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Counterfeit and dangerous knock-off goods are infiltrating the online marketplace like never before. But as a concerned pet parent, there are some things you can do to protect yourself as well as your pets, and to become a more informed consumer overall.
We’ll walk you through some shopping best practices and things to keep in mind as you browse online.
Smart Online Shopping Basics for Pet Parents
Get to Know the Trusted Pet Brands
When you’re buying your pup new toys or supplies, the first thing to do is to keep an eye out for reliable brands. You can learn about these brands by talking to your veterinarian, dog trainer (like me), Rover walker or sitter, or local pet shop owner (more on this below) to see what brands they generally recommend.
Knowing the top-quality brands and the product lines they carry will help you navigate your way to better customer service, safer toys, and the best product warranties in the game. These brands are your first line of defense against buying unsafe pet products, or from disreputable retailers.
Some of my trusted pet brands include:
Conduct Research at Your Neighborhood Pet Store
While shopping online is convenient, brick-and-mortar pet supply stores also stock many of the best dog brands out there. Going into a store lets you see and feel a product for yourself, compare it to others, and make an informed decision.
In particular, smaller, local stores are also likely to have knowledgeable staff who can offer expert advice, recommendations, and tips on the toys or supplies that are best for your pup, and many have websites you can purchase from once you’ve shopped around and know what you want.
Best of all, you’ll be supporting your local economy while you shop!
When Shopping Online, Avoid Third-Party Sellers if You Can Help It
While not every third-party seller on Amazon is untrustworthy, the best way to protect yourself against purchasing fake goods online is to be wary of third-party sellers. And to do that, you’ll need to know how to identify them.
These simple questions can help you to figure out if the product you’re eyeing on a site such as Amazon is being sold by a third-party seller.
- Is the price of the product extremely low?
- Will the shipment be sent from overseas?
- Does the shipment arrival date seem really far away (like six weeks)?
- Were all of the product reviews left in a short period of time or written using similar language?
- Is the listing written with poor grammar or in broken English?
- Does the vendor have an easy-t0-find company website off of Amazon?
- Is the same product being sold under different seller names elsewhere on the site?
If the seller you’re considering has an easily accessible website, the product they have listed is priced reasonably, and there is a wide range of reviews, you’re more likely to be purchasing the real deal.
Wherever you shop online, use caution on a listing with any of the following red flags:
- Poor grammar, broken English or confusing explanations
- Limited detail about the product
- No mention of the safety of the product’s materials
- Broken links
- Blatantly false or misleading claims
- FAQ responses that are incomplete or hastily written
- Poorly written reviews
- Reviews that were all posted in a short period of time
Read the Reviews With a Healthy Dash of Salt
On Amazon, a whole industry has emerged around the writing of fake reviews to draw customers to shady third-party sellers. Third-party sellers will go so far as to bribe buyers with free goods and a gift card to leave 5-star review for their product listings. That means that, even if it’s labeled as a “verified purchase,” the review might not be genuine.
Picking toys or dog supplies based simply on reviews and star ratings makes you vulnerable to these practices. While it can be helpful to look at reviews, you should be looking at a wide range of star-ratings to see more honest descriptions of how the product holds up. There are also real concerns with how Amazon’s reviews are calculated and weighed, which is worth reading about if you have the time.
Pro Tip: Lately our shopping vertical has been making good use of the site ReviewMeta, a Beta platform that analyzes the legitimacy of Amazon product reviews. It’s actually strangely addicting and fun to use.
Consider Shopping Directly from the Source
It’s worth checking the brand website of the product you’re looking to buy to do some comparative analysis.
For example, if you’re looking to buy a Kong toy on Amazon, check out Kong’s website first to see how the company promotes the product on their own platform, and for things like the average price of the item and the materials that it’s made of. By checking the retailer’s website, you might also be able to find a section called “Authorized Online Retailers,” “Where to Find Our Products,” or “Find Us Online” that will indicate authorized sellers of the company’s products. (Some retailers, such as Nike and Birkenstock, do not sell their products on Amazon, so if you’re seeing Nikes or Birkenstocks for sale on Amazon, you can be sure they are counterfeit.)
To avoid counterfeits altogether, considering buying directly from the manufacturer’s website, if possible. Purchasing a product directly from a reliable pet brand website such as Chuckit or Outward Hound guarantees authenticity. While those sites may not be able to offer the same deals on shipping, and shopping there sometimes requires making an account on the website, in general the prices are quite competitive, sometimes come with special offers or deals for returning customers, and you’ll have the peace of mind knowing you are buying the genuine article.
