I just purchased this snapshot of an unidentified Pomeranian and his stunning array of toys. Fortunately, the image has a date. The film was developed and printed in December 1967. From the looks of this little fellow, he was well-loved, and the snapshot was clearly meant to be funny.
The 1950s and 1960s were decades when the array of products sold by the neighborhood pet store, along with the pet departments of local five-and-tens and the pet food aisles of large supermarkets, included a much-expanded array of toys, including squeaky toys of painted rubber or plastic and chew toys made of nylon, hard rubber or rawhide.
Take a look at this incredible assemblage. The squeaky toys are shaped like an opened pack of Winston cigarettes, hamburgers and hot dogs, a woman’s foot with painted toenails, a chicken head, a raw steak, an ice cream bar with a bite out of it and an array of cartoonish animal figures wearing clothing. In the full photo, just behind the Pom’s head on the left side of the photo, there is a rubber toy shaped like a baby’s pacifier. Along with rawhide bones in various stages of unraveling, hard rubber toys for chewing include a ball, a bone and a dumbbell.
After I looked at the snapshot for a while, I realized that I actually owned one of the toys in the picture! Here it is, a dog in a Santa suit — in its original package, no less.
Of course, dogs don’t really care about the shape of their toys. My childhood dog’s favorite toy was a pair of old socks that had been tied together, good for tugging and shredding and easily replaced in a house with growing children. But since the 1950s, the people who own dogs have gotten a kick out of dog toys that are shaped like the everyday objects — often ones that dogs aren’t supposed to have — or that are visual puns. Dog toys are as much fun for us as they are for our dogs. A small dog carrying around an open pack of Winston cigarettes must have seemed pretty funny in a 1960s household where people smoked. And the large pacifier was a self-conscious pun on the status of the dog as the household’s fur-covered baby. I would love to know who thought up the shapes for these dog toys.
Further, there are parallels between the toys that babies have played from the mid-20th century to the present, and the toys that family dogs have enjoyed in the same era. Rubber squeaky toys were common baby toys in the 1950s and 1960s. Although I need to do more research on this, I believe that the same companies made both rubber baby toys and squeaky toys for dogs. Nowadays, flexible rubber squeaky toys for babies have been largely replaced by other objects, including a much wider array of plush toys. And now dogs often get plush-covered toys, too, in shapes that are funny to pet owners. My dog Stump drags around a purple platypus that I bought for him because I thought it was cute.
I’ll write more about the origins of pet toys in future posts.