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Hanging Tough

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When it comes to tough dog toys, most retailers would agree that they would all be multimillionaires if they received a dollar for every time a dog owner came in and said, “My dog chews through everything!”

Tough dog toys have indeed been a challenge for this industry and one that many manufacturers have taken head-on and are, in fact, causing a shake up in this category.

There’s a plethora of tough options out there, and with the introduction of new and long-lasting materials has come a variety of interesting shapes and ideas designed to pique canine interest and keep them engaged.

“The Dogzilla Strong Chewer Dumbbell and the JW Hol-ee Roller remain our most popular chew toys,” Emilye Schmale, corporate communications manager for Petmate, said. “They are made from natural rubber, which we consider the gold standard of dog toy material when it comes to durability and strength. Each of these toys holds up remarkably well with tough chewers. However, the way in which each is constructed to be a long lasting toy is quite different.

“The Strong Chewer Dumbbell has added carbon for strength. The carbon binds with the rubber to reinforce this toy, making it a truly durable choice for pets that need a little extra ‘tough’ built into their playthings. The Hol-ee Roller is covered in many octagon cuts outs.”

This web-like structure bends and flexes and actually gives as the dog tries to get his or her teeth into a small area to chew or tear it. This design prevents the dog from being able to chew through it.

“The Hol-ee Roller’s flexibility also allows you to stretch it open and place other toys or treats inside,” she added. “Both of these rubber toys are infused with flavor that dogs love; the Dogzilla line is infused with natural chicken flavoring, and the JW line is infused with vanilla.”

The JW Pet line was a recent addition to the Petmate family. And buying the competition is certainly proving to be a very successful way of staying ahead of the competition in the pet space.

Petmate also acquired Chuckit! Fetch Games. As a result, the company plans to launch more than 100 new dog toy SKUs in 2014. Included in this line-up are two durable rubber treat toys out this month. Sporting the JW Pet label is the Caterpillar toy and the Doughnut. Both are designed to engage a dog’s natural instinct and focus their drive to “work” for their food.

From a retail standpoint, the company has a variety of displays for store owners to be able to display products in different locations, such as two-sided floor displays, power panels, pallet stackers and spinner racks.

For Hyper Pet, their Hyper Chewz line of interactive toys made from ultra-durable EVA remains a firm favorite with dogs of all sizes.

“The line consists of various shapes,” Sarah Bell, communications manager for the company, said. “The stick is fun for retrieving and the ball is perfect for launching in any of our ball throwers, including the award-winning K-9 KANNON tennis ball launcher.”

Leading the Way

Kong, considered by many to be key innovators in the tough toy category, has extended their very popular lines, such as the Wubba Weaves, to include squeakers in the twisted knot toy.

Planet Dog also has new products in its Orbee-Tuff line, which will debut at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando this month. Last year, the Orbee-Tuff Snoop interactive puzzle toy won the H.H. Backer’s Total Pet Expo’s Gold Medal for Innovation. The product is made from Planet Dog’s patented tough compound and manufactured is the USA.

Another milestone for the company, and which Kristen Smith, executive director of the Planet Dog Foundation, believes helps keep them in the public spotlight is the fact that 2 percent of every product sold is donated to the Foundation. To date, it has raised over $1 million.

New Materials

“Many manufacturers are looking beyond the traditional rubber or latex materials to create even more durable products for dogs,” Emily Benson, marketing manager for Starmark, said.

“We are constantly researching and testing new material blends that hold up to the variety of chewing habits of different dogs. We have a unique  benefit in that we are able to access hundreds of dogs in our kennels, as well as the thousands of rescue dogs we have worked with in the Starmark Academy for Professional Dog Trainers. So all product concepts are developed based on this hands-on experience.”

The company’s newest tough toy is the Treat Dispensing Jack. Shaped like the children’s game Jacks, it features legs that stick out for wobbly movement and also incorporates a 100 percent cotton rope to encourage fetch and tug play. The body of the Jack is made from Starmark’s proprietary custom-blended elastomer material that is made to be tougher than rubber, yet still soft and soothing for dogs to chew.

It’s also a completely safe material with no phthalates, latex, or vinyl. It holds small treats or kibble inside with small customizable “clover” openings to help regulate their dispersal.

What’s Next

“We’ve trademarked the term ‘tuff-web’ with regard to our plush toys that are made with a thick mesh liner with all seams generously folded and double stitched,” said Ellen Lawson, who with her husband, Chris, owns Fluff and Tuff Dog Toys.

The company is set to launch 10 new toys this month and has another five coming out in June. Further, the Lawsons have introduced two smaller toys to their size range so that it now goes from extra small all the way to extra large.

“Our main priority is to continue expanding our line and introducing our products to new markets,” Lawson said. “We look at our relationship with our retailers as a partnership and feel very responsible to support them so that they have condense in selling our products to their customers.”

So what in fact do retailers have to say about this category? The last word goes to Maggie Granquist, who together with her husband, John, owns The Grateful Hound in Savannah, Ga.

“When it comes to toys, the first question customers ask is, ‘how tough is it?’” Maggie Granquist said. “Generally speaking, dog owners are very skeptical because they’ve been burned before. And often it takes a lot of convincing. We are constantly handing out advice based on our firsthand knowledge of the toys we stock.”

Granquist added that often people will buy a toy and get their dog to try it before coming back to get a variety based on the toy’s performance. But very often, they believe what they’ve been told and will purchase several tough toys outright for their dog to “audition.”

“We always ask them for their feedback on how it withstood the ultimate tough dog toy challenge, as this helps manufacturers in their research and development,” she said.

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