Like a wolf or a fox, dogs enjoy having a “den.” This is a quiet spot where they can retreat for a little peace and quiet or to sleep.
For many canines, a crate can be that safe haven.
Crates can also be a way to keep your dog (and your house) safe when you’re not at home.
Problems arise, though, when pet owners lock their dogs up for long periods of time without any means to entertain themselves. That can make some dogs view their crates more like a jail cell rather than a safe haven.
So, to help alleviate boredom and to keep your pup’s mind engaged while you are away, you should always leave a toy or two in its crate.
But not just any toy.
Rope toys for instance, can be shredded and consumed by a dog, which could lead to a life-threatening intestinal blockage.
So what toys are safe to leave in a dog crate? The following are my top picks for the five safest toys for dogs in crates:
- Kong (original)
- West Paw Design Zogoflex Toppl Treat Dog Toy
- SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy (for puppies)
- Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball
- Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Diamond Plate Ball.
In this article, we will describe the characteristics of what a safe crate toy is for a dog. And we’ll go into great detail about how we came to recommend five safe crate toys for your dog.
Crate Toys That Are Safe – What To Look For
The main thing you need to look for in a safe crate toy is durability.
You never want to come home to discover your pup is choking on pieces of a toy it has destroyed. Small toys can also be choking hazards, so — yes — size does matter.
Regardless of safety, a good crate toy needs to be entertaining and engaging, so your pup won’t get bored while it’s home alone.
Why Should You Listen To Me?
Over my lifetime I have owned numerous dogs and have also fostered several. In addition, I volunteer weekly at a no-kill rescue.
I have learned first-hand which toys work best with crated dogs and which can be poor — even possibly dangerous — choices.
I am currently a dog mom to two dogs: Kuzy the Welsh Terrier and Vinnie the Wire Fox Terrier.
Why Toys are a Great Idea for Dogs in Crates
What would you do if you were confined to your room for three to eight hours a day?
You would probably sleep a little if you were tired.
But then what?
If you had nothing to do — no TV to watch, no Internet, no books to read — you would probably go a little stir crazy, right?
That’s why toys are so important for your pup when it’s being crated.
You want your pet to love its crate and enjoy its time in it — not dread the thought of being confined with nothing to do.
Crate Toys are Not Created Equally
The best toys to leave in your dog’s crate
The following are my recommendations for the best dog toys to leave in a crate.
Interactive and puzzle toys
These types of toys will keep your pup mentally stimulated as it tries to figure out how to get at a “reward.” For example, some puzzle toys will dispense a little treat every time a canine pushes it in a certain manner.
Interactive and puzzle toys are certainly the most stimulating toys for dogs in crates.
Many dogs, especially young ones, love to chew on things.
And when they’re not given an outlet for their chewing, some pups can become destructive in their crates.
They might, for instance, bite the bars of their crates, which could wear their teeth down.
Durable dog toys
Do you own a dog that seems like it could be part beaver and can destroy most toys (and household items) in a matter of minutes?
Then, it may be time to provide your aggressive chewer with a toy made from a strong and durable material that can stand up to its powerful jaws but is still soft enough to prevent damage to its teeth.
Just like a child, some pups enjoy having something soft and comforting to keep them company when they’re feeling alone or afraid.
I would recommend comfort toys for young puppies and dogs that are gentle with their toys.
The worst toys to leave in a crate with your dog
Now, that you know what toys are safe to leave in a dog crate. Here are a few of the worst.
Traditional tennis balls, rubber balls and little squeaky vinyl balls. Unfortunately, these are easy to destroy. And if the pieces are eaten, they could get stuck in your dog’s throat, esophagus, stomach or intestines.
We’re talking plushies here.
These are a definite no-no to leave in a crate with a destructive dog and unsupervised.
Once torn apart, your dog could swallow the toy’s stuffing and/or plastic squeaker.
Rawhide chews should be avoided for several reasons:
- A dog that is a heavy or aggressive chewer can tear off and swallow large chunks of this treat, which could pose a choking hazard.
