Hot Toys for Haute Dogs

When it comes to toys for small dogs, size does matter!


Fortunately, retailers have been noting consumer needs and passing the information down the line to manufacturers, resulting in enormous growth in this segment of the market.

In fact, according to the American Kennel Club, smaller breeds are more popular than ever before and they have the facts and figures to prove it.

“This may be the year of the Dog in China, but in this country it’s the Year of the Yorkie,” says AKC spokesperson Gail Miller. “The Lab may still resign supreme, but the petite and often-pampered Yorkshire Terrier has taken the coveted number three spot in the list of The Most Popular Dogs in the US for the first time since becoming AKC-recognized in 1885. Considering the increasing popularity of small dogs in the past decade – perhaps due to their exposure as celebrity companions – I’m not surprised to learn that this precious and portable canine may slip into the number two slot in the popularity polls.”

The current list includes the Dachshund ranked 4th, Shih Tzu, ranked 9 th and the Miniature Schnauzer in tenth place. Interestingly, the ever-popular Chihuahua dropped to 11 th place.

Part of the growth in the toy industry has been to recognize that dogs require different kinds of toys to satisfy different behavioral and physical needs and the market now reflects these requirements while also taking into account age and most importantly breed size.

According to Chuck Costello spokesperson for the Kong Company LLC based in Golden, Colorado creators of the now famous toy box classic, the company has been catering to smaller breeds for the last 25 years.

“We are definitely looking to expand our range in this arena in the future,” he says endorsing these new trends.

“Manufacturers are taking note that small dogs are a separate category. It’s part of the specialization of the market place,” says Marianne Straub of Petstages in Northbrook, Illinois.

“It’s a matter of addressing specific behavior needs and making toys to fit that specific need. Simultaneously we try and educate the retailers so that the information reaches the consumer.

“We have divided our toys into five categories, like soothing, chewing and dental health, interacting, fitness and play. Then these categories are once again divided by size so that we are manufacturing specifically for small breeds.

“Fitness is an extremely important category for small dogs because many of them can’t go the distance on a really along walk or run. Tugging actions are excellent for strengthening muscles in the neck and chest area and a great way to burn calories. To educate, our packing includes specific ‘Good Tug Rules’ to guide the consumer how to get the best out of the toy.”

Because of the portability of small dogs, many toy manufacturers focus on soothing and security toys.

“About 80 per cent or our plush toys cater specifically to small dogs,” says Linny Cendana of Room Candy in Pasadena, California, whose latest line includes a selection of plush pastries. She says her toys follow what she calls the Four “S” Principles:

  1. •Size – the perfect size for a small dog toy is between 4” to 6”. Another way to think of the correct sizing is that the toy will essentially be a stuffed “pet” for the small dog.
  2. •Safety – as small dog toys contain smaller pieces, the materials have to be non-toxic in case of accidental swallowing. For example, the “eyes” of the toy should be sewn with thread or be made of a felt cutout.
  3. •Super cute – the more detailed the dog toys are, the better.
  4. •Soft – small dog toys that are made with better quality fabrics that are soft to the touch are a must!

“In order to cater to small dog population, we have taken our popular BOODA toys and downsized them to fit the needs, and mouths, of these tiny pups,” explains Sarah Julian, Category Specialist for Aspen Pet Products in Denver, Colorado.

“Many of our rope bones, treats and plush toys, now come in mini sizes,” she confirms.

Manufacturers point out that manufacturing smaller toys can be quite a challenge to ensure good quality and workmanship.

“We have kept our dedication to quality, ensuring that these toys are as durable as any made for larger dogs – there’s a lot of strength packed into these little bodies! And we have also continued our efforts to create innovative products in these smaller sizes, gaining insight from the trends, initiatives and product demands that we have seen in the toy industry,” says Julian.

Costello concurs. “When it comes to Kong toys for small dogs, we still use our Kong rubber formula but we adjust the strength so that it’s slightly thinner allowing the dog to collapse the toy a bit more. One has to remember that small dogs can be just as destructive and so it’s necessary to ensure we maintain the durability and integrity associated with the brand.”

“Dog owners are definitely prepared to pay for quality especially if they also know they are investing in their dog’s wellbeing,” says Meredith Thompson Greer of the Canine Café in North Carolina.

“Toys are a huge segment of our business and we place great emphasis on smaller breeds. Not only we have started marketing toys according to breed size but have taken it a step further in to sub-categories explaining whether the item is an action, distraction or soothing type toy. It’s wonderful when manufacturers play the game and include educational info on their packaging.”

Cynthia Waldenmaier of Hyde Bark fashion in Cincinnati, Ohio agrees.

“When it comes to plush toys for small dogs, there’s huge growth in designer and designer spoof “knock-offs”. I think is based on the Mommy and Me principal; Often if customers like a particular designer for themselves, they want to buy something in a similar vein for their dog. Hence the popularity of shoe-shaped toys like the Vera Wag and the Jimmy Chew.

“There isn’t a person on the planet who would liked to be spoilt with a gift from Tiffany’s so the doggy equivalents the Sniffany Box squeaky toy is very hot right now.”

The creative force behind these designer spoof toys is Pam Reeder of Haute Diggity Dog in Los Angeles, California.

“People love the fun aspect. Also, because they follow fashion trends and are inexpensive, retailers report that consumers usually buy more than one at a time with the aim of spoiling a best friend or family member’s pup too.

Other popular items in the range include handbags like the Pawda bag and the Chewy Vuitton.

“Up until now, I have been concentrating on toys for female dogs; I am now working on a range for boys too. This will include the Furagamo dress shoe, the Growlex watch and aftershave bottle-shaped toy labeled Ruff Lauren. And of course there’s the ultimate male status symbol the Furcedes…”

And of course with Christmas around the corner, retailers would do well to promote small dog toys as great stocking stuffers.

And here’s a final word of retail advice; watch out for female shoppers with one child in tow – they’re the ones, according to the 2005-2005 National Pet Survey produced by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, who are the primary dog toys shoppers. When it comes purchases of choice, they go for anything that will promote their dog’s wellbeing and of course anything that spells cute …


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