Want an easy way to amuse your dog, keep him out of mischief, add more fun to his life, and feed him, all at the same time?
Enrichment and puzzle toys are some of my favorites about which to teach clients. Since I’m a dog geek, I have a ton of these that clients can try out with their own dogs before purchasing. It’s a lot of fun watching how different dogs have their own preferences, and ways of interacting. I advocate using these to feed your dogs instead of a regular bowl! If you use these, you’re not only giving your dog the meals he needs–you’re also giving him an outlet that can prevent many boredom-based problem behaviors! Licking, chewing and sniffing at these toys can also help him relax. The mental energy he will expend will also help tire him out and make him feel overall more calm.
There is no shortage of toys out there on the market, so I’ve compiled a listing of my favorites here. Also, keep in mind these guidelines to ensure safety and fun!
- Always choose a toy that is appropriate in size and strength for your dog. Some are more avid chewers than others, and some find some toys more interesting to “kill” than others. Stuffed toys can be confusing if you have human children and don’t want the dog to get their toys so it may be best to not give these toys to some dogs. Likewise, these can be destroyed and possibly ingested, as can rope toys or tennis balls. Whenever you give your dog a new toy, ALWAYS supervise him to ensure he won’t get hurt.
- By and large, choosing toys that are more durable (made of plastics or adequate rubber) are much more safe and harder to tear apart and ingest. Still, some dogs can and will do this. ALWAYS take away these objects if they may cause problems while you are unable to supervise. Better safe than sorry (and no one wants a surgical vet bill)!
- Too many people give toys to their dogs and don’t engage with them or make it exciting. Before giving your dog a toy, keep it to yourself. Say to him, “What do I have, Fido?” and show him the toy but keep it, engage with it, make it very exciting, and then give it to him. Building excitement can help him engage with the toy.
- Also, keep in mind the level of your dog’s ability to engage with these toys. Some dogs are less confident in exploring new items in the environment, so choose simpler toys first, and/or make the level of the toy easier when you first give it, as opposed to harder. If it’s too hard, it won’t be fun but frustrating. Help your dog achieve easier levels of play, then harder levels, to build confidence and lessen frustration.
And now, here are some of my favorites!
KONG toys are some of the least-destructible and ALWAYS on the top of our go-to list. You can fill the classic original Kong with a variety of treats and stuffing, freeze them for added duration and to soothe teething puppy teeth. You can even use these to acclimate dogs to their crates; by feeding a string or piece of metal through the large end of the Kong, tie a knot or affix the metal to latch on the small hole end. Then you can stuff, freeze, etc., and then attach it to the back of the crate for the dog to find. Once inside, he will not be able to take it out, and you can gradually close the crate door. The Kong Wobbler is especially fun for those active dogs that love to bat stuff around! The Genius and Quest toys are also great alternatives to change it up.
WestPaw Design Zogoflex Dog Toys are guaranteed durable, and there are many styles from which to choose. If your dog loves retrieving, playing tug, finding treats or any combination thereof, this line offers it all. One of our favorites is the Toppl Treat Toy (top L). There are little fingers inside the toy, as well as a hole on the side, so treats/food can be smeared or placed inside in a variety of ways. The small Toppl also fits into the larger one for added fun challenges!
This is my favorite treat-dispensing ball toy. You can unscrew the ball so there are two halves—the bottom half can be filled with treats, and you can then adjust the hole out of which they fall to be easier/more difficult. The top half can also store more treats and has another hole. Two layers of absolute wonderful fun for all puppies who love to chase balls around and get yummies for it!
PetSafe (formerly Premier) makes a lot of treat-dispensing products that make for great enrichment for your pup. There are many varieties; from top left to bottom right: The barnacle has three different holders of treats and you can adjust the difficulty level by taking out some of the inside plastic parts that keep the treats inside. The bouncy bone is one of my dogs’ very favorites—the jerky that fits on either side of the ball can be fitted quite snuggly and takes a while to completely get torn out and consumed. The kibble nibble is somewhat similar to a wobbler/other ball-like toys. The squirrel dude is similar to a regular Kong toy. The tug-a-jug requires the dog pull on the rope to get treats out, and the twist-n-treat can be adjusted in height to release treats more easily or more hard!
Zanies makes a variety of toys, including awesome treat-dispensing toys and puzzles. From L to R above: The funny farm puzzle makes cool noises as your dog moves pieces around to get treats; the jack and ball is also fillable with treats and the ball can actually come off for separate fun. The wood and plastic puzzle toys also offer a variety of fun ways to get treats!
Nina Ottosson makes a variety of puzzle toys ranked in level of difficulty. They come with training DVDs so you can better introduce them to your dog. Start with easier puzzles before moving up to more difficult toys. Some dogs may pick up more quickly than others, and some may need encouragement to continue. Others may need for you to make the toy easier before harder; for instance, the “Dog Miracle Puzzle” (last photo) has a lot of pieces, but in the beginning, you may only want to use one or two to start. Your dog will set the pace!
Owner, Delightful Doggies