- Rawhide is not easily digested. In fact, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), a large chunk of rawhide could last for months in your dog’s stomach. Large pieces of rawhide can also get stuck in your dog’s intestinal tract.
- It’s packed with chemicals. Rawhide chews are made from the leftover bits of the hide used in the leather industry. In some countries, these hides are first soaked in high-salt brines. Later, lime and other chemicals are used to remove the fat and hair from the rawhide. Even in the United States, degreasers, detergents, and hydrogen peroxide are used during the rawhide manufacturing process.
Leaving a nice bone for your dog to enjoy in its crate may seem like a great idea.
But, in reality, it can be quite dangerous.
Once cooked, bones become brittle and can easily break into jagged, sharp pieces that could cause serious injury to your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.
While large raw bones are safer than cooked ones, they should only be given to your dog for short periods of time when you can supervise them – not when your dog is home alone in its crate.
Nylon chew toys
These chew toys may be shaped like bones and be flavored like your pup’s favorite treats, but did you know that nylon chew toys are actually not meant to be consumed by your pup?
If you’re like many others, you’ve probably never bothered to read the disclaimer on the back of these nylon chew toys. If you did, you would discover that nylon bones are non-edible and that you should always supervise your canine while it’s chewing on one of these toys.
Unfortunately, an aggressive chewer could tear off and swallow pieces of a nylon bone, which could lead to a digestive obstruction.
At first glance, a rope toy may seem harmless enough. But problems arise when a bored dog decides to pull the strands out of the toy and eat them.
If part of these strings gets caught in your dog’s mouth or stomach and the rest travels down through its digestive system, they become linear foreign bodies.
Your dog’s intestines will attempt to move these linear foreign bodies through its GI tract, but since the string can’t move, your dog’s intestines will start to bunch up tightly.
This is a very serious, painful and possibly life-threatening situation.
Even if the strings don’t get caught on something and pass completely into your dog’s intestines, they could eventually cause a blockage.
The Five Safest Crate Toys for Dogs
|Best indestructible (and classic) toy
|Kong Classic (best for puppies or strong chewers)
|Best interactive treat toy
|West Paw Design Zogoflex Toppl
|Best comfort toy
|Best treat ball
|Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball
|Best treat ball (runner up)
|Diamond Plate Orbee Ball
Best Indestructible Toy: Classic Kong
Kong lovers can be quite passionate about these little snowman-shaped toys. For instance, on one canine enrichment Facebook page, Kong enthusiasts have shared a long list of interesting ways to stuff this rubber toy. Here are just a few examples of their suggestions:
- Peanut butter (just make sure to check that it does not contain Xylitol, which is very toxic for dogs
- Wet dog food
- Mashed banana
- Shredded chicken
- Ground beef
- Low-fat cheese.
And for overweight dogs that don’t really need a lot of extra calories:
- Bits of tuna frozen in ice cubes
- Cut-up apples (make sure to remove all seeds, which contain cyanide)
- Plain yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Finely chopped vegetables.
And, of course, Kong also offers its own line of fillings, which are available in cans with nozzles, for easy dispensing.
You may have to play around with these suggestions to find the right treats that will spark your pet’s interest. For instance, my Welsh Terrier Kuzy loves bits of cheese and chicken and kibble in his Kong. But unlike most other dogs, he’s just not a fan of peanut butter. So, he has little to no interest in chewing on a peanut butter-filled Kong.
Some dogs can clean out these little rubber toys rather quickly.
If you have one of those clever canines, Kong enthusiasts recommend freezing a treat-filled Kong to make it more entertaining.
And for even more of a challenge, you could put a bully stick or a carrot in the toy at an angle. Next, fill the rest of the Kong with a soft filling, such as cottage cheese, and then freeze it. Your pup will have to work extra hard to get that angled item out of the Kong.
Kongs aren’t just treat dispensers, though.
Many dogs also enjoy using them as a simple, but very durable chew toy. Kongs can also be used outside of the crate for games of fetch.
