Whilst good nutrition and exercise are probably the most important considerations to ensure that you have a happy and healthy dog, it is also important that, when they are not out enjoying the sights and scents of the great outdoors, they have other things to keep them stimulated.
Whilst balls and soft toys are useful for short play sessions, interactive treat toys are the ones that are really useful for helping to tire your dog out more when they are indoors. They make them think, challenge them and tend to be more suitable for leaving them with unsupervised.
- No dog bowl needed!
- Slower feeding has lots of benefits
- Giving your dog an appropriate outlet for their desire to chew
- Why interactive toys can be good for anxious dogs
- Interactive toys can be great for a rehabilitating or reduced mobility dog
- Make sure you pick a size appropriate toy
- There is no such thing as indestructible!
- Don’t leave your dog unsupervised with less tough toys
- Get inventive with the fillings
- Our Five Current Favourite Interactive Toys
No dog bowl needed!
Feeding your dog from an interactive toy is a much more stimulating option in comparison to a boring old bowl. Think about dogs in the wild; they are scavengers and foragers. We have heard people saying that it seems cruel, making a dog work so hard for their food. It is the exact opposite. It is so much more enriching and it has lots of other benefits too. So why not ditch your dog’s bowl and start feeding them from different interactive toys and slow feeders.
Ditch the dog bowl in favour of treat dispensing toys
Slower feeding has lots of benefits
Most dogs have their food finished in under a minute when they have it from a bowl. Eating it from a slow feeder or interactive toy will take them anything from five minutes to an hour (sometimes more). Not only does this stop them eating too quickly, risking indigestion or bloat, but it also helps if you have your dog on a diet. They may feel fuller eating their food over a longer period and they also feel much more tired and stimulated as a result of their efforts.
Giving your dog an appropriate outlet for their desire to chew
If you have a dog that loves to chew, using treat toys like this is a really helpful outlet from them. You can redirect any unwanted chewing onto a more appropriate item and it can help to reduce any damage they may be creating elsewhere.
Sticks, slippers, remote controls – you don’t want your dog chewing on any of these things. Giving them a treat toy can give them a more appropriate outlet for their desire to chew
Why interactive toys can be good for anxious dogs
Having the focus of a chew toy can be a really helpful outlet for an anxious dog. It can distract them and also tire them out, a great way to redirect nervous energy. If your dog is suffering from mild separation anxiety these can be a useful tool, keeping them occupied and allowing them to associate being left alone with something positive.
Obviously, if your dog is too anxious to focus on a toy like this, it is a sign that more radical behaviour management will be needed to help your dog feel relaxed.
Interactive toys can be great for a rehabilitating or reduced mobility dog
If you have a dog that is recovering from an injury and needs to be on crate rest, interactive treat toys can be an absolute lifesaver. If you have a high energy dog that is used to going out for long walks every day, it is not easy trying to get them to stay calm and quiet in a crate for much of the day, for days or even weeks on end!
Don’t forget to try to use their food rations in the toys rather than additional treats. Dogs on reduced exercise will put on weight more easily.
They are also really useful for senior dogs that maybe can’t get out for such big walks anymore. It sure beats just lying around resting all day!
If you and your dog are stuck in because of extreme weather conditions, get the treat toys out!
Treat toys can be hugely helpful for keeping your dog stimulated whilst they are on rest
Make sure you pick a size appropriate toy
When choosing an interactive dog toy, they often come in a variety of different sizes. It is really important that you choose the right size. If you choose a toy that is too small it can become a choking hazard. A toy that is far too big may be too difficult for your dog to get a grip of, lift, or work at to get the food out. Even though a smaller size may be cheaper, it would be a false economy if they can’t use it.
Make sure you follow the product guides and read the reviews.
There is no such thing as indestructible!
Okay, so you may read this on the marketing of some toys. It is not true. There is no such thing as a truly indestructible dog toy. Well, we have yet to come across this anyway.
There are toys though that are much tougher than others and a few that generally hold up well to even the most aggressive chewers. Do your research before buying.
No dog toy is truly indestructible but there are certainly some that are MUCH tougher than others
Don’t leave your dog unsupervised with less tough toys
It is really important that you don’t leave your dog unsupervised with a toy that is likely to be able to be destroyed by your dog. If they manage this it can present a serious choking or blockage hazard.
Get inventive with the fillings
The shape and treat hole will have an impact on what type of food you can use as a stuffing. Whatever one you are using, make sure that you are creative, offer variety and pick things you know your dog will like.
Peanut butter is popular as a plug. Make sure you select one without Xylitol as this is toxic to dogs and also select one without Palm Oil, it is better for the environment.
Some other common stuffers include: banana, chicken, scrambled egg, cottage cheese, sardines, cheese (some people put Kongs in the microwave until the cheese melts and then pop it in the freezer for a super tough challenge), coconut oil can be a healthy and sticky mixer, pieces of carrot.
It is all about figuring out what your dog likes, what is challenging for them to get out and trying not to go too unhealthy.
Get creative with your stuffing ideas!
