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What Are Playmobil Dog Toy Sets REALLY Teaching Kids?

OK, be honest. Am I reading too much into the “City Life” playsets?

 |  Oct 25th 2013  |   39 Contributions


As a kid, I loved the Playmobil toy sets, but this afternoon I saw a shelf full of the “City Life” toy sets with dogs, and I can’t say I was 100 percent impressed.  So, help me with a reality check here: Am I reading too much into the details of these toys and what they say about responsible dog ownership? Or is Playmobil really off in la-la land when it comes to what modern urban dog ownership looks like?

1. Pure breeds

I have nothing against purebred dogs. Heck, I own one. But why is every single city life set a named pure breed? Is this set sponsored by a kennel club?

The full set of six features Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Border Collies, Dalmatians, Mountain Dogs, and German Shepherds. Really? Border Collies for city living? And not just one, but three of them? Hmmm. And not one rescue mutt anywhere in the set.

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Playmobil says: “Remember to feed the Mountain Dogs with Puppy.” Emily says: “Why bother to have a purebred set and then use a generic name rather than that of a specific breed, like the Bernese Mountain Dog which is what these appear to be?”

2. Breeding

Yes, kids love puppies. I get it. But for every single set to include one or two puppies, every one of these owners must have at least one and sometimes apparently two intact adult large-breed dogs. That they are breeding. In the city.

I can see why the company calls these six sets “Playmobil dog breeds" -- because that exactly what all of these Playmobil dogs seem to be doing.

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Playmobil says: “Enjoy some canine fun with the Golden Retriever with Puppies” Emily says: “I can see he is in no danger of losing the ball. The dogs, not so much.”

3. Retractable leashes

I own and use a retractable leash, but I believe the default leash should be a standard six-foot strap leash. Every set other than the Great Dane shows a retractable leash, and in my opinion a retractable leash is generally not suitable for controlling a large dog in a busy urban environment.

I am really not sure what is going on with the Great Dane, who is shown with a harness. Playmobil reuses a lot of its parts, so it makes me feel that the Great Dane had a nonretractable leash and a harness for a reason. But I have no idea what that reason is, because I don't believe that a harness is more advisable for this breed than any of the others featured.

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Playmobil says: “Meet mans best friends with the German Shepherd with Puppies” Emily says: “Meet gender neutral language, the possessive apostrophe, and a spay surgery”.

4. Off leash

The figurines do not come with enough leashes for all of the dogs in the set, and they are depicted in public spaces with some of the dogs off leash. Maybe that explains why these dogs have only one or two puppies left from the litter. The others wandered off and were stolen by some of the city’s less-honest residents.

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Playmobil says: “Count the number of spots on the Dalmatians with Puppy.” Emily says: "I am even more confused that the mountain dogs cannot come from Bern when the Shepherd comes from Germany and the Dalmatian from Dalmatia (which doesn't even exist any more). The Swiss just can't get no respect.”

5. Young puppies in the park

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Playmobil says: “Take a stroll outdoors with the Great Dane with Puppy.” Emily says: “Socialization = good, but parvovirus = bad. Does that puppy have his or her shots?”

6. Unsafe behavior

On the box of one Playmobil set, a woman with three off-leash Border Collies is depicted in a park while wearing roller skates. It's just as well she is wearing a helmet, because she is probably going to need it. 

As a kid, I once tried to walk the family hound while wearing roller skates. Let’s just say l learned that when you are on wheels and attached by a leash to a large dog, physics is not your friend. I doubt it goes much better off leash, especially with that puppy right in her way on the path.

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Playmobile says: “Teach the Border Collies with Puppy some new tricks.” Emily says: “Best case scenario, lose the puppy in the bushes. Worst case scenario, break your neck.”

Okay, now so what?

By now you probably thinking I am being very picky and a complete killjoy. It's just a toy, after all. But would it really have been that much more difficult, or less appealing, if the sets were made to show responsible behavior?

The Dane has a normal dog leash, so it would seem simple to swap that into the set and provide one for each dog. Or the people could be shown in indoor or backyard settings to explain why most of the dogs are off leash and just one person is supervising as many as four dogs. Just one of the dogs could have been a mixed breed or mutt, to represent that ownership option. Or even a purebred dog associated with rescue, like a Greyhound. The rollerskating figure could have been jogging instead.

It would have taken only a moment’s thought to show examples, no matter how implicit and unimportant, of responsible pet ownership rather than accidents waiting to happen. Nor is this the only hint that Playmobil didn’t think too hard about the accuracy or advisability of the situations shown in the animal sets. There is the vet carrying a suitcase with the standard rather than "V" caduceus symbol on it, or the retractable leash with two leashes coming from one hand set.

In a way, I miss the Playmobil of my youth, when dogs were just dogs of no particular breed, and "urban yuppie backyard breeder" was not one of the theme sets. But don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting boycotting the breed sets. Just that we should use the opportunities play provides to talk to kids about our dogs, how we acquire them and and how we make a lifelong commitment to look after them and keep them safe. And that ownership involves a bit more than strolling in the park and teaching dogs tricks.

About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny, and Pippin -- they think of themselves as dog-esque).

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