Play Stuff Blog

When Chewing is Play: The Dood and His Toys  

If you have ever owned a puppy, you know how they like to chew and chew and then chew some more. Puppies are chewing machines. They chew to celebrate when they’re happy. They chew to calm themselves when they’re anxious. They chew to soothe their erupting teeth and ease the ache in their growing jaws. They chew because it’s fun. For a puppy, chewing is play. The playing puppy doesn’t always make us happy. A puppy will chew the soles from your wingtips or the brim off your best ball cap. A puppy will chew holes in your beachwear and leave teeth marks on the legs of your favorite stuffed chair. You may have tried to forestall the household damage by buying one of the “harmless but effective” spray products that claim to discourage chewing. We hoped it would work for our Charlie—“The Dood”—a goldendoodle and a powerful chewer. Instead he acquired a taste for the spray. Num, organic sour apple! When our leather furniture began to look like a giant chew toy to The Dood we decided that it was best to try to re-channel his powerful urge toward actual chew toys. And so began the hunt for the ideal dog toy. We bought some that made us smile—the jolly stuffed green crocodile, a worried-looking plush Mr. Bill, and the beguiling squeaking moose that became Charlie’s girlfriend. (I’ll say nothing more about this other than to note that a certain common surgery cooled his affections for Ms. Moose.) A short-lived rubber bug, whose eyes bugged out when chewed, drove The Dood crazy and continually cracked us up. We discovered that most of these cute dog toys had a life expectancy measured in days. In no time The Dood would chew off the adorable ears, masticate the button noses, munch the wooly legs, and tear loose the fuzzy tails. One of the most fetching toys, Scarecrow, persisted as a rag—a relic of the many throwing games we played. For The Dood, the best toy is one he can chew to pieces and gnaw to bits. Because chewing is play for dogs, it’s no wonder that American dog owners each spend between $25 and $150 annually for dog toys in a market of seventy-five million chew-happy U.S. dogs. Our quest for the ideal toy shifted three ways, toward the chewable object that is also impervious to chewing, toward the play object that will last for a time, and toward the destroyable object meant to satisfy the urge to chew.

The durable toys come ring-shaped for tugging, bone-shaped for gnawing, and ball-shaped for fetching and games of keep-away. Made from durable nylon or hard natural rubber, these can be scuffed, but they can’t be bitten through and so work counter to the planned obsolesce of most other dog toys. The Kong Extreme Dog Toy falls into the durable category; in fact it’s almost indestructible. Though we called it Red Ball for play purposes—“Go get the RED BALL!”—it is really three balls fused with a hollow center made to accommodate a dog biscuit. It looks like a red snowman. The middle of the scale between durable and disposable, the second group, is best represented by the braided, twisted, and pressed rawhide toys. (Real bones splinter, so people now prefer to give their dogs cured hide to chew.) Meant to be chomped into pulp—the pieces bitten off and eaten—these “bones” last for a few days or maybe a week. We’ve never tried a variation on this theme, pig ears and cow ears—“100% natural and baked to perfection” so says the advertising. Though the mutt would have no scruple about swallowing the thing, something about the prospect of seeing a partially gnawed ear on the kitchen floor held us back. But the most interesting and fun toys fall into the third group; and these are also the most ephemeral. The Dood likes an empty cardboard carton best; animals, like us, need not visit the toy store to find things to play with. Unpack the cans of seltzer and the bare box begs to be destroyed. For about the next 200 gleeful, growling seconds the box becomes the object of a play-frenzy. This high speed deconstruction process reduces the fabric toys to remnants. The Dood fiercely shakes the box and pushes it around and tears it and tosses up the pieces and shreds them to little bits. Then, breathing hard, ears cocked, eyes still spinning wildly, he stands on the scraps.

Play! What a buzz! Humans aren’t much for chewing as play, but when it comes to creative destruction, we understand the impulse. We put a lot of stock in construction toys like Erector Set and Lincoln Logs, but deconstructing things is just as much fun. If you’ve ever knocked over a tower of blocks, built a sand castle just to smash it, shot your plastic ship models with bb’s, given your Barbie a punk haircut, torn down a car engine, bought a ticket to the demo derby, or even built a campfire, you understand The Dood.