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Best Interactive Stimulating Toys For Dogs

Best Interactive Stimulating Toys For Dogs

The modern dog has become one of the most loved members of the contemporary family. They are often treated and regarded much like children, ranking high in family planning, being included in family vacations, and even choosing a car. It is therefore inconsistent that the needs of our domesticated dog are often not well understood and therefore often not met. Implementing the use of toys that are behaviorally stimulating for our dogs to interact with is a way to begin to address the daily needs of Canis familiaris.

Mentally Stimulating Dog Toys: Why They Matter

Current enlightened thinking, recognizes the importance of providing zoo and aquarium animals with appropriate habitats, enclosure mates, and activities that address a species inherent needs and interests. Examples would include providing arboreal animals such as monkeys with high areas to perch and climb, foraging animals areas to explore and graze, and aquatic animals like river otters a chance to swim, dive, and hunt for their food. Great effort and entire careers are built around developing training and enrichment programs designed to meet the needs of all kinds of exotic animals in an effort to meet their specific mental and physical needs. It then stands to reason that humans would also see the need for and want to ensure the well being of all the animals we have chosen to domesticate and share our homes with. Our companion animals should certainly be given the same consideration we give to animals we have a less intimate connection with.

It is perhaps the affinity we feel with our pet dogs that makes us forget to not even consider that life in a human home may have some behavioral deficits that need to be filled in order for our domestic canine to thrive. We can domesticate a dog, but it’s still a dog with needs that are genetically and uniquely different than our own. As happy as our dogs may be to snuggle on the couch with us, there are certain other activities that would greatly contribute to having a quality life. It is essential that we do our very best to give our dogs the best lives we can. At the very least, we need to meet their needs. Basic needs like good nutrition, fresh water, appropriate shelter, daily exercise, potty breaks, and lots of love are easily understood and readily given by responsible pet owners. Species and breed specific behavioral enrichment on the other hand is too often not well understood and therefor not provided to many of our canine companions.

Whether you have an energetic sporting dog, a feisty terrier, or a relaxed lap dog, it’s important to recognize that your dog has a brain that was developed to perform tasks, and problem solve. Although it’s important to ensure that your dog has the appropriate amount of physical exercise,  it is equally important to make sure that non-aerobic mental activities also occur for a certain portion of your dog’s day. A daily routine that provides a combination of both aerobic and non-aerobic exercise is best.

Interactive Dog Toys for Brain Stimulation

It can be difficult for even the most devoted dog parent to make everyday a full day for their canine companion. If time allows and we are physically able we may get our dogs out for a great walk in the park, a doggy play-date, or a hike in nature. Even spending the day at home with our dogs can be a real treat. These activities may provide our dogs with the companionship, as well as physical, mental, and emotional exercise they need. But there are many situations where our schedules or our own limitations get in the way. In addition, some dogs may require more than we can readily provide. Consider some scenarios where a dog would benefit from some extra activities to occupy their time using their active brain:

  • Breeds that require more exercise or mental challenges.
  • Individuals that are extremely high energy.
  • Dogs with physical challenges that make an aerobic outlet unfeasible.
  • Senior dogs that require less physical exercises but still need brain games to thrive.
  • Dogs on crate rest recovering from a medical procedure.
  • On days that life takes the human away from home for longer than usual.
  • Dogs that are crated when their people are not home.
  • Dogs that benefit from having something to do to self sooth and pacify when home alone.

In comes interactive dog toys, usually food toys, to the rescue!

Food Stuffable Toys to the Rescue

Food stuffable toys provide your dog with brain games. Food puzzle toys and food stuffable enrichment toys come in many sizes, shapes, and styles. Despite the wide variety to chose from, they all have the common purpose of providing your dog with a challenge to acquire their food. Dogs are genetically hard wired to hunt and forage for their food, so feeding your dog using food toys provides them with the species appropriate behavioral enrichment necessary for a dogs wellbeing. These enrichment toys are among the most important items you should have as part of your dogs care regiment.

