It’s the most wonderful time of the year—and that means gifting for the whole family! Of course, that includes the dog who shares your life all year long. But in a world of endless pet present options, finding the best dog Christmas gifts can be a challenge. In the grips of the holiday spirit, many of us grab anything and everything that catches our eye without thinking through what the most appropriate dog gifts really are.
“Toys are wonderful, of course,” says Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, founder of Los Angeles-based Fun Paw Care. “But they should be carefully selected.”
He recommends experimenting with different shapes, sounds, textures and scents in order to find the perfect picks.
To some degree, adds Victoria Voith, Ph.D., DVM, DACVB, professor of animal behavior at Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California, what makes a good Christmas dog toy depends on the dog’s age.
“Young dogs generally enjoy a softer toy,” she says. “Baby teeth are more fragile than permanent teeth and easier to dislodge.”
Indeed, her own Yorkie, Harry, broke a tooth on a very hard toy as a puppy.
Another common misstep well-meaning pet parents make is allowing household items, like empty gift boxes and bags or stuffed animals, to be used as dog toys. These can present a variety of safety concerns. For example, “Tennis balls can be a problem. The outer texture is abrasive and can wear down a dog’s teeth,” warns Dr. Voith.
Of course, holiday dog gifts need not be limited to toys. Here, we’ve gathered a variety of awesome holiday gifts for dogs based on expert input. Happy shopping!
A Long-line Lead
“Dogs love walks, walks, and more walks, so what better than a special long-line lead, one that gives them a simulated off-leash experience while keeping them safe?” Hartstein says.
A long-line lead isn’t ideal for every dog, he adds, so make sure to take your pup’s preferences into account before putting it under the tree.
“Some dogs like to have a greater distance from their parent, getting olfactory enrichment and stimulation on their walks, while others like to orbit much closer to a parent,” he says.
It’s also important for pet parents to use common sense when it comes to where they use a long-line lead, Hartstein says.
“I would not use a long line in a crowded city environment, or on narrow busy sidewalks in the suburbs, just as I wouldn’t use a 6-foot line in the country with not a soul around as far as the eye can see,” he explains. “Each environment needs to be safe and effective for the pet with the tools we choose to use.”
The idea behind a long-lead leash is to be able to keep your furry friend safe, while also giving them the maximum ability to explore. The budget-friendly Four Paws Cotton Web Training Dog Lead allows for both, with a special swivel clip for full range of motion and a variety of lengths to choose from. It's ideal for training too.
“I look for baked, rather than extruded, treats for my two dogs,” says John Tegzes, VMD, DABVT, director of the interprofessional education program at Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California.
Dr. Tegzes favors treats that contain whole-food ingredients with a minimum of processing.
“While it’s always fun to give treats to my pets, I also try to keep it infrequent and special,” he adds. He explains that this helps with rewarding good behavior, and helps prevent accidentally overfeeding calories to Duke and Daisy (whom he affectionately refers to as “The Dogs of Hazard.”)
American Journey’s Grain-Free Oven Baked Crunchy Biscuit treats, which come in flavors including peanut butter, lamb, salmon, chicken and turkey, incorporate ingredients like chickpeas and sweet potatoes to treat your pup.
Bones & Chews Jumbo Bully Sticks, made of 100 percent beef pizzle, are completely digestible and work to clean teeth and gums as your dog gnaws away. It’s a single-ingredient treat that is processed by simply dehydrating, slicing and packaging.
A New Dog Bed
Can a dog ever have enough beds?
“No!” insists Hartstein, who is a pet parent to shepherd-mix Koa and Shadow, a stray he found roaming the streets. “Dogs love to lounge like we do, in many different spots.”
Dog beds are easy to find. But not every dog bed comforts and properly supports large dogs. The Big Barker Headrest Edition Pillow Top Orthopedic Dog Bed was designed with large dogs in mind, with expert-designed elements to specifically benefit big breeds as well as older dogs with joint problems.
Balls to Fetch
Many dogs are just crazy about fetch.
“My German Shepherd, Effie, was a fanatic for retrieving balls,” recalls Dr. Voith. “Sometimes you didn’t even have to throw them! She’d put them on the counter, in your lap, at your feet.”
Effie was notorious for sniffing out balls wherever she went and “gifting” them to her family members.
“We counted at least 45 balls one year,” Dr. Voith shares.
If your dog is also an eager fetcher, take your usual game of toss and retrieve up a notch with the iFetch Too Automatic Ball Launcher. While this cool Christmas dog toy will never completely take the place of your one-on-one playtime, your dog will surely get a kick out of running to fetch ball after ball. Dogs can even learn to drop the balls they retrieve back into the top of the launcher to keep the excitement going.
