Take A Sneak Peek Into The Design Process Behind BarkBox’s Muttcracker Collection

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

November 27, 2019

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Behind the scenes of the Muttcracker BarkBox, we’re getting swept up in a flurry of treat-munching nutcrackers, dastardly Mouse Kings, and a WHOLE LOTTA WALNUTS. Seriously, there are a lot of nuts.

Take an exclusive look at how our talented designers bring your dog’s new favorite characters and their stories to life every single month. (And peep all the ~nutty~ surprises! That’s why their shells are so big—they’re full of secrets.)

What’s A BarkBox?

Glad you asked. The classic BarkBox contains two original toys designed in-house, two full-size bags of treats, a meaty chew, and about 7 bajillion units of dog joy.

We curate every box with a different theme and an entirely brand new experience. If your pup prefers a tougher challenge, sniff out Super Chewer!

The Story Is King

BarkBox isn’t just about the goodies inside. Dogs open up (literally) an engaging storytelling experience designed to bring dogs and their people together.

The joy is in the details: from the characters and the flavors of the treats, to the small print on the toy tags and the paper design, winks in the unlikeliest places help weave each BarkBox into something the whole family can enjoy.

A Peek Inside

This month, the Muttcracker ballet steps off the stage and into your home for an epic show. Dmitri Drosselmeyer, a one-eyed, mustachioed owl, hides a secret toy inside his stuffing prison.

Fritz’s Fetching Cannon may not ignite, but it comes with its very own tennis-ball-cannon-ball to “launch” from a crinkle cannon barrel.

Wilhelm the Walnut is not all that he seems from the outside. When dogs rip through his chipper exterior, they’re met with a sad shelled nut containing (GASP!) a hidden squeaky spiky ball!

Nikolai the Nutcracker is practically begging for a few acorns (a.k.a. irresistible treats) to be popped between his chompers. With a little nudging and tossing, your dog can steal them right back.

And for the first time ever, every toy includes an ornament loop so you can decorate your tree and surprise your pup on Christmas morning. You know, if you’re into that delayed gratification.

Bringing Ideas To Life

So how does the design team get inspired? With twelve themes a year, there’s bound to be some “artist’s block.” One of our ah-mazing designers, Morgan Linscott, tells us that “taking a walk to the MoMa design store,” or “team outings to museums, art exhibits, and different art conferences” are great ways to get the gears turning.

First, the team decides what the theme is and the story they want to tell, then they get into the nitty-gritty.

“When we were researching for the Muttcracker, we watched several movies and read different versions of the book. We also took a trip to a few traditional children’s toy stores to get a feel for how we wanted to approach the aesthetic of the toys. There we found inspiration to give the toys a classic Christmas/FAO Shwartz vibe.”

Design With A Dog’s Eye

Designing toys for dogs is a bit different than designing for two-legged kids. The only similarity is that, like every human, each dog is an individual with things that get their tails going and things that make them turn their noses up.

“We design for every breed, size, and play style, and we try to hit as many variations of play styles as possible for each month,” says Morgan.

Foodies enjoy toys with treats, athletes need durable toys they can run and catch, and couch potatoes are just happy with something that squeaks.

Dogs have material preferences, too. While some go nuts for crinkle paper, others love long, gangly toys that are great for flinging and thrashing, and more still adore nothing but a classic rip and de-fluff.

Morgan continued: “It’s also important for my team and I to keep in mind that these toys (aside from being super fun and jammed packed with dog specific features) are part of a bigger experience. BarkBox is really about sharing a special moment with your dog every month and giving you another way to show your pup just how much they mean to you.”

The Plight Of The Plushie

Plush toys are tragically misunderstood. We hide toys inside toys and build characters with double layers of fabric because we know lots of dogs find the most fun in destruction.

“Although it’s not every dog’s MO to destroy,” says Morgan, “we strive to make our toys as durable as possible regardless.”

All of that said, we always encourage humans to supervise pups with any toy or chew to keep them safe. (Just wait until your dog defeats the Mouse King and discovers what he’s eaten.)

From Sketch To Finished Product

No toy is perfect right from the start. Nikolai the Nutcracker went through quite a few faces, 3D prints, and fabric swatches before reaching his final form.

Our graceful dancer Paulina the Sugar Plum Fairy wasn’t always so literal. We know pup parents love animal characters, so initial ideas spawned bunny ballerinas, mice, and even a cat dressed to the nines. But Paulina’s adorable simplicity stole our hearts, and her trademark spin stole the show.

Mikhail the Mouse King being the antagonistic star in The Muttcracker cast, the designers really had to noodle on how he would look. From crooked tails to disgruntled expressions grew the rodent we know and love–just with less grimace and more fuzz.

YOU Play A Huge Part

Every month, the design team gathers to review customer feedback from the previous month and begins to implement it for future boxes.

The development cycle here at BARK schedules about eight months out, so improvements take about as long to be seen, but they’re always coming!

With more than 220k #barkboxday uses on Instagram, over 3.5 million for #barkbox, and nearly 2 million customer interactions with our amazing Happy Team per year, there are countless opportunities to improve with our customers’ help.

The new BARK app even allows customers to review every item in their box to help us make future experiences the best they can be.

As Morgan put it, “We are listening! We hear you! And we appreciate your help to make the best dog toys ever!”

How It Works

Tell us about your goodest boy or girl on, and choose your plan!

We offer 12, 6, or monthly plans starting at $21/month. If your dog defeats a toy or simply doesn’t care for it, we’ll replace it with something they’ll enjoy, no questions asked.

Tailored Boxes

We can design the heck out of every toy with functions and details that’ll knock your paw socks off, but it doesn’t much help your pup if they can’t get exactly what they love.

For the first time, subscribers can customize just about anything they want. No squeakers? Less crinkle? Only soft treats? You got it. Just reach out to our Happy Team to make the changes, easy peasy.

And if you would ever like to take a treat or toy break but still want to delight your dog each month, ask our team about BarkBox Lite! Just one toy, one bag of treats, and one chew in the perfect mini box.

Whatever gives your dog the tippy taps, we’ll make it happen.

Ready to blow your pup’s mind this month and every month after? Spoil ’em with a BarkBox! Sign up here and get 2x the toys, treats, and chews with a Double Deluxe first box for FREE!

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

November 27, 2019

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A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.