Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Things I Learned From a Dog About Dog Toy-Making

I've discussed dog toy-making previously, but have had so many inquiries and requests it warrants re-visiting to answer the questions I've had.  

Do you make stuffed dog toys for sale? No, I don't make them to sell because I haven't the time; and the prices for my toys would have to be utterly outrageous to cover my time and materials.  I do make some for donations to charities; and  I've made some for clubs and sponsors of event prizes.  I make some for friends that want them when I have time. I am willing to share my knowledge, experience, and pattern-making with anyone who would like to make their own dog toys.  Some of that information will follow in this post.


What's wrong with store bought stuffies for dogs?  In my quests for stuffed dog squeaky toys over the years, I've found that most stuffed dog toys are poorly made, not very durable; many are unsafe; and many of them have only one squeaker.  It irks me that so many stuffed dog toys are made with unsafe items or things that plainly won't last 10 minutes in the mouths of the even the kindest, gentlest dogs.  Things like felt or plastic eyes and noses have no place on a dog toy; yet I see them on a number of toys from cheap box store toys to ultra posh pet store toys.  The stuffings and fabrics from which dog toys are made also amazes me as anyone with a brain should know that tiny plastic or styrofoam beads, shredded foam, or nut hulls aren't something dogs should ingest.  Rule of thumb for buying dog toys should be to examine them as though you're buying the toys for a small toddler child-if a child could easily pull it apart, choke on a piece if it comes off, or it seems otherwise unsafe for a small child, it's probably not any safer for your puppy or dog.

In addition, the costs for dog toys are pricey. Even cheap toys aren't so cheap when you factor in the length of time dogs like mine will have stuffed toys before they're shredded.  A few months ago, I bought three stuffed toys bearing a major brand name of typically durable, safe dog toys. I looked them over and although I didn't think they would last long, they seemed far better than the available alternatives so I took a chance. Within three days of giving them to my dogs the stuffies were shredded. That sent me back to making dog toys myself.  I know not everyone wants to invest their time and effort in making dog toys, but with three Border Collies and a minimal disposable income, making their dog toys yields having stuffed squeaker toys for my dogs that are far more durable and safer than those I've bought from stores.  I can also re-use most of the stuffing and squeakers as the toys are destroyed/worn out; and I often have old jeans, canvas, and scrap fleece I can use - also making homemade toys even more cost effective.

Things I learned from a dog about making dog toys:  In raising Gilley, I learned a lot about dog toy-making and durability that I didn't learn with any other dogs. Gilley is a great toy tester because if it can be shredded, he's the one to do it-"gone in 60 seconds!"  If it squeaks, Gilley's going to destroy it. Gilley will also use anything to play a game of tug with Buzz so the two of them will "tug test" any toy to pieces too. From Gilley, a dog,  I learned that dog toys need:
  • To be multiple layers of heavy fabrics like denim and canvas. Heavy polar fleece is good
     for some softness and texture difference. 
  • Randomly quilting 2-3 layers of fabric increases the durability because it makes separating the layers extremely difficult or impossible.  
  • When using fleece, double layer and use a light denim or canvas base layer with it for durability.
  • Sew all seams at least twice for durability.  
  • Stuffing too much makes them too hard to squeeze; and squeakers won't squeak. Stuffing too little makes the toy less fun and less durable.  Stuffing the right amount is the greatest "art" in the overall process beyond the initial design.  
  • The imperative part of any stuffed dog toy is having at least 2-5 squeakers strategically located in the toy.  One isn't usually enough because the dog will tend to mouth that area most trying to squeak it, wearing the toy out in that spot. Two or more squeakers give the dog several places and ways to make the toy squeak and tends to be more uniformly worn.
  • Covering the squeaker air holes with something like a piece of lightweight cotton, t-shirt fabric, or heavy sock hose is required allows the air to pass through, but not the stuffing fibers. Left uncovered, the squeaker air holes get plugged with stuffing fibers and stop squeaking.
  • Dogs don't care what shapes or colors their toys are-any toy that you make will be fine.   
  • If making tug toys, be sure to use wide strips rather than narrower because they last longer and most dogs like them better when they are a little big. 
  • If making toys that could become objects of a tug game (elephants with big ears), be sure to sew them extra securely.
  • ALWAYS use upholstery thread for hand sewing and do your best to hide the stitching. Exposed stitching tends to be a target for doggy tongues and once they find a loose stitch or knot, they tend to work on pulling at it.
  • Making facial features is more for people than dogs. Dogs won't care if the toy has no
    face.  If you want facial features, use a permanent maker to draw them on; or use your sewing machine to make "embroidered" features.  Making things like tongues or eyes of felt or other fabrics is fun to look at, but they aren't durable.
  • Where there is a seam or a change of fabric or texture, the dog will likely focus more on one feature of the multiples.
  • No matter how badly you think the toy turns out because the toy doesn't look as you imagined it would; the sewing isn't as good as you'd hoped; or you hate the fabric choice for that toy - the dog will still have a toy and won't care.
  • ALWAYS supervise dogs playing with any toys and it's a good idea to inspect their toys every day to be sure they aren't coming apart.  If they are starting to have seams popping or small holes, patch and repair it as soon as you spot it to extend the longevity of the toy.
  • Simple patterns with fewer pieces are best and easiest; and cutting them out about 1/4larger than you want the finished product to be makes it easier to make and stuff them. 
  • Once you start making your own dog toys, you'll want to buy your squeakers in bulk and in different sizes.  Amazon is a good resource; and I usually buy mine in bags of 40 - 100  for $6 - $20 per bag depending on the kind and sizes.

As I said, I don't make them for sale, but I am willing to help anyone who wants to make their own stuffed dog squeaker toys.  Additionally, once you can make a good dog toy, making children's toys will be EASY if you want a special gift for baby showers and holiday gifts!

Thank you for all the interest and inquiries!  I hope I answered all the questions I've recieved but if not, please contact me and I'll be glad to help you any way I can.  

If you're thinking, "Yeah, right! When pigs fly!"  I can help you out with that one too!  It's not a dog toy, but check out Pygmalia SuperPig :





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