The Right Chew Toys For Dogs
While chew toys are often expected to be made from durable rubber, this growing category has evolved to incorporate a variety of tough materials.
Take a second and think about the 340+ types of dog breeds in the world. Comparing and contrasting their traits may take awhile, so let’s save ourselves the time and focus on the one universal need that connects them—their natural instinct to chew.
Considering the size and strength variations in all those dog breeds, chew toy manufacturers don’t have an easy task in designing products that satisfy each dog’s unique needs. If you’re of the mindset that chew toys are meant to be rubber, strong and large, I invite you to imagine a 6 lb. Maltipoo attempting to take on a durable, tire-shaped behemoth. By the same token, picture a lightweight rubber bone in the presence of a 50 lb. Pit Bull—I bet the toy doesn’t live for more than two minutes.
“Dogs have a need to gnaw, and nothing quite satisfies that need like chewing on something strong and safe,” explains Spencer Williams, CEO and president of West Paw. “Chew toys are needed to discourage destructive chewing or encourage more exercise and mental engagement. Pet parents want more from their dog’s chew toy.”
In terms of shape and structure, pet parents are mainly looking for two things: long-lasting toys that suit their particular breed, and those that provide additional functions beyond just chewing.
“One main trend seen in chew toys has been an exploration in new materials to increase durability for extreme chewers who are seemingly able to destroy any toy they are presented,” says Emily Benson, marketing director of Starmark Pet Products, Inc. “Also, [there’s] been an increase in functionality of the chew toy, where it may contain treats or a puzzle element to further occupy the dog.”
By their nature, chew toys are of the mouths-on variety. It’s inevitable that a toy will meet its match and, over time, be slowly worn down and picked apart. Though dogs should be supervised at all times when chewing—“they need your watchful eye,” advises Mark Pasco, vice president of sales for Mammoth Pets—there’s still going to be a time where they manage to ingest a few pieces.
“Using a safe material for the composition of the chew toy should be a top priority for manufacturers, as even though they’re not meant to be consumed, the dog is primarily interacting with the toy with their mouths, and pet parents are also handling the toys,” says Benson. “Manufacturers should work with material suppliers to ensure raw materials are tested for any potentially harmful ingredients.”
It’s up to manufacturers to collaborate with their material suppliers to ensure raw materials are tested for any potentially harmful ingredients. This is where the importance of where a toy is made and sourced from comes into play—across all mediums of chew toys, pet parents are looking for higher-quality items that are made in the U.S., especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, says Ward Myers, president/owner of Spunky Pup. Additionally, he adds that consumers are looking for products that are sustainable and environmentally-friendly. The most common buzzwords pet parents are looking for include non-toxic and BPA- and latex-free.
“No dog toy is indestructible—not even ours,” says Williams. “Products manufactured in the U.S. are built with high-quality components and craftsmanship, which increases the longevity of products, which is better for the environment. To ensure these toys are durable and long-lasting, we have sought the expertise and product feedback from our consumers, retailers and most importantly the canine members of the West Paw chew squad.”
Tailoring Chew Toys to Pets
The most effective way to sell these products is to key in on their differences and be able to converse with consumers to ensure they’re matching the appropriate toy to the right dog.
“Every dog is different, so asking questions ahead of time will help place the right toy with the right pet,” says Myers. Asking about the breed will tell you a lot in itself, he continues, explaining that you wouldn’t give a Rottweiler a latex toy—it’d be shredded within seconds.
Williams recommends starting with “the basics”—age, personality and temperament, and then move on to inquiries about size, breed and the types of toys the dog is currently playing with and how they hold up. Additionally, Williams advises to ask more pointed questions about play style, which include if the dog typically plays alone, with its owner or with another dog; their aggression level with a toy; the dog’s play habits; and their chewing preferences.
He adds that retailers should work under the mentality of selling a solution, whether it’s a soft toy for a teething pup or a toy that puts some distance between the owner and pet for those that gets a little mouthy during play.
While a good amount of consumers will insist on shopping solely by price, retailers and their associates need to stress the importane of proper matching.
“Some consumers will tend to purchase based on price rather than size, and this can cause problems,” says Pasco. “Always buy a toy that is larger than your dog’s mouth to prevent your dog from accidentally swallowing it.”
Even with all those questions and the employee’s best efforts, there’s still the inevitable occasion when a customer comes back within an hour of purchase holding a toy that’s been torn apart. Though return/exchange typically fall into the manufacturer’s lap—Myers explains that Spunky Pup usually receives a phone call or an email—it wouldn’t be a bad idea for retailers to have some sort of exchange system in place, as long as they tread carefully.
That said, “it’s harder for retailers—[if] somebody buys a cheap toy and gives it to a heavy chewer, you can’t replace that every time,” continues Myers. “To a point you can exchange, but you don’t want to exchange for the same toy.”
Instead, he recommends going back over the dog’s chewing/play habits in more detail and finding a different toy that will be better suited to the breed. No amount of questioning and workshopping beats firsthand knowledge, however.
“Retailers should become familiar with a wide variety of toys, and try them out with their own pets or those of friends, if possible, in order to better advise their customers,” says Benson. “A return/exchange program can help build trust in a toy, brand and store if the customer goes into the purchase knowing there is a remedy should the toy be destroyed by their dog.”
As chew toys evolve from simple bone shapes and begin to incorporate other elements, the opportunity is ripe for cross-merchandising. The obvious is that treats can be situated next to chew toys that include a food element, while those that offer a distracting puzzle feature can be stocked near products that pet parents typically reach for when leaving their dogs alone for long periods of time.
“Displaying toys grouped by their intended use can better guide customers toward their decision,” says Benson. “For example, chew toys that dispense food, toys just for chewing, toys for extreme chewers and even those meant for lighter chewers. Some stores even choose to have display models of various toys so customers can get a feel for the toy out of packaging.”
In addition to cross-merchandising opportunities, the often fun nature of these toys allow retailers to flex their creative muscles and scatter them throughout the store and near registers to promote last minute add-ons.
“[Chew toys] should be placed near food and in bins in front of the store to create impulse purchases,” recommends Pasco. “Don’t be afraid to try different ideas for selling chew toys—the more ways that you can increase the size of the sale while you have the consumer in the store, the better it will be for your bottom line.” PB