Most food dispensing toys have a hollow center that can be filled with food and/or groves that can be filled. The food is made available to the dog when they nose push, paw, and roll the toy around. Toys that hold dry dog food or kibble are generally more physically interactive, whereas toys that contain wet dog food (something pasty in consistency) are generally more stationary, requiring diligent licking and chewing rather than pushing and pawing. Both styles are extremely valuable to your dog. Some toys even provided both options.

When selecting food puzzle type toys for your dog, there are some basic characteristics to consider:

  • Is the toy durable enough for your dogs size, breed, and individual chewing strength.
  • Is it large enough to insure it will not be a choke hazard. (Note: Always supervise initially to ensure the safety of the toys you have chosen before giving them to your dog in your absence).
  • Is the toy designed to dispense the type of food you feed your dog .
  • Is the toy meant for a special treats and snacks, or is it going to be used to feed your dog their entire meal.
  • Can the toy be frozen (to make it last longer and increase the challenge when the dog is ready).
  • Can the toy be washed. This is important if you will be putting perishable food or treats in it. 
  • (NOTE: Tips on how to wash your food toys are provided below).
  • Will the nature of the puzzle toy suit your dogs personality. (For instance: If the toy is loud when moved around, it may not be the best choice for a sound sensitive or easily spooked dog).
  • Will the toy fulfill the purpose for what you plan to use it for (crate toy, family/TV time, alone time, small snack/pacifier vs. full meal).

Bottom line, is the toy safe and is the toy fun. There is good frustration and there is bad frustration. Obviously we want the brain game to be good for your dog which usually means, challenging but manageable. No one wants to play a game they don’t have a chance at winning, and some individuals are willing to work harder and longer than others. The effort your dog needs to make and the brain power required to solve the problem will be dependent on the toys you choose and how you stuff them. Make it easy at first and then increase the difficulty slowly. You will come to know what preferences your dog has and how much to challenge them. After all, not everyone can nor wants to be proficient at doing the Sunday crossword puzzle or a rubik’s cube. 


Why Food Toys? The Best Mental Stimulation Games for Dogs

Why food toys? Because most of the things our dogs love involves a person and a dogs person can’t always give the dog the attention they crave. Love, walks, hikes, dog play, training, fetch, ball, tug, swimming, dog sports, … all involve a person. Other dog toys like plush toys, rope toys, rubber toys, and balls really require a person to make them interactive and fun.

Food toys, once prepared and given to the dog, do not require a human to make them interesting. When the dog is engaged in solving their food puzzle, the human can attend to their  own business while the dog comes to learn to entertain itself. This is such an important skill.

Some people may be of the sentiment that it is unkind to make their dog work for its food. To the contrary, it can be argued that it is unkind to not provide the dog with the mental enrichment only food toys can provide. Furthermore, food toys are one of the few joyful activities your dog can engage in without you. It is critical that our dogs have the opportunity to enjoy time removed from total reliance on their person. This way they can learn to self sooth, self pacify, and manage the time they need to be alone away from their human family members. Separation anxiety is a terrible state of being for both the dogs that suffer with it and their people. Teaching your dog to enjoy whiling away its time with a good food toy challenge is a great way to avoid separation anxiety as well as other boredom related behavior problems.

Boredom related behavior problems:

If you are working on correcting (or preferably preventing) a behavior problem with your dog, you will want to look at the role boredom may play. Many pet dogs live a relatively lack luster life. Or at least have days that could use an enrichment boost. A daily routine that provides both physical and mental exercise is essential to any behavior modification program. Here again, we know that the necessary training sessions, playtime, and exercises activities will involve a person, but feeding your dog their meals and snacks out of food stuffable toys can be accomplished while you are busy doing the things you need to do that don’t involve your dog.

 A dog that is not getting a healthy combination of mental and physical exercises may exhibit a variety of undesirable behaviors:

  • Alarm barking
  • Excitement barking
  • Attention seeking barking
  • Spooky barking
  • Yard and barrier frustration. You guessed it – more barking
  • Separation issues
  • Excessive jumping
  • Digging (in the yard as well as in the house)
  • Destructive chewing
  • Getting into things that are off limits (raiding closets, counter tops, etc)
  • The list goes on to even include Anxiety and aggression

As much as we try to meet our dogs daily needs and sometimes do a really good job at it, It is much more common for pet dogs to spend at least some of their days bored. Everyday doesn’t have to be an epic adventure. That is not realistic for dogs or their humans. Rather, consider your dogs entire week and on days you can’t spend much time with your dog playing, training, and exploring the great outdoors, lean into providing your dog with mental enrichment through creative food toys. Ditch the food bowl and give Fido a chance to work for his food.