Best Interactive Treat Toy: West Paw Design Zogoflex Toppl Treat Dog Toy
The Toppl is a wobbly puzzle toy that can be filled with a variety of treats.
Your pup will have to paw at or manipulate the Toppl in order to get at its food reward.
This toy is also a good device for feeding a dog that tends to gulp down its meal too quickly.
Like the original Kong toy, you can freeze a treat-filled Toppl to make it more entertaining for your pup.
This toy is available in two different sizes that can either be used alone or — for more of a challenge — connected together to create one large treat-dispensing toy.
Toppls are crafted out of West Paw’s Zogoflex material, which is soft enough to be easy on a dog’s teeth, but is also extremely durable.
Let’s just say that West Paw offers a lifetime warranty on this toy.
So, if your pup does somehow manage to destroy this toy, West Paw will send you a one-time replacement.
Zogoflex is also non-toxic, BPA- and phthalate-free and recyclable.
And it is also easy to clean — just throw it in the dishwasher.
Your dog will also love to play with Toppl outside of the crate.
When thrown, the Toppl will bounce or roll in an unpredictable fashion that many dogs find irresistible. And because the Toppl floats, it can be used as a fun water toy too.
Best Comfort Toy: SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy
When you bring home a puppy, it’s important to remember how drastically your little one’s life has changed.
In a short period of time, your puppy has suddenly been separated from its mom and its siblings and been whisked away to a brand-new environment.
At first, your puppy may not care. It’s having a grand old time, meeting everyone, and being loved on. But then night falls, and suddenly the little fur baby is put in a crate — and usually in the dark — all by itself.
Of course, he’s going to be lonely and want to cry.
Dogs are pack animals and long to be with others. And that’s where the Snuggle Puppy fits into your baby’s story.
The Snuggle Puppy is a floppy stuffed animal that has a little removable device that imitates a heartbeat.
You can also add a disposable heat source to simulate the warmth of the puppy’s siblings or mother.
My Welsh terrier puppy Kuzy had a pink one that I would leave with him whenever I had to crate him.
The toy did seem to soothe him when we were away (I have a puppy cam, so I could see him snuggle up to it).
Because Kuzy is not a toy destroyer, I let him keep the Snuggle Puppy long after he needed it to soothe him.
But just to be on the safe side, I did remove the Snuggle Puppy’s heart. Because the toy’s belly is held together by Velcro, I would imagine that it would be fairly easy for an aggressive chewer or a clever canine to open up this toy and remove, chew up or even swallow the heart device.
The only reason Kuzy no longer has the Snuggle Puppy is because it was handed down to my daughter’s German Shepherd puppy Hachiko, who also loved it.
Best Interactive Treat Ball: Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball
Do you have a dog who wolfs down its food in seconds flat?
Then the Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball may be a good crate toy choice for your pup.
Just fill this toy with food and your canine can roll it around to get at its treats.
This forces your pup to eat its meals at a much slower rate and should provide your canine some entertainment while it is crated.
To get kibble or other small treats in this ball, I would suggest using a water bottle with the bottom cut off to create your own funnel. Then you can insert the mouth of the bottle into the toy and pour in the treats from the wider cut-open bottom.
The Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball is crafted from a rubber-like material that is durable enough to stand up to very powerful chewers.
But because the material is soft, it’s also easy on your pup’s teeth.
Outside of the crate, this Starmark toy can be used in the same manner as a traditional ball for a good game of fetch.
This lightweight ball can float, so it can even be used as a water toy.
Best Durable Ball (Runner Up) – Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Diamond Plate Ball
Some dogs love to have a ball to chew on and roll around in their crate.
Unfortunately, you can’t leave most traditional balls, such as tennis balls, in a crate.
As discussed before, they’re just too easy to destroy, and the pieces can pose a choking hazard.
According to the AKC, even the fuzz found on a tennis ball can be an issue. When eaten, that fuzz can become a choking hazard or can build up in a dog’s intestines and cause a blockage.
