Like all babies, puppies learn about their world by putting things in their mouths. Unlike human babies, puppies are mobile in their curiosity, and what they find to chew on is often at odds with what we would have chosen for them. Keeping a puppy-mindful environment, with plenty of appropriate, safe toys for them to cut their teeth on, is essential from about 4 weeks of age through the entire teething process, which ends after the permanent teeth emerge at 6 months. Remember that a puppy does not understand the comparative value of your new shoes vs. a discarded sneaker, so to avoid the formation of bad habits, never allow even old personal items to become chew toys.
Search for solidly made, easily cleaned toys for very young pups from 4 to about 8 weeks old. Puppies' erupting teeth are small and very sharp. Smaller rubber or hard nylon toys wear well at this age. Washable fabric toys such as stuffed animals may comfort very young pups dealing with separation from mother and siblings while providing a soft surface for mouthing and sucking in the early teething stages.
Choose more intellectually stimulating teething toys, such as balls or squeak toys, as puppies grow a bit older and more adventurous. Though rubber and nylon toys are still good choices, they should be larger and more sturdily constructed to avoid choking hazards. At 2 months, permanent teeth are starting to come in; rope or rawhide toys are good choices, as the friction will soothe sore gums and help prevent tartar buildup.
Add large bones to the chew-toy collection once permanent teeth are in. The Drs. Foster & Smith website suggests offering chewing bones such as Nylabone-type products or other hard toys at least once each week. These are good for oral hygiene, and they allow your puppy to express his inner wolf by settling down to eat his “prey.” Tug-of-war ropes, and game toys that promote chewing while playing, are essential for the older puppy. Food-dispensing toys, such as rubber Kong-type products, are great for long-lasting enjoyment.
Inspect toys carefully before you purchase them. Avoid shoddy construction that may allow small pieces or sharp fragments to break off and choke your puppy or cause other injury.
Supervise your puppy when he has any toy that contains small parts, such as a squeaker, button “eyes” or removable parts. The puppy is likely to try to tear out and destroy these interesting parts. Be especially careful of plush toys. Buy only those specifically designed for puppies. Avoid stuffed toys containing foam peanuts, plastic beads, shells from nuts or beans, and similar small filling materials. Avoid any toy containing string, rubber bands or ribbons. All of these are hazards to a puppy.
Match toys to your puppy's chew strength and personality. Strong, active chewers may need more durable pressed rawhide or nylon bones, but a light chewer may prefer something softer, such as ordinary leather chews or rope toys. Bouncy rubber toys are fun for most puppies, but match size and hardness to your puppy's bite strength and mouth size. Balls that are too small could get lodged in your pup’s throat and choke her.
Inspect your puppy’s toys regularly; discard any that are splintered, broken or torn beyond repair. Discard tennis balls or other rubber balls if they are deflated, as they pose a choking risk to larger puppies capable of swallowing them.
Rotate toys to keep your puppy interested. Remember that if you fail to supply your pup with interesting chew toys, she may invent her own. Bored puppies often engage in what we humans call destructive chewing, but to her those favorite boots represent something new and exciting to play with.