Here are a few tips for making interactive food toys benefit your dog without having a major impact on you.

Consider giving your dog their food toys in their crate or confinement area. This increases your dogs love for that environment while decreasing the area where potential cleanup may be required.

If you want your dog to enjoy a food stuffed bone-like toy while you work on your computer or relax to watch a movie, lay a towel or blanket down at your feet or on your dogs bed where your dog can enjoy licking away at their toy without making much mess. It’s a lot easier to throw a towel in the wash than an entire dog bed.

Many food toys have hollow cavities and/or grooves for stashing food. An easy way to clean these toys is to soak them in warm soapy water and then clean them with a tooth brush and chop sticks – tools that will get into the nooks and crannies of your pups favorite toys.

Once you know the types of toys that work best for your dog (based both on food preferences and dogs personality) it’ll be easier for you to pick new toys you know your dog will like. When you discover a few favorites, purchase several so you are always ready to deliver a brain game when the situation calls for it.

Stuff several toys at a time so you have a few days worth on hand and ready to go. If you have children in the family, pre-stuffing food puzzle toys with some adults direction is a great way to get them involved in taking some responsibility in the care of their pet.

Devote a portion of your freezer and your refrigerator to dog food puzzle toys. A designated container can make this a neater proposition.

As much as you and your dog will develop favorites, be sure to vary things. Remember you are doing this to add mental enrichment to your dogs routine so be mindful not to have your food toys become too predictable and therefore boring.

Whatever choices you make, cater them to your individual dog. Our dogs are one of the very best companions that we have the pleasure of spending time with everyday. In turn, we are the most important thing in our dogs lives. They depends on us for everything. So whether your canine companion is a young puppy or a senior dog, be sure to provide them with the benefits of keeping their mind working. Beat the boredom rut by incorporating stimulating food toys as an interactive option for your best buddy.

In the End

  • Comfort Bone – wonderful toy for small to medium dogs that are moderate chewers. Can pack it full for a hearty snack or just put a few treats or a pasty smear at the openings.
  • Monster Mouth – great for dry and wet food combined. Can fit a decent amount in the large version.
  • Tricky Treat Ball – comes in two sizes. We love the large for small dogs too. You can easily get a full meal in this toy. It is only for dry dog kibble. Best feature – its quiet when it rolls
  • Busy Buddy Twist’n’Treat – comes in several sizes and you can adjust the difficulty level. We love this as a starter toy and a staple.
  • Kong Wobbler – this Interactive Dog Feeder Toy  comes in 2 sizes  – it’s great for a dog ready to take on the challenge for an entire meal or a snack.
  • Slow feeder bowls – there are many variations 
  • West Paw Zogoflex Topple Treat Dispensing Dog Toy Puzzle – its a good one for freezing
  • Goodie Bone by Kong – come in different sizes and chewing densityies – great for a quick pacifier type toy
  • Snuffle mat flat and in assorted shapes
  • Hollow beef shank bones – a great alternative for smalll toys who could use a variation on the classic kong – great for stuffing or searing with a wet type pate style food and freezing.
  • Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Snoop – great or freezing – quiet
  • Starmark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Dog Pet Toy – comes in two sizes – great for dry food
  • Lick stick that attaches to crate so your puppy can enjoy a snack in the crate with the door open or closed

There is a huge market for interactive food puzzle type toys for dog toys. It would be impossible to make references to all our favorites, but here is a sampling of the various types and styles to look for. You can also create and present your dog with enriching food opportunities by being creative with what you have available in your home:

Whatever toys you choose, have fun coming up with creative ways to pack your dogs toys so they continue to stimulate your dogs brain, thereby enriching the quality of their life.

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