'killing' bunbun

Bitty with lambie

Toys for Westies

Toys are designed to give pleasure to us dog owners as much as to the dogs themselves. The Westie doesn’t care if toys are shaped like T.V. characters or wear ‘T-shirts or say ‘I love you’ on the front. They don’t care if toys are green, purple, orange, or striped. The fact remains that we as pet owners like to buy toys for our pets that are colourful, cute, and relate to our world. The Westie wants something that is chewable, easily portable by him, dispenses treats, or makes a sound like a rat. All kinds of dog toys are available from the pet food section of a grocery story, some corner stores, pet supply stores, and in the pet section of big box department stores, as well as your veterinary’s, or in expensive exclusive pet boutiques. Those who have access to dog shows will also find a great array of the common toys and some unusual ones too.

‘Killing’ the Toy
Before we look at the different types of toys, we need to look at the dog. Westies are by breeding and natural instinct designed to be killers of small rodents and varmints. To be successful at this, the Westies must run fast, turn on a dime, dig with determination and kill with efficiency. It is the method of ‘killing’ that impacts on the life of any toy you buy him.

The method of vigorous shaking is used to snap the neck of a rodent but looks oh-so-cute when used on a stuffed toy. Most dogs use this method at least part of the time. The ‘slash’ method, used for running under an opponent and gutting it in one rip is a favorite with some dogs, not others. My old bitch would roll a large beach ball into the corner, turn her head to the side, and with teeth bared put a 6" slash in the ball. Then in triumph she carried the ‘carcass’ back to me. It was ‘dead’ ball in one stroke and $6 down the tube. Some dogs go for the tearing of the toy to bits. The toy or ‘victim’ is held down with one front paw while bits are torn off and discarded. Destruction is complete whether the victim is toy or rat.

My young bitch prefers the ‘chomp’ method. She proved that one chomp will dispatch a gopher with no mess and no marks. Used on a stuffie toy however, this method works well. It allows her to be the mighty huntress while doing no damage to the toy.

If you watch your Westie carefully with his first assortment of toys, you can tell which method of ‘killing’ he prefers and thereby judge which toys will last the longest, thus saving yourself money, mess and frustration.

Use of Toys
Toys are for our entertainment as we watch our dogs play, but by taking their playing seriously, dogs are putting their energy and thought into what they are doing, which results in better physical and mental health. Toys can be used by us in games, or as rewards for general good behaviour. Toys work well with some dogs as rewards when training specific obedience exercises such as ‘heeling’ and ‘stays’. You can use the dog’s toys as a reward for his leaving your children’s toys alone. It is hard at first for a puppy to know which toys are his and which are not. Each time you say ‘no’ to the wrong toy, reward him by giving the right toy, his own toy, and playing with him. He’ll soon learn which toys are his.

Stuffies - Plush Toys
Stuffies or plush toys come in every size, colour and shape imaginable. The simplest ones are of unbleached canvas or off-white plush in the shape of a bone. The fancier ones have rich plush with lots of colour and decoration. If your Westie is a ‘chomper’, rather than a ’ripper’ or a ‘slasher’, you can be sure the toy has a chance of lasting past day one. The toy should not have eyes that come off or beads, sequins, or other small bits of decoration that are easily chewed off. Good quality plush toys will list the stuffing materials on the label. Never get toys filled with beans, feathers, chip foam or tiny plastic pellets such as are used in ‘Beanie Babies’. These are not suitable for dogs. Also, with plush toys, check the seams to make sure they are strong, and don’t have hanging threads.

Be sure the fuzz is good and tight, and does not rub off - a sign of inferior material. Stuffies most often have squeakers in them. As suggested in the ‘squeaky’ section of this article, any toy with squeakers must be watched so the squeakers don’t come out.

String or Rope Toys
String or rope toys are commonly found in pet stores, or grocery stores. They mostly come shaped as a bone, either
plain white or with some colouring. The better ones are tightly twisted. The looser twist results in the toy coming apart more easily, and if your dog is one which eats ‘everything’, he may swallow the string bits. Most of the string toys are made of 100% cotton, so the bits are likely to decompose if ingested but string can be dangerous in the intestine. (Note: this is especially true of dental floss, as it is a non-dissolving synthetic fibre.)

The general rule of thumb for Westies is to use the unbleached toys if you are concerned about dyes, and get the toy a little too big, as opposed to too small. Some string toys come with baking soda and fluoride, supposed to help your dog’s teeth, so read the label to determine if you are getting the one you prefer. Also, keep an eye on the dog as he plays with this toy, both to avoid a mess to clean up and to prevent swallowing.

‘Kong’ is a trade name for a toy made of a hard rubber material, roughly shaped like a pyramid. It is a well constructed toy which lasts very well and supplies hours of fun. The shape causes the toy to bounce and roll in unpredictable directions, adding to its interest. Being strong, it can stand a lot of chewing. There is a hole in the centre which can hold treats such as a bit of cheese whiz or peanut butter. Kongs come in several sizes. The smallest is ideal for puppies, the mid-size for adult Westies. Some Kongs float, some come with rope attached. They are found in pet stores, at veterinarians, and some department stores. These toys can stand being left outside all winter, even in Saskatchewan. There are also some inferior look-alikes on the market which will not last as well.

Westies love balls - they love to chase after a moving object even if it's not a rat. Very small balls however are not good for a dog the size of a Westie, as they can attempt to swallow them and they can get stuck in the throat. The smallest ball one should use is the size of a tennis ball.

