The dog toy category has expanded well beyond tennis balls and basic squeak toys. Pet owners want playthings designed to meet a variety of needs—from relieving anxiety and preventing boredom to providing comfort, a mental challenge and physical stimulation—all in the name of fun.
"Toys are now multipurpose and designed with functionality in mind," said Leah Angelos, a sales representative at ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif. "There are many toys that stimulate dogs, correct behavioral problems and even improve the bonding experience. We can see that the industry is continuing to follow this trend as more innovative products are being released."
Plush toys remain a consistent seller, and rope toys are seeing steady sales growth, said Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for Worldwise in Novato, Calif.
There also has been a rise in interactive games and food-dispensing products, said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo.
Because of the continued humanization of pets, dog owners seek out toys that aid in and strengthen the pet-owner bond and cater to individual dog’s specific needs and behaviors.
"Consumers have been shifting the way that they shop and have been taking more factors into consideration when browsing," Angelos said. "Pet behaviors, lifestyle and preferences are having a bigger impact than ever before when shopping for the perfect dog toy."
Werde agreed, using chewing habits as an example.
"Is the dog an intense chewer or one that likes to cuddle?" he said. "Another element is how engaging the individual dog finds a toy."
In addition to considering pet preferences, dog owners want products that reflect their personal tastes. Those who love the outdoors typically prefer dog toys that are good for outdoor activities and travel easily, said Bill Parsons, sales manager at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco.
Savvy retailers know their market and use that information when selecting dog toy inventory.
"Do your homework," said Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt. "Ask what kinds of dogs [your customers] have and about their play and personalities to help them buy the best toys. I [also] know what price point my customers won’t buy above."
On their end, manufacturers strive to offer products that meet customer demands at marketable price points. Innovation is key in these endeavors.
"We are seeing a huge variety of materials, technology and overall innovation in the current dog toy market," Angelos said. "At ZippyPaws, we utilize different fabrics and methods of construction to provide plenty of options for shoppers to choose from. Interactive Burrows, reinforced Z-Stitch plush and durable TPR toys are just a few examples of how we put our innovative twist on dog toys."
At Outward Hound, creativity and engagement are key concepts, according to Parness.
"From concept to production, we design toys around the many ways dogs and pet parents interact, from alleviating boredom and chewing to mental stimulation, training or behavior modification," he said.
To meet the demand for pet inclusion, ZippyPaws and other manufacturers offer variety in their product lineups.
"These include interactive toys to engage dogs more, rope toys for tug-of-war play, toys which are ideal for games of fetch, and a variety of sizes and textures to excite dogs of various ages and sizes, some with and some without stuffing," Angelos said. "To appeal to both the consumer and pet, we also continue to design innovative and trendsetting designs and themes while using a variety of high-quality materials."