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Is "Safe Dog Toy" an Oxymoron?


Oxymoron: A figure of speech in which seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side. For example: cheerful pessimist, or working vacation.

I remember when freeze dried hog ears first hit the dog toy market. They were unusual looking, that is for a dog toy, and natural. I concluded (without the benefit of great thought, I'll admit) that they should be both fun and safe. Well, I was half right. The dogs, my KBT and my wife's Miniature Schnauzer, loved them. The ears provided hours of chewing fun, although they did have a distinct odor and there were remnants of the ears found in odd places where one dog or the other had taken his treasure to chew in private

This is KBT Gwenevere, looking for more toys on Christmas morning.

The trouble came the following days when both dogs began to display gastric distress as the ears passed through their digestive systems. The hours of chewing were unfortunately followed by hours of cleaning up diarrhea.

I wish I could say that we immediately eliminated hog ears from the dog's list of acceptable toys but we didn't. I foolishly believed that the initial incident was a fluke and so tried the ears a second time. Again the dogs loved them but we did not enjoy cleaning up after the dogs the next several days.

When I brought a pair of ears home for a third 'experiment' my wife put her foot down—"The ears make the dogs sick."

The same was true when calf hooves were introduced into the dog toy market. Looking back, we were lucky that gastric distress and cleaning up after the dogs was the only consequence. The internet is full of horror stories of dogs who either required operations to remove undigested pieces of dog toys, or worse.

A bored dog is an unhappy dog. This is true of all breeds, and especially true of the Kerry Blue Terrier. They are highly intelligent and need to be active. They need stimulation, but are there any safe toys out there for them? Perhaps we should remind ourselves about the history of our chosen breed—they were family guard dogs, true, but they were also bred to pull otters out of their dens along rivers and lakes. They were used to fight badgers, normally the most fierce creatures in their natural environment.

Most Kerries believe that they can never have too many toys!

The KBT history ("gamey" is the term used in the description of the breed) means that a toy is not just a play-thing: it is a substitute enemy for their combative, protective nature. Every squeaky toy I ever purchased for my KBT was immediately ripped apart and the squeaky device rendered ineffective.

I wondered if my Nips, in the midst of destroying the squeaky was reliving her genetic past when her great-great-grandmother wrestled with the badgers. A toy is an intruder into the home of the loved ones they protect and will be dealt with accordingly—fought, killed and eaten. So is there, can there be, a safe toy for the 'gamey' Kerry Blue? Is there a toy that will survive being mouthed, teethed, torn and/or swallowed? Will your Kerry survive when she does eat the toy (purposefully or accidentally)?

Remember your last trip down the dog toy aisle of your favorite department or pet store? Did any of the toys meet the challenge? A few questions for your consideration:

  1. Does the toy have small or loose parts? If yes, it is dangerous.
  2. Could your dog swallow the toy? Or could your dog tear the toy into swallow-able pieces? If yes, it is dangerous. If the answer to the first two questions is 'no' then keep asking questions:
  3. Where was the toy made? If the answer is China, consider the reports of lead based paints being used in this country and consider the toy risky.
  4. What are the other ingredients? Dr. Jeannie Thomason, a Naturopathic Veterinarian (, reminds us that vinyl and plastic toys all contain various chemical compounds that have been under investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission due to possible cancer risks to humans. The specific chemical in question is DINP (di-idononyl phthalate), a chemical used in the production of PVC, which has been shown to be toxic to lab animals. Most soft plastic toys contain PVC. Dr. Thomason recommends natural rubber or latex, if this type of toy is being chosen.
  5. What are the unintended consequences of your dog playing with this toy?
This is all that remains of a cheap stuffed turtle that was "killed" by KBT Kiara in the ten minutes between the pet store and her home. Fortunately, the squeaker was found on the car seat!

Case in point for question 5: One of my KBT's favorite activity/toy was the braided-thread-knotted pull-toy. Nips loved to grasp one end with her teeth while I pulled on the toy. She would lay low, pulling and growling, seemingly enjoying herself. After some time doing this, I would tire out, but she would continue chewing and slobbering all over the toy. On the one hand, the toy was sturdy—we never found pieces of it scattered around the house. She never had gastric distress following this toy's use. It certainly lasted far longer than the five minute squeaky toys. But, because it was made of thread, it stayed wet for a period of time, and it tended to smell, which means that it was growing bacteria, and germs. However, she never seemed to get sick after playing with it. Nevertheless, could an unintended consequence have been that I was 'accidentally' teaching Nips something bad when we were playing 'Tug-of-War?' I have had more than one professional dog trainer tell me that this kind of game teaches bad dog behavior. How we play with our dog is just as important as what we let our dog play with. We certainly do not help our dog or ourselves if we inadvertently teach our dog bad manners when we play with her.

"We deserve more toys."

It would seem that many dog toys are potentially dangerous. To a certain extent, dogs and toys are like babies and toys. You shouldn't just give a baby a toy and walk away and leave the baby to its own devices. Dogs, like babies, need to be supervised with their toys. More importantly, dogs as intelligent as the KBT need the stimulation that comes from being played with. I sat with Nips while she played with her cheap squeaky and quickly disposed of the remains, including the very small squeaker, as soon as she had 'killed' the intruding toy. The supervision did not make the toy safe but it did prevent a possible tragedy as she could have easily swallowed or choked on the squeaky. Observing your KBT with a new toy and intervening as necessary could avoid unpleasant and even deadly consequences.

Final words: Choose your dog toys carefully, avoiding small, loose parts. Read the labels for dangerous chemicals. Use care when giving your dog anything that can be torn apart and potentially swallowed. Watch your dog when she is playing with any new toy to make sure nothing untoward happens. Finally, play with your dog and you will both have fun and live longer. I think we are all our KBT's favorite "toys."

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The Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation is a nonprofit charity dedicated to promoting the welfare of the Kerry Blue Terrier breed in the areas of education, rescue and health & genetics. Learn More.


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