Everybody needs something to do, and that includes dogs. A dog who’s cooped up in an apartment all day might get into the trash, bark at the neighbours, or destroy things out of boredom. You can’t always change your dog’s environment, but you can definitely give them something unique to play with.
Interactive dog toys are designed to be mentally stimulating. They provide your dog with fun puzzles and interesting challenges that keep them entertained for hours. Try one of these five toys to help your dog beat the boredom blues.
Hidden Plushie Toys
One of the most popular types of interactive dog toy is the “hidden plushie” design. Popularized by Outward Bound’s Hide-a-Squirrel, this type of game features several small plushies hidden within a larger toy. Look for squirrels hidden in a tree trunk, doughnuts hidden in a large coffee cup, or everyday items hidden in a purse or bag.
Hidden plushie toys encourage your dog to dig, explore, and paw at their toys. These designs are perfect for the pup who is always pulling squeakers out of stuffed animals. Instead of destroying a beloved plush, your dog will be rewarded with small, squeaky toys that they can toss and chew as they please. Most of these toy designs are refillable; if your pup “eats” all of the squirrels, simply buy more.
Hidden plushie toys are great because they don’t rely on treats to get your dog’s attention. Consider the size of the hole that your dog has access to, the durability of the outer toy, and the quality of the material that was used. Every time your dog finds all of the little plushies, you can put them back into the toy for another round of fun.
Treat Dispenser Balls and Cones
Treat dispenser balls are an excellent way to introduce your dog to interactive puzzle games. The most famous treat dispenser is the Bob-a-Lot by StarMark, but there are countless dispensing designs available on the market.
To use a treat dispenser, simply fill the chamber with small treats or kibble. When your dog rolls, flips, or rocks the toy, treats will fall out of a hole and onto the ground. The more active your dog is, the more treats they will get.
Look for treat dispensers that are geared towards your dog’s abilities. Large dogs will want heavy-duty balls or cones that they can push around. Dogs who tend to use their front paws will enjoy dispensing “plates” that can be flipped with pressure on either side. Some treat dispensers feature ropes and can be dragged around by ambitious canines. You should also prioritize durability and the speed at which treats are dispensed.
Treat Dispenser Flip Tubes
The flip tube treat dispenser is an exceptionally clever design that encourages your dog to use their paws and muzzle. Check out the TRIXIE Mad Scientist toy for an excellent example.
These dispensers are different because they feature a solid base and multiple dispensing tubes. Your dog has to flip a tube upside down to receive a treat. Speed, force, and precision are all tested with this clever challenge. The weighted base keeps the toy from tipping over while your dog figures out the challenge.
Most tube dispensers feature multiple difficulties. When your dog has mastered the challenge, screw on a cap with a smaller hole, and let them try again. This dispenser design is relatively new, and variations on the design keep popping up. The TRIXIE Windmill rotates the tubes around an upright base instead of around a pole.
Puzzle Box Games
The category of puzzle box games refers to a set of complicated interactive toys that will truly test your pup’s intelligence. The most popular of these designs are created by Nina Ottosson, but you can find similar toys made by a variety of manufacturers.
The premise behind these games is simple: treats are hidden somewhere in the toy. Your dog will need to lift pegs, flip levers, or pull drawers to access the treats. The simplest toys hide the treat behind a single challenge. Like a regular puzzle box, many of these toys require your dog to move several pieces before they can get to their reward.
Start your dog with an easy puzzle game before attempting the most difficult challenges. These games will increase your dog’s intelligence and provide a great deal of mental stimulation. It’s worth noting that many puzzle boxes have small pieces, so they might need to be used with adult supervision.
For the dog who is always digging in the garden or sniffing under the couch, a snuffle mat is an excellent interactive toy choice. The PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat is the flagship version of this toy, but other companies have quickly started to produce their own variations.
A snuffle mat is a soft fabric rug covered in tiny flaps of cloth. As the owner, you just need to scatter treats and snacks within the rug; make sure they are well-hidden. Your dog will then get to root, snuffle, and search their way until they’ve found every treat. This toy is perfect for scent-oriented pups. It also doesn’t feature any small pieces, so you can comfortably leave your dog with it while you go out for the day.
Snuffle mats work for any size of dog. When you’re buying one, consider the material that has been used and how easy the mat is to clean. Only use dry treats; if your dog doesn’t find one, it could be in the mat for a while. Some snuffle mat designs include pockets and unique shapes; others feature a wild tangle of fabric “foliage.”
All interactive dog toys are intended to reward your dog for their natural behaviors; at the same time, they’re meant to teach your pup to do new things with the tools that are available to them. You can use these toys to redirect chewing, digging, and pawing toward something productive and rewarding. Remember to choose quality materials that are safe for your dog to interact with.
Don’t forget to consider your dog’s diet when you’re using treat-based puzzle toys. You may want to use a low-calorie kibble, and you should factor the treats into your dog’s daily food portions. Talk to your vet about options that your pup will enjoy; if they don’t like the treats, your dog won’t be interested in completing the puzzles.
As a final note, be patient with your pup. Start with simple treat dispensers, and work your way up to more complicated challenges. When your dog finally solves a puzzle, reward them with praise, and look for the next level of difficulty. Interactive toys will teach old dogs an entirely new set of tricks.
Do you use interactive dog toys with your pup?