Consult One of Rover’s Online Shopping Guides
Trusted advice can be a big help when it comes to picking the best toys for your pup and at Rover, we’ve got you covered.
With in-house testing and a wealth of expertise on all things dog, we do our best to vet, curate, and recommend only the best products for your fur babies. Find advice on everything from the best toys for fetch to the best indestructible plush toys in Rover’s shopping vertical.
And if the idea of learning how to identify fake products has you panicked, check out some of my favorite toys below. From interactive puzzles to balls to plush squeakers, these seven options are all rock-solid.
A Few Go-To, Trusted Dog Toys
Keeping in mind that no dog toy is indestructible, and all toys and chews should be used under supervision, the following toys are generally well-liked by dogs, trusted by pet parents, and the top toys I recommend to my clients.
Nina Ottosson puzzle toys are a great way to test your dog’s problem-solving skills, tap into their scavenging instincts, and provide them with additional mental stimulation. These sturdy toys are BPA, PVC, and phthalate-free, and will easily hide kibble or treats in their drawers.
While I’ve found that this toy isn’t for every dog, those who are motivated and enjoy a challenge will love the dog casino and the other toys in the Nina Ottosson line. It can even be made slightly less challenging for dogs who are just learning how to problem-solve.
- Provides mental stimulation and taps into your pup’s scavenging instincts
- Sturdy puzzle that is BPA, PVC, and phthalate-free
- No small parts to chew or choke on
Soft but strong, HuggleHounds Knotties are adorable plush squeaky toys with a tough side. The double-layer of lining in each toy has been tested to withstand up to 100 pounds of pressure, slowing down pups who love to disembowel their plushies. The toy’s exterior is made from bright, silky corduroy and the limbs of its stable of plush creatures are knotted for extra durability. Each toy has multiple squeakers, comes in two sizes, and is machine washable.
- Soft corduroy on the outside, a tough double-lining inside
- Multiple squeakers in each toy and knotted limbs for more durable tugging
- Machine washable
This bright ball is built to last. The Chuckit! Ultra is made of durable, natural rubber with an extra-thick core that will hold up to heavy chewing. It bounces super high, floats in water and, of course, fits perfectly in the Chuckit! ball launcher. And unlike the average tennis ball, when the Ultra gets too slobbery, it easily wipes clean.
- Bright, durable ball made of natural rubber
- Extremely bouncy and floats in water
- Holds up to chewing
Tug is one of the best games you can play with your pup and the inexpensive yet durable Mammoth Flossy Chews Rope Tug is a great option. Made of woven cotton fibers, the rope tug, which comes in four sizes, will hold up to even the most powerful dogs. As an added bonus, those soft fibers help to floss your dog’s teeth as they pull and chew.
- Durable toy made of woven cotton fibers
- Comes in four sizes
The West Paw Zogoflex Tux has all the treat-stuffing power of the better-known Kong Classic toy but it’s manufactured by a certified Montana-based B Corporation committed to high social and environmental standards. The Zogoflex Tux can be filled with a wide variety of goodies, holds up to the freezer and the dishwasher, and is nearly indestructible. The Tux also bounces and floats, making it a versatile option for dogs who love a good ball.
- Interactive toy that can be stuffed with food and frozen
- Bounces and floats like a ball
- Manufactured by a certified B Corporation
The Kong Wubba is part ball, part tug toy, and all fun. I love the Wubba because it’s easy to throw long distances without ending up with slimy hands. Dogs love it for its bounce, its squeak, and the fact that it’s so easy to pick up. Covered in ballistic nylon, the Wubba comes in multiple sizes and is super durable, though over time it may not stand up to heavy chewing.
- Part ball, part tug toy
- Covered in durable nylon
- Multiple sizes are easy to throw and easy for dogs to carry
This plush tree-trunk is stuffed with mini squeaking squirrels that your dog will love to pull out and play with. But even dogs who don’t get a huge kick out of squeaky toys can get a lot of mileage out of this toy if you add a stuffed puzzle toy or bully stick to the mix. My dog Buster wasn’t interested in the toy on its own but after I added a couple of tasty goodies to the trunk, he was hooked!
- A soft plush toy with squeaky squirrels that dogs love to pull from the tree
- Provides mental stimulation and taps into the scavenging instinct
- Can be stuffed with additional treats, puzzle toys or other plushies to make the game more enticing and increase its difficulty level