Of course, this is completely unacceptable for a service dog. Our instructor has asked that we no longer use plastic bottles and old socks and washcloths as toys -- puppies don't understand what is a toy and what is a retrieve object. This makes good sense to us. Unfortunately, as we've noted, Dempsey's favorite toys are... plastic bottles and old socks and washcloths.
We've gone through Dempsey's toy box, throwing out the verboten toys and keeping the approved ones, and now his toy box looks sadly empty. We need to get some new toys for the boy. Any suggestions?
Here's where we are. Below is a list of some of the toys Dempsey now has, with brief reviews of each. The "annualized cost" attempts to adjust for Dempsey's destructiveness -- a cheap toy that doesn't last long is a poorer value than an expensive but durable toy.
We've heard some bloggers are so popular and well-respected, they get paid for endorsing a product. Doreen and I, however, stand by our principles, and we refuse to sell out to the Man. Also, we are neither popular nor respected, and no one has offered us any money. So here you go: The ugly truth.
(Attorney Norbert says: "The views expressed below are solely those of Paul and Doreen, and possibly Dempsey. They are not the views of Helping Paws. And, as they say in Rome, caveat canem.")
Cheap plastic ball
Annualized cost: $1.3 million
When we were in Ohio, we saw one of those cheap plastic balls on sale in the supermarket, 2 for $1. We knew it wouldn't last very long, but we thought we'd get a half hour of fun for 50 cents. As if. As soon as Dempsey touched it, we heard a loud Pffffffffffffffff. I estimate it lasted about half a second, which gives the 50-cent ball an annualized cost of $1.3 million. A bad value, to say the least.
Nylabone Double Action Chew
Annualized cost: $0.000999
This toy was recommended to us as a durable, healthy toy that promotes good dental hygiene. We don't know if it actually promotes dental hygiene, since Dempsey has never played with it. We can report, however, that it is quite heavy and painful if dropped on your foot, which Dempsey has done, in an attempt to trade it for a better toy. In fact, Dempsey is so uninterested in this toy, I thought of starting a clothing line based on it: Puppy-proof clothing, guaranteed not to attract the attention of dogs! On further reflection, though, walking around dressed up as a hard, knobbed bone is a little weird. The annualized cost of $0.000999 is based on a life of 10,000 years, which I believe is how long it will take for the hard plastic to biodegrade in a landfill.
Annualized cost: $9.98
Much more popular than the Nylabone Double Action Chew is the Nylabone Original. One of Dempsey's sisters loved this toy, so we decided to get one just like it for Dempsey. When we got to the store, however, we discovered there were 3 flavors: Original, bacon, and chicken. I'm not sure how you infuse plastic with flavors -- the ingredients list only nylon and "natural flavor" -- but the thought of bacon- and chicken-flavored plastic made us nauseated. We stuck with the more cryptic "original" flavor. Once we got home, though, I was overcome by curiosity. I gave the bone a few gnaws before giving it to Dempsey, and I can report that "original" tastes vaguely like plastic and leather. Not very appealing for me, but Dempsey loves it. He's chewed it up quite a bit, but I estimate it will last a good six months, for an annualized cost of about $9.98. Not bad!
Kong Classic and Kong Biscuit Ball
Cost: $9.99 to $16.99
Annualized cost: $38.50 to $39.50
We're very pleased with the toys we've purchased from the Kong Company, which seems to make safe, durable toys. The Kong Classic is a weirdly shaped rubber thingy that has a fun bounce when you throw it. As your mother (or wife) will gently remind you, the Kong Classic is an outdoor toy, since it tends to damage things if bounced inside. Unlike Paul, Dempsey does not need to be reminded of this, since he will only play with it if you stuff treats inside. In that case he will play with it for about five minutes, which is about how long it takes him to get the treats out. The annualized cost here includes the fixed cost of the toy, depreciated over the expected 5-year life, plus the variable cost of treats, which I'm estimating at $0.10 per day. Calculated another way, assuming 5 minutes play per day, the fully loaded cost works out to about $1.30 per hour of fun. And who says an MBA is useless?
Kong Wubba and Kong Squirrel
Cost: About $11.99 each
Annualized cost: About $11.99
Though we don't think the Kong Wubba and the Kong Squirrel will last as long as the Classic and Biscuit Ball, the annualized cost is lower because we don't fill it with treats. The Wubba was very helpful when Dempsey was younger and constantly went after my pant leg; you can shake the Wubba and re-direct your puppy's attention from your pants or shoes to the toy. Dempsey also loves the squirrel. We love it because it is durable, machine-washable, and looks like roadkill. (It's horrifying to see your dog rip the head off a cute teddy bear. It's easier with an ugly toy.) The best part about the squirrel, though, is that there's a pouch inside that you can fill with squeakers or inferior toys (see below). This keeps the squirrel interesting for Dempsey.
Boots and Barkley balls
Annualized cost: $545.68
In one of my more parsimonious moods, I picked up some cheap toys at Target. I thought their private label name (Boots and Barkley) was cute, but unfortunately these toys are exactly what you think when you think "private label": cheap, and cheaply made. For $2.99, we had a 4-pack of balls, and Dempsey destroyed two of them in one day. This yields an annualized cost of $545.68, not counting the time you have to spend picking up flakes of rubber. On the bright side, I found that the balls are small enough that you can put them in the Kong Squirrel, protecting the cheap rubber. This makes for a bouncy squirrel, which Dempsey seems to enjoy.
Petco tennis ball
Annualized cost: $72.27
I suppose I'm biting the hand that feeds me, since I got this ball for free. It's amazing when you get a dog, somehow every junk mailer in the country seems to find out. We've received catalogs from everywhere, plus a coupon from Petco for a free Petco tennis ball. Dempsey liked it very much, but again, it's not that durable. Within 5 days, he had chewed it in half. A much better value are real tennis balls, which seem to last longer. Dempsey still has the tennis ball his mother Cheers gave him. It's not as bouncy anymore, but it hasn't been destroyed, either.
Okay, this toy is not really called orange moon ball, which is what it looks like. It's called an Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball. You fill it with kibble, give it to your dog, and then sit back and watch him roll it around trying to get the kibble out. We use this as doggy TV those mornings we're too lazy to train. It's great! Because the treats are dispensed randomly, it prevents Dempsey from eating too fast; he gets exercise pushing the ball all around the house; and with Dempsey's slobber, it collects loose fur from the floor more effectively (albeit less hygienically) than a Swiffer. It doesn't seem to be as durable as the Kong toys, but we think it will last about a year. Add the cost of kibble, and we get an estimated annualized cost of $24.71, an excellent value for ten minutes of peace and quiet.