That’s why the fuzz-free, but tough-as-nails Orbee-Tuff Diamond Plate Ball is a great alternative for ball-loving canines.
This ball is made from a flexible, pliable material that has that little give to it that many dogs enjoy when biting down on a ball. But this material is also very durable, so it’s able to withstand hours and hours of gnawing and chewing. Another plus? It’s infused with mint to keep your pup’s breath smelling fresh.
This bouncy ball is also crafted with your dog’s safety in mind from the company’s Orbee-Tuff material which is non-toxic, BPA, and phthalate-free material. It’s also recyclable.
Outside of the crate, this ball is an excellent choice for catching, retrieving, and — because it floats — for use as a water toy.
The Brands: The Manufacturers of These Safe Crate Toys
This company, which is based in the United States, was founded in the 1970s.
Founder Joe Markham owned a dog named Fritz who loved to chew on objects like rocks and sticks that were wearing down his teeth.
One day, Fritz found a rubber car suspension part that he loved to chew on, and Markham realized that the odd-shaped rubber piece would make an excellent chew toy that wouldn’t harm his dog’s teeth.
In addition to the classic Kong, the company now manufactures a large variety of toys, and its products are sold in more than 80 countries.
Kong’s products are beloved by pet owners because they are well-thought-out and also durable.
West Paw is a USA company that strives to create high-quality products that are not just dog-friendly, but also good for the planet.
For example, West Paw uses reusable banana boxes rather than plastic totes to store its goods and its Zogoflex toys are recyclable.
The company, which was founded in 1996, sells a variety of canine-related products, including leashes, collars, puzzle toys, beds, and blankets.
In addition to creating innovative toys and products for canines, this U.S.-based company is also known for its Starmark Academy.
According to its website, the 100,000-square-foot Starmark Academy is “the largest, most comprehensive training, behavior and event center in the world.”
The facility, which was founded in the late 1990s, offers numerous classes for professional dog trainers, including ones on behavior modification and police K9 training.
The Starmark Academy is also the testing ground for this company’s canine toys and training products, which are now distributed in more than 40 countries around the world.
SmartPetLove is a U.S. company that was founded in 1997.
The company’s primary focus is on creating products that will alleviate a pet’s anxiety and that will also help to create a stronger bond between pet parents and their fur babies.
In addition to the Snuggle Puppy, SmartPetLove has also developed the Snuggle Kitty, as well as a slew of toys designed specifically for puppies, as well as ones for older dogs.
This company also makes a harness that has a “real-feel” heartbeat that is designed to reduce the anxiety that some dogs feel while out on a walk.
Planet Dog is a U.S. company that was founded in 1997.
It was acquired in 2018 by another U.S.-based pet-products company, Outward Hound.
Planet Dog considers itself a socially responsible company that takes pride in making durable and eco-friendly pet products.
It also states that it has a “deep commitment to philanthropy.”
In addition to its dog toys, Planet Dog also makes collars, leashes, and harnesses.
These are also eco-friendly, as they are crafted from hemp, which is considered a renewable resource.
The company also tries to use eco-friendly paper and inks for its catalogs and signage.
And the Best Crate Toy Winner Is…
To me, the winner is the original Kong, but only by a slim margin since all of these five toys have qualities that make them outstanding crate toys.
So why the Kong?
First, it is a very durable toy that can withstand being chewed on for long periods of time. It is also inexpensive.
And unlike the other toys, it is available in six different sizes — from XS, which is great for puppies and small dogs, to XXL, which is big enough to keep large canines happy and entertained.
Kongs are also easier to fill with food than some of the other toys. And because you can fill them with a variety of different treats, the Kong offers a new experience for your pup each time you vary its stuffing.
The Kong is also a puzzle toy since your dog has to figure out how to get at its treats.
Whilst I’ve covered the safest and best crate toys for dogs, you still need to be cautious.
Please remember that even the most durable toys can eventually break down after being chewed on for long periods of time.
So, always inspect your toys before leaving them in your pet’s crate.