January 4, 2017

When it comes to dog toys, the product development focus has historically centered on durability. Dog owners wanted a toy that would last, and since most dogs destroy toys pretty quickly, toys with innovative materials—seat belts, fire hoses, ballistic-grade fabric—emerged as bestsellers. However, many dogs were still able to destroy these toys, and owners continued to look for alternatives.

A major shift in the pet industry and dog ownership is changing how play products are developed. The human-animal bond is emerging as the industry’s meta-trend, driving product development and innovation across segments. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological and physical interactions of people, animals and the environment.”

As dog owners learn more about their best friends, they seek products that fulfill their dogs’ needs. Interactive and fetch toys meet many of those needs. For customers looking to build a strong, trusting relationship, interactive toys like tugs, ropes and fetching toys help to establish and develop that partnership.

Within this segment, technology integration is a growing facet, with innovations like remote-operation, dog-triggered actions and even sensing and video capabilities.

PetSafe’s Automatic Ball Launcher, for example, allows dogs to deposit the ball into the launcher by themselves. Safety features ensure that the ball doesn’t launch if the dog is standing directly in front of the toy. The launcher has nine different distance settings, ranging from eight to 30 feet, which allows it to be used indoors or out. It’s water-resistant and can be used either with battery power or a power cord.

For interactive games of fetch, Hyper Pet manufactures options for every type of dog and dog owner. The K-9 Kannon is a hand-held ball launcher that launches a standard tennis ball up to 75 feet. Unlike electronic ball launchers, this one has a simple pull-and-shoot mechanism. Similarly, the brand offers slingshot-style toys made from ballistic nylon with a bungy cord that can launch a toy 100 feet.

For dogs who don’t love chasing down a tennis ball from great distances, the brand also manufactures their signature neon yellow fetch toys like the Flippy Flopper, a rubber and nylon flying disc.

Planet Dog toys can be another popular option when looking for fun interactive or fetch toys. For customers looking for a product that can stimulate a dog’s brain for hours, there is Planet Dog’s Mazee. Pop a few treats into the translucent toy and watch as dogs’ senses come alive. The dogs can hear, see and smell the treats inside the maze ball and have to figure out the puzzle to get them out.

For a fetch toy from Planet Dog, there is the Fetch Ball with its attached rope. The durable, three-inch ball is available in green and pink and can provide tons of fun.

There are also perennial favorites that are simple and help dog owners bond with their dogs.
According to Lisa Kamer, founder and CEO of Knots of Fun, consumers looking for an interactive toy are attracted to bright, colorful toys with lots of texture. The toys that her company produces from fleece tick all of those boxes.

“Most people don’t really think that fleece comes textured, thick, thin, heavy, not heavy, pebbled and on and on,” Kamer explained. “Using combinations of colors and textures is very eye catching.”

The fleece toys are substantially sized, with ropes reaching up to three feet in length. Kamer explained that her store displays catch customers’ eyes because of the bright colors, but the versatility of the toys entices them to buy.

“My customers are looking for a durable toy,” she said. “It also floats. It can be used for beach sports or even frozen. It becomes a whole different toy, a whole different experience.”

Beyond that, though, her customers love Knots of Fun’s made-in-the-USA commitment.

“They seem to be attracted to the USA component,” Kamer said. “That’s what I sell. That’s all I know. I think that’s one of the reasons that people are coming to me. I do manufacture a 100 percent USA-made toy. I am very pleased to be able to say that not only are my toys manufactured here, but the material is also made here.”

Regardless of the play style, safety is paramount in this category. Kamer’s toys are safe enough that, if a dog chews off a piece, it will pass. Hyper Pet’s toys comply with children’s toy safety protocols and, in some cases, exceed those standards. PetSafe’s ball launcher has a series of built-in sensors that prevent the ball from launching if a person or a pet happens to be in front of the toy.

Interactive and fetch toys are not chew toys. In other words, customers should not expect to leave these toys out and have them last. Instead, these are items that should be brought out for specific play sessions. Educate customers on this specific class of product to prevent disappointment.

These toys can also get lost in the bigger toy aisle. Consider endcaps and signage that call attention to benefits of play and interaction between dog owners and their pets.

Kamer’s sales pitch for these toys?

“Use the toy; play with your dog,” Kamer said. “Enjoy that bond that you can establish with your dog through play.”

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