Our house has plenty of dog toys — soft ones that squeak, tough ones that stand up to tons of chewing, and everything in between. They’re all small and portable enough to hold in one hand and are in attention-grabbing colors that would be hard to miss on our living room floor. At this point, they’re practically part of our home décor.
My dog, Finley, loves her toys and never grows tired of taking these playthings in her mouth and destroying whatever composure they may have once had. She’ll rip the insides out of any sweet stuffed animal, untwist any tightly braided rope, puncture the surface of any unsuspecting ball, and gnaw her way around any rubber disk resembling a Frisbee. It’s what dogs do, right?
The problem is, we’ve been bringing a new kind of toy into our house these days: baby toys. And they look, feel, sound, smell, and taste (I’m only guessing) very similar to the doggy variety. Naturally, this is super confusing for a playful pup like Finley. So I asked Martial Arfs founder and dog guru Jeris Pugh — who has a one-year-old little girl — for his thoughts on how to keep baby and dog toys in the right hands and paws.
As I suspected, and Pugh confirmed, most tot toys aren’t appropriate for pooches. “My daughter has stuffed toys that I can hear the pieces rattling inside. If a dog were to rip the toy open and swallow the rattle, it could create a blockage,” he says. What’s most alarming is that many children’s toys are plastic and not intended to be chewed up by the powerful jaws of a dog.
On the flip side, most dog toys likely aren’t safe for human babies either. “Toys for children have to go through safety inspections and give age appropriate ratings that dog toys do not,” says Pugh.
What’s probably very frustrating for dog owners with little ones — which will be the case for me when I have a baby in a few short weeks — is that neither the child nor the dog can fully understand the difference between your toys and my toys, especially because they all end up on the floor. So the onus is on the parent to make sure that the toys are kept separate — as if there wasn’t already enough to keep track of in a given day.
“Both dog and child will move toys from room to room, drop them, forget them, start playing with someone or something else, and leave it for the other to play with. Then either will get upset when you give it back to its rightful owner,” Pugh cautions.
What worries me is knowing that Finley won’t just try to take the baby’s toys, she’ll most definitely destroy whatever she gets her paws on. But I should probably be more concerned about doggy germs than baby tears.
“Even though we love their kisses, dogs’ mouths can be pretty nasty,” Pugh says. “They drink from the toilet, eat from the trash, and lick their crotches on a regular basis. There’s a lot of bacteria from their mouth that gets left on a toy for days, weeks, or even months after some intense slobbery play. A child, especially a baby, will put that toy in their mouth first chance they get!”
Finley doesn’t dine from the toilet or garbage bin, but, I have to admit, she is an enthusiastic crotch-licker. So the message I’m getting is that dog and baby toys need to be completely distinct. But what about actually playing together? Can’t my future child play with Finley when he or she is old enough?
“Yes — supervised play,” Pugh says. “My dog Ripley likes fetch, and my daughter is just getting to the point where she can toss (well, drop, really) a toy for Ripley to chase after and bring back.”
Is there anything cuter than the image of a child and puppy at play? I love the idea of our toddler throwing a ball and Finley chasing after it. Our Vizsla is pretty good at giving and receiving toys, and leaving them be when we tell her to. Now, we just have to train our soon-to-be new family member in a similar way, showing him or her how to slowly and carefully give and take toys from Finley. This is assuming that the baby isn’t terrified of such a rambunctious dog as Finley. “If they are afraid of the dog, then they should not take anything from them,” Pugh advises.
But do any pet- and child-friendly toys exist? Most of the playthings Finley has warn: Keep out of reach of children! The Kathy Ireland Loved Ones brand of products seems to fit the bill, though. Not only are all of the products designed to be aesthetically pleasing and fit general home décor, they are all tested to child-safety standards.
“We take this extra step because while ideally both pets and kids will be supervised when playing with toys and the toys will be safely put away out of reach, we know that pet toys and kids toys can both end up on the floor together,” says Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development for Worldwise and the Kathy Ireland Loved Ones line. “We simply will not release a product if it’s not safe. Small parts like loose bells pose a choking hazard, and a long string from a wand can be a strangulation risk for pets and children alike, so we don’t use these in our toys.”
These kinds of products are just what I’ve been looking for as an expecting parent, especially the Crinkle Bunny Dog Toy, the Durable Whale Dog Toy With Treat Pocket, and the Hide & Seek Dog Toy for that Norman Rockwell-esque game of fetch — all made to outlast the combined energy (and attention spans) of dog and child.
So although toys like these and toys in the nursery will be kept in separate parts of the house, I think I can finally rest easy that my child won’t be in danger if he or she really wants to play with some of Finley’s things, as long as I’m closely watching.
“There are many developmental and emotional benefits that come from children and pets playing together, but common sense should always prevail,” says Diskin. “Supervision is key. Children, especially small children, should not be left alone with pets or with pet toys.”
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).