Tag Archives: dog toys

Dog Toys: Amusement from Two Points of View

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Lemony with her toy basket, 24 October 2017.  The bedraggled Horton, at her feet, is a favorite.

How many of you have a basket or bin (or just a pile) of these bedraggled objects:  the toy box for your dog(s)?

When I was a child, our first dog, Gussie the basset hound, had a much smaller collection of possessions including an old tennis ball, a well-chewed soup bone that was periodically replaced by my mother, and — her favorite — a smelly toy made from two worn-out sweat socks, one stuffed in the toe of the other and tied off with a knot.  The sock toy was good for both playing fetch indoors (no danger of breaking a lamp) and for games of tug.

Beginning in the early 1970s, our family dogs began to have a larger collection of toys, all purchased from pet stores.  Rubber squeaky toys were especially popular.  Our Lab/Golden Retriever mix, Jenny, had a very soft mouth, and she had one squeaky toy, a rubber peanut that had a  face like a cartoon “bandito” and wore a sombrero. We called the peanut Roy, after the friend who presented this treasure, and Jenny played with it until just before she died.  Roy is still somewhere in a drawer at my mother’s house; my father saved it along with Jenny’s collar.  If I can find it, I’ll put it into this post.

The cover of my book Pets in America: A History (the hardcover edition) features a photograph from the 1880s of a man getting ready to throw a ball for a dog who is absolutely rigid with anticipation.  The ball may be a baseball.  It is certainly not a ball made just for the dog.  I own a number of trade catalogs and photos that suggest the evolution of toys produced intentionally for the amusement of dogs.  Let’s look at some of them.

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Cover, Catalog of Dog Furnishings. Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc., New York City, 1937.

Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc. seems to have begun as a distributor of pottery, but by 1905 the company sold chain and leather dog collars wholesale.  The company existed until 1976, although it moved away from a focus on dog “furnishings.”

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Catalog page of dog toys offered by Walter B. Stevens & Son, Inc. in 1937.

There are many interesting things about this catalog, which offers a wide array of products in the heart of the Depression.  The pages of toys are our subject today; I’ll share more of this catalog later.  Notice that the rubber balls are shaped to look like animal heads.  This is the beginning of marketing dog toys that are meant to be equally amusing to owners.  The rubber rat relates back to the traditional role of terriers as vermin-catchers in barns and households.  The “Sani-Bone” and “Happidog Bone” reflect new concerns about the health of dogs.  (As I have noted elsewhere, the 1920s was the decade when small animal veterinary clinics proliferated, and concerns about the impact of germs on treasured pets appear in the popular literature.  And they also imply that consumption of said bone would take place indoors, rather than out in the yard.  No grease spots on the carpets!

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Counter-top dog toy display and Christmas stocking, Walter B. Stevens & Co, 1937.

The counter-top display box, depicted above, suggests that pet store owners present toys as impulse purchases.   And the Christmas stocking is the earliest holiday packaging  I’ve found so far.

Now let’s look at some dog toys from 1947, ten years and a world war later.  Below is a catalog page from Lehman Bros. of Cleveland, Ohio, a company that I have not been able to find out much about.  The  letter to store owners in the June 1946 wholesale catalog and price list for “Sterling Quality Dog Furnshings” states that the firm had been in the pet supply business since the mid-1920s.

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Page of dog toys from Lehman Bros., Sterling Quality Pet Supplies, Dog Furnishings. Catalog No. 41. 1830-1838 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.  June 1946.

This page depicts rubber “squeaky” toys (which would not have been available when rubber was a strategic material) and tug toys. The rubber toys look like, and may be, identical to squeak toys for babies marketed at the time.

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Rubber dog toys, maker unknown.  Probably 1960s.

The rubber dog toys in the photo above , which I discussed in a post in January 2016,  are a more complete expression of the trend toward toys taking shapes that dog owners would find amusing.  Here the toys represent things that dog are NOT supposed to chew.  In the pages of toys from Du Say’s, a mail-order pet business that has been the subject of a previous post, whimsy continues to shape the latex rubber toys.  By now they include a Smurf called “Flower Boy,” Hillbilly Bears and even Magilla Gorilla.

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Dog toys, Everything for Pampered Pets.  Du Say’s, New Orleans, around 1975.

The “All Time Favorite” Collection, at the bottom of page 12 above, recalls the simple toys of the 1930s and 1940s:  tug toys, burlap squeaky toys and rubber ball and bones.  Compare them to the Stevens catalog pages.

It’s clear that dog owners shared their postwar prosperity with their dogs by buying them lots of new toys. Take a look at the post titled “Look At All My Toys” from 26 January 2016.  It analyses two snapshots of a black Pomeranian dog with all his prized possessions, dated December 1963.  Here’s a detail of one.  The rubber hamburger and steak, disembodied feet, and rubber pack of Winston’s cigarettes, along with the sheer number of toys, suggests how funny the photographer (presumably one of the owners) found the whole accumulation of squeaky things.

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Detail of snapshot of Pomeranian dog and his toys, December 1963.  Photographer unknown.

Dogs like to chew, tug, chase and carry the objects we give them to play with.  My dog Gussie was happy with an old pair of sweat socks.  While Lemony enjoys chewing on and tossing around toys from her basket, she doesn’t care that one depicts Dr. Seuss’ elephant Horton and another is a long purple snake with bug-eyes.  Dog toys make us happy.

 

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More Dog Toys from the 1950s and 1960s

Continuing from my last post, here are a few more dog toys from the 1950s and 1960s.  I especially like the wingtip shoe.  These are in very good condition — no toothmarks — so they may never have been played with.

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Dog toys, probably American, 1950s and 1960s.  Latex rubber and paint, metal “squeakers,” manufacturer unknown.

As with the collection of toys “owned” by the little Pomeranian in the snapshot that was the topic for my last post, these squeaky toys take the form of objects that dogs are not supposed to be playing with, especially the glove and the shoe.  Out of scale and made from inappropriate materials, these are what George Bassalla has termed “transformed objects,” where functional objects are recreated, often out of scale and from more expensive materials then the originals, for ceremonial purposes (for example, bishops’ Croziers.)

Transformed objects are also widely used for the purposes of play, too.  Think, for example, of a toy hammer made out of fabric. Such an object is safer for play, of course, and it does allow a baby to practice the gesture of hammering, but its transformed character is also amusing to the adult who gives it to the toddler.  I think that we can add another characteristic to transformed play objects — they often make inappropriate, amusing sounds such as squeaking.

So “transformed object” dog toys are part of a much larger set of practices in material culture.  Not that dogs care about their conceptual sophistication….

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Look at All My Toys!

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.

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Unidentified Pomeranian with his squeaky and chew toys. Snapshot, photographer unknown, developed December 1967.

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.

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Detail of snapshot, showing the array of toys purchased for this dog.

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.

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“Squeaker” dog toy in original packaging, Stevens Company, United States, ca. 1967.  This toy appears in the right-hand side of the detail, above.

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.

 

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Filed under animal-human interaction, anthropomorphism, Christmas gifts for pets, dog toys, dogs, pet humor, pet photography, pet portraiture, pet supplies and equipment, pet toys, pets, snapshot