Our Five Current Favourite Interactive Toys
We have compiled a list of some of our favourite interactive dog toys and why.
It is probably not a surprise that this is on the list. It is one of the best selling dog toys in the world and there is good reason for this. A versatile and tough toy, it should be at the top of every new dog owners toy shopping list.
Kongs come in a variety of sizes that are based on your dog’s weight. It is important to ensure that you select one that is not too small as this can present a choking hazard.
They also come in degrees of “toughness”. There are puppy and senior dog ones which are pretty soft and flexible. To be honest, unless you have a very soft mouthed dog, we would recommend not bothering with these. The Classic Red Kong is usually fine for both puppies and older dogs.
The Black Extreme Kong is the toughest of the lot. If you don’t have a power chewer we would suggest sticking with the Red one as this has a little give in it which can help a dog dislodge any stuffing inside the Kong a little more.
If you have an extreme power chewer, then go for the Extreme version. It is one of the toughest tried and tested dog toys out there.
Apart from their durability, these are a great toy for keeping your dog stimulated. They are one of the few toys that are generally recommended as being safe enough to leave your dog with unsupervised and, because they can be stuffed with tasty treats, they can keep your dog entertained for a while.
With any stuffed treat toy like this, we do get people telling us that their dog just doesn’t like eating out of them. This can be true for some dogs, but it is usually more about setting your dog up for success with it.
You don’t want to make it too difficult at the start. If they find it too hard to get any reward, they may just give up.
Start off with something very tasty, very smelly and something that pops out of the Kong relatively easily.
Once they have the hang of it you can start stuffing it more full and with recipes that take a lot more effort to get out. If the filling is a softer stuffing, they can also be prepared in advance and then frozen so that you can just pull one out the freezer as you leave the house. It also keeps the stuffing fresh for longer.
“But what if I feed my dog dry kibble, how will this stay in the Kong?”, we hear you ask. If you pop the Kong in a suitable high sided bowl, one that the Kong can stand in upside down and that is taller than the Kong itself, you can then fill the Kong with the kibble and pour boiling water into the bowl until it completely covers the Kong. Leave it to soak, the kibble will swell up and fill the Kong, and it can then be fed like that or frozen for an even bigger challenge.
The Classic Red Kong is one of the best selling toys in the world as a result of its versatility and durability
2. Snuffle Mats
We LOVE a Snuffle Mat. You can actually make your own but, if you don’t have the time or inclination, they are easy to buy online.
They are mats that have been interwoven with lots of fleecy pieces. Once you hide some yummy treats inside the mat, it is almost like your dog is having to snuffle through long, thick grass to find the goodies.
It is a very enriching activity for a dog. Sniffing out the treats like this can help tire your dog out.
It is another great tool for slowing down a “gobbler” of food and it is useful for dogs that are on crate rest as they can use it whilst in a confined space.
Unlike a Kong though, we would not recommend leaving your dog unsupervised with this one. It is not a tough interactive toy and could be chewed up if the dog really wanted to do this.
Snuffle mats are a great way to entertain your dog by encouraging their natural foraging instincts
We like the Planet Dog range. They are very big on Corporate Social Responsibility. They do a lot for dog rescue and their toys are well made and fun. They are more expensive than the Kong but, if you know your dog likes interactive toys and you want a bit of variety, this is another good option.
It is an easy one to fill and clean, it is not too hard and some dogs enjoy this texture more than the harder feel of the Kong. It is not a noisy one if your dog throws it around the room to dislodge the pieces (yes, some dogs find their own methods for getting the food out). It is not such a good one for soft and squidgy stuffing though as it will get trapped inside.
It is not as durable as the Kong so if you have an extreme chewer this one would not be the one to opt for.
The Orbee-Tuff Snoop Toy is a softer treat dispensing toy. It won’t be noisy if your dog has a throwing technique to dislodge the treats!
West Paws are another really responsible company that produce great toys. As with Planet Dog, their products are a bit more expensive but you know you are getting durable, ethically produced and well thought out toys.
The Quizl is a good one for putting chews or stick style food items into it. A lot of people put bulls pizzles (bully sticks) in them to make them last even longer, but you can also put food rations and other softer items in it.
As with the other toys above, they also come in a variety of sizes so make sure you don’t go too small.
They are more durable than the Orbee Tuff Snoop Toy and do get good reviews for being tough but for extreme power chewers, we would still recommend an Extreme Kong.
The Quizl is ideal for stuffing a favourite chew into, it will make it last even longer
5. Kong Wobbler
Another great choice from the Kong range, the Wobbler gives your dog a different type of challenge.
Bigger, harder and more expensive than the Classic Kong, it can be another good option to have in your interactive toy arsenal.
It is a good one if you want to encourage your dog to move around a bit more and they have to tip the weighted Wobbler for the treats to come out.
It can be very noisy though as it bashes into things and it is not good for stuffing. It can only be used with harder treats that will fall out when it is pushed over.
The Wobbler is a fun alternative to the usual treat dispensing toys. Weighted at the bottom the dog needs to learn to “topple” it to get a treat reward