Because the Westie also likes to chomp on balls, look closely at its construction. Balls coming from ‘big box’ pet stores may not be strong enough to withstand the chomping action, leaving you with a pile of rubber bits. A Wilson or Spalding-type tennis ball will last a lot longer. Tennis balls are covered with fuzz, so if your Westie is one which likes to tear toys to bits, this fuzz is very tempting. A quick shear with the scissors takes off the excess fuzz.

Westies also enjoy large balls, as long as they are not too heavy. Sport balls like basketballs, footballs etc are too big and hard to be picked up and too heavy to be easily rolled. The bright 12 inch beach balls are good as they’re made of medium weight soft plastic, and are too big to bite. Westies chase these balls around until they are exhausted, barking and snapping at them.

A game using these balls is to teach the Westie to sit on the sofa in a sit-stay, then gently toss the ball to the dog starting at a 2 foot distance, and gradually working up to a 6 foot distance. The Westie will bounce the ball back to you. Some Westies find this game very exciting. However, it must be noted these balls are not for Westies who use the ‘slash’ method for killing, or you could go though a ball every 30 seconds. So, check size and construction as well as how you are going to use the ball.

Food Dispensing Toys
These are hard round or octagonal ‘balls’ with variously shaped little holes in them. A centre compartment is filled with dry kibble which comes out one bit at a time as the ball is rolled around. This toy, although greatly enjoyed by some dogs, causes other dogs to develop a high level of frustration if they are not able to make it produce the treats fast enough. These food balls come in three sizes, any of which is suitable for a Westie. They are available at pet supply stores and veterinarians, and generally are a good toy for a Westie.

Tug Toys
These toys, as the name implies, are designed to be used for a tug-of-war game between the dog and the handler. And yes, there have been some discussions among dog people in recent years as to whether this type of play encourages the dog to become protective of his toys and whether such play can also lead to aggression. Assuming that your dog is good natured to begin with, this play can only be fun. Let the dog dictate the force of the pull, and always end your play with the ‘give’ command so he always returns the toy to you. These toys come in at least two general forms: the all rubber type and the plush-covered elastic type. Be sure the materials are not flimsy to start with, and stop using the toy when it shows signs of wear to the point where it could break, giving either you or your dog a nasty stinging burn.

Small squeakies come in two general types - the soft thin skinned latex type and the harder thicker skinned less flexible type. Both types have squeakies inside and are brightly coloured. The cartoon shapes are designed to appeal to the owner, not the dog. The dog likes the squeak. Some have small bumps on them which have the benefit of cleaning the dog’s teeth while he plays, or so is claimed by the toy manufacturer. This depends of course on how the dog plays with the toy, the size and shape of the bumps on the toy and the rate that tartar naturally builds up on the individual dog’s teeth. Note - the ‘squeaker’ itself is made in two parts: a small 2 cm long insert is put in the top of a bottle shaped plastic bladder. As the dog chomps on the bladder, the air is forced out making the squeak or rodent-like sound. Also, the dog can chew the squeaker apart so the toy makes no further sound. Whey buying these toys, look at and feel the quality of the toy. Also look for a well known manufacturer’s label to assure yourself of quality. If in doubt ask the store people, who should know which of their products is the better quality.

Homemade Toys
The Westie will enjoy homemade toys just as much as any you can get at the store. Use materials found at home to cut expense. Old socks, especially the knee length ones, are very useful for this purpose. Tie the socks in knots to make a chew toy or braid them to make a pull toy -(braided pantyhose also works well as a pull toy). Knot a tennis ball or two inside the sock to make a bouncy toy. If you sew, you can buy plush fabric (or use old fleece sweat shirts) sewn into various shapes and fill this with bits of clean rag about the size of wash cloths. If the toy is chewed apart the rags are easily collected and sewed back into the toy. Use of such stuffing makes laundry easy too. Nylabone and other chew toys can be tired together with old socks or nylon stockings, making an interesting toy. Treats twisted in a brown paper bag provide any terrier with all the pleasure of tearing things apart without destroying anything valuable, and he is funny to watch. However this does require a little cleaning up. Ice cubes, either in a sock or loose, provide simple outdoor pleasure in the summer. Note - the use of old shoes and slippers should not be encouraged as toys. Your Westie may think you have given her permission to make her own selection from your closet.

Safety First - Dangerous Toys?
In summary - the pet toy industry is huge and new toys come on the market all the time. There are also many varieties of each type of toy, but discerning the quality, workmanship and suitability of any toy you buy is your responsibility. It is also your responsibility, and yours alone, to be sure your Westie plays safely with his toys and that the toys are kept in good repair and clean. Set aside your attraction to the toy either for its function or its cuteness. Check to see if the materials are good quality, that there are no attached small bits easily chewed off and swallowed like eyes, strings and small decorations. Be sure if your toy is coloured, that the dye doesn’t rub off. The question here is whether you want your Westie chewing on dyes at all, even if most dyes are not harmful. Is the stuffing material appropriate? Always avoid toys stuffed with small bean-sized particles or chipped foam. Some dogs eat anything they tear apart. Ask yourself, “Should this toy be part of my Westie’s diet?” Does the toy have things glued to it? Do you know what is in the glue? For anything made of hard plastic, ask if it will crack exposing sharp edges or break into shards easily stuck in the throat. In short, be as analytical and critical of what you buy for your Westie to chew on as you are for what you buy for small children. So, when all is said and done, enjoy your Westie at play, and play often with her.

Author: Anne Matheson.