A Hide-and-Seek Toy
Dogs tend to love toys that challenge them to discover a hidden surprise, says Parker Chou, Chewy’s global sourcing manager. Pet parents have been made “hide-and-seek” playthings some of the company’s most popular toys this year, he says, adding that he expects them to be among the hottest gifts for dogs this holiday season.
One of Chou’s personal favorites is the adorable Frisco Hide and Seek Flying Saucer Puzzle Dog Toy. A half dozen squeaky Martians await your dog’s discovery, tucked away inside their spaceship. Once they’ve all been found, you can tuck them back in for another round of hide and seek!
Positive reinforcement dog training is extremely rewarding to a dog, maintains Hartstein.
“Understanding one another and living in harmony is fulfilling to both people and pets. That’s what dog training does,” he explains.
And treats are an integral part of the process.
“Cater to their taste buds and olfactory glands and treat them for their wonderful behaviors around the house,” he says.
A great limited-ingredient option, Vital Essentials Wild Alaskan Salmon Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Treats are made from raw wild Alaskan salmon with no added hormones or antibiotics. The treats are freeze-dried (slowly, over 48 hours) to capture the nutrients without cooking the fish. The tiny size of each chewy morsel makes them ideal for training.
A Dog Crate
Even if you’ve never crated your dog, introducing one into your home environment can be good for your pet.
“Dogs are den animals,” Hartstein says. “As such, your dog loves small, dark places like a crate. The crate should be their Zen environment.”
A cozy hang-out for a dog to rest and recharge, Merry Products’ Configurable Dog Crate & Gate pulls double duty. It serves as a roomy crate and transforms quickly and easily into a gate when you need to keep your dog out of a particular area of your home. Plus, this product earns bonus points for blending so seamlessly into furnishings. After all, how many dog crates actually look nice in your living room?
A Reflective Collar
A collar that makes your dog visible at night is a great gift idea because it contributes to their nighttime safety, Hartstein says. Key features to look for include ease of cleaning, quick-drying fabric, and the tags held separately from the main leash clasp, advises Hartstein.
The Nite Ize Nite Dawg LED Dog Collar uses the glow of LED lighting to illuminate your pup on nighttime walks. It’s water-resistant, and the battery comes off easily when it’s time to wash it. (Plus, it has that fun look of those light-up necklaces we used to wear at carnivals as kids!)
A Shake-and-Throw Toy
“Dogs like to both chase moving objects and shake flexible toys once they’ve gotten to them,” Dr. Voith says. “Toys that evoke play not only provide enrichment but also exercise that helps dissipate high energy levels.”
The grip at the end of the Petmate Wing-A-Ball Dog Toy makes it easy to grab, shake and then fling it far and fast. Your pal will be after it in a flash. Bonus: This rope toy floats. If it winds up in the pool or lake during outdoor summer playtime, you can just fish it out and continue the fun.
A Food Puzzle
These combo eat/play products are can’t-fail gifts for dogs, notes Hartstein.
“Dogs love to work for their food, enjoy cognitive enrichment and love being fulfilled, just like us,” he explains.
KONG is a well-known maker of a variety of hidden-treat toys. The KONG Quest Star Pods Dog Toy can be a good one to start with. Each sphere of the pod can conceal a treat or a bit of dog food. Ferreting the tasty goodies out will feel like an accomplishment for dogs, and keep them busy and happy much longer than just handing them a treat will.
A Two-Way Video Camera and Treat Dispenser
This has to be at the top of many a dog’s wish list. After all, what pup wouldn’t want to be able to see and hear their mom or dad when home alone—and get a treat from them? It’ll be just as much fun for you to use as well!
All you need is your smartphone, tablet or computer to use the PetChatz HD Wifi Two-Way Audio & Video Camera & Treat Dispenser to keep a watchful eye on your dog while you’re away from home. Best of all, they can see you, too. Reward them for behaving while you’re at work by remotely activating the treat dispenser. Thunderstorm coming? You can even trigger the calming aromatherapy spray. This clever device can put both of you at ease when you’re working late or wind up staying out longer than expected.
As fun as shopping for the year’s best dog Christmas gifts can be, be sure to keep safety top of mind. This is especially important when it comes to toys, with even greater vigilance required if you have more than one dog.
“Regardless of the [individual] pet and [the specific] toy, the first several times the pet has access to a toy, someone should be present. If the pet tears pieces of the toy that could be swallowed, then that’s not a good toy for that pet,” cautions Dr. Voith. “If there are multiple pets and highly desirable toys, it is important to observe if there is any competition, or aggression, for the toys.”
If you keep your individual dog’s needs in mind, it’ll be much easier to bestow the best dog Christmas gifts on your buddy this year. You’ll be rewarded with the joy of seeing your dog happily enjoying his new presents all through the new year!