t roll under the sofa.

The more tug we play, the more sold I am on the bungee tug. When you have a smaller dog and slippery floors, it’s easy for you to do all of the tugging work, while the dog just holds on and slides around. A tug toy with some stretch not only offers you some shock absorption, but it also guarantees that the dog does his share. You really want that pull back in order to get the strength and balance benefits of playing tug. If you have a larger dog, I suspect that the same dynamic works the opposite way. Unlike some wimpier toys we’ve tried, these have a good, strong stretch.

I should also mention that the nylon handles on these are much more comfortable to hold than our other toys. This is a high quality fabric, with none of those scratchy nylon edges.

I wouldn’t leave these around for the dog to access unsupervised. These particular Planet Dog toys are not rated for extensive chewing, although Salty Dog does use some of their stronger toys in other models, and any determined dog could cut through the nylon handle. I have to be particularly careful with the  raspberry model, because Silas thinks the berries would be a lot more awesome without the handle. That said, they’re showing zero wear so far from vigorous tug games.

For those crunchers out there, Salty Dog also makes great faux-fur pockets for water bottles on a similar stretch handle. In fact, no matter what your dog is obsessed with (tennis balls, squeakers, braided fleece), Salty Dog probably makes a toy they would like. For good or for ill, that includes a small number of real fur toys.

I bought our Raspberry and Orbee toys at a small retail store in Canada, but the website does ship to the US.

Bottom line: a big hit.

My Dog is a Sloth

Sleepy dog

I bought Silas one of those Whistle dog activity trackers. If you haven’t heard of these, they’re like a dog Fit Bit. They use an accelerometer mounted on your dog’s collar to tell you how much time per day your dog spends moving. (I paid for this myself. Why does nobody ever ask me to review things I actually want?) I think this makes me the biggest yuppie in the history of the world, but whatever.

Any day now, I’m expecting the founders to e-mail me and say “Umm, did you really install that correctly?”

Because Silas doesn’t go on walks of any duration (his grand sidewalk excursions, of which we are mega-proud, last about two minutes, and we’re just now making real headway on the car thing), I set his goal at thirty minutes a day.

In almost a week, he’s hit this goal one time, although in my defense he’s gotten close on a few other days. The app suggested that most dogs his size get at least an hour.

I have a few theories kicking around about what’s going on:

1) Because we’ve been virtually housebound for months now, Silas is out of shape and lazy (like me). Or, he’s just adapted to our easy-does-it lifestyle.

2) When I trained him not to pester me with a toy all the time, I did it too thoroughly. Because he’s not pestering us, we assume he doesn’t want to play. Evidence for this one: he’s quite happy to engage if I get up and grab a toy.

3) Age and wisdom. I think three is a little young to slow down quite this much.

4) Boredom.

5) Summer is brutal.

6) Over-medication. I’m hesitant to blame his medication, not only because he’s been at this dose for a while but also because he is quite perky when he’s not asleep.

7) Last week was atypical. Which it was–I trimmed his nails twice and he went on two car rides, both of which are the kind of mental stress that disproportionately wears him down.

8) Our indoor play is a lot more vigorous than a leisurely trot around the neighborhood. Since, unlike the people trackers, the dog tracker only measures moving time, short bursts of intense exercise aren’t rewarded. I’m not sure what the appropriate conversion metric would be.

I’m going to keep an eye on him for a little longer before I start to get really worried. In the meantime, how active is your dog?

Are dog people saps?

Or am I just broken?

I’ve had to start putting my beverage down before I read Pinterest, after I almost choked myself laughing over sentimental dog memes.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Silas. I also love my husband, even while he’s slamming cabinet doors and leaving the toilet seat up. Real love is not endless adoration.

Here’s a sampling of some of the recent offenders. (I tried my best to find attributions for these. No dice. Note to bloggers: if you want credit, you’d better start watermarking your images, because pinning a permanent link seems to be too complicated for people.)

And if I had to pay someone a dollar every time I wanted aliens to come and take him away, we’d be about even.


How about one from the “dog virtues” genre?

When I’m in a bad mood, Silas avoids me. If that counts as patience, I am a zen master.


How about this one:

No, when someone says they don’t like my dog, I’m usually sympathetic. Must be the barking and lunging?


I could go on all day, but we’ll end with the one that inspired this whole post:

I’m a bad person for laughing at this, aren’t I?

Coexisting on the Multi-Use Trail

Tips for sharing multi-use trails with bikes and dogs

In my non-dog life, I do a lot of bicycling. In my dog-life, I spend a lot of time walking on multi-use trails. After I got surprised by a cyclist on Tuesday, I thought I would offer some tips from both sides.

Dog walkers:
–Your leash is a death trap. If your dog goes one way and you go the other, you will cause a nasty crash. Please make sure that you and your dog share the same idea about getting out of the way. If you see that a cyclist is about to hit your leash, drop it.

–A flexi line stretched across a trail is invisible from a bike. Cyclists may assume that your dog is off leash and attempt to ride between you. Alternatively, you may find that cyclists will come to a stop to avoid going between you and your off-leash dog. That’s why. Please try to keep your dog on the same side of the trail.

–If there is any chance that your dog will chase a biker, please find a different place to walk off leash. Herding-type dogs are especially bad to nip at cyclists’ feet and legs, and you really don’t want that. Also, the only thing a cyclist can do is sprint for their life, and you will not be able to keep up to catch your dog.

–Because of this stuff, especially points two and three, a cyclist may panic when they see your dog. Try to be sympathetic.

–In the same vein, it is considered good cycling form to call out about potential problems if you’re riding in a group. Don’t take it personally if you hear a line of cyclists calling out to each other about your dog.

–Don’t wear headphones. I know the multi-use trail seems so safe compared to walking on roads, but you need to be able to hear.

–It is very difficult to completely stop a bike that is going downhill. If you’re walking up hill, keep a good eye out for oncoming traffic. If you’re going downhill, be especially aware of anything coming up behind you.

–Most importantly, get your dog out of the way. Because some dogs chase/nip/lunge/jump/bark, a cyclist will be very hesitant to pass a dog who is on a loose line right in the middle of the trail. Shorten your leash and/or move to the edge.

How can cyclists and dog walkers best share multi-use trails?

–Please call out or ring your bell. Dogs and their gear can easily generate enough noise to drown out a quiet bike. Keep in mind that dog walkers may not know the cycling shorthand we use passing each other.

–Dogs don’t have a great sense of their body being attached to a leash. If you come up on them from the rear, they’re likely to go the opposite direction of their person. See #1.

–Be extremely cautious if you’re going downhill on a narrow path. Even the best intentioned dog-walker can only move their dog so quickly.

–Give a dog as much room as possible. It’s just good manners. (Which, I can tell from the way you bike, some of you are seriously lacking.)

–Avoid riding between a dog and their person. Not only are you likely to have a bad leash-related crash, you also impede the person’s ability to control an off-leash dog.

–Never reach for a dog while you’re on your bike, even if you’re partially dismounted. Friendly dogs can still be freaked out by your bike, or by the bike–>person transition.

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?