If you’ve trained with me, you know I am a big advocate of enrichment. Providing our animals with enrichment has many benefits; prevents boredom, builds confidence, reduces problem behaviours, provides mental stimulation, and provides decompression, to name a few! I am often asked what my go-to interactive toys are, below are a few of my favourites! This list does not by any means cover the variety of interactive toys available today but these are the ones I use regularly with my own dogs.
There are a few factors I consider when choosing which items to use. First, I like to look at that individual dog and think about what my goals are for this activity. Do I want to provide some physical activity as well as mental stimulation? If so, I may reach for an activity that requires more physical effort, for example one that requires both removing the food and then retrieving it (ie. pushing, chasing). Or maybe I am looking for a more soothing, calming activity, then I may reach for an activity that requires licking, chewing, or sniffing. For the adrenaline junkie dogs I prefer the latter!
Another important consideration with any enrichment activity is the skill level of the individual. If the challenge is too difficult the animal may become frustrated quickly or leave the activity. With an animal new to problem solving or interactive toys I like to start easy and then build the difficulty. You may have heard my sudoku analogy (credit to Sarah Stremming for that one!) if you had never played sudoku and I started you on the most challenging level, you would never want to play it again! We want to start easy and then build up the difficulty.
It is a personal goal of mine to feed as many meals out of some form of enrichment as possible. Food in a bowl is consumed so quickly and it is a bit of a wasted opportunity when we can use that food to exercise their brains and bodies.
So, let’s talk about my favourites!
Old reliable! These are a staple in my house! Go beyond the peanut butter and stuff kongs with your dogs dinner. For novice puzzlers I like to add dry kibble and top it with a bit of plain yogurt, canned dog food, canned pumpkin or peanut butter. For more experienced puzzlers, soak kibble in water (sometimes I add some of the above suggestions, or freeze dried dog food) and then to really make this activity last longer pop it in the freezer. They are also raw food friendly! You can prepare and freeze them ahead of time so they are ready to go when you are off to work!
I use these just like kongs! I find them a bit of an easier option for the dogs who are less experienced or do not persist to the end of a Kong. This one is available in two sizes and they can be put together for more of a pushing and chasing activity. West paw also makes two other toys that are great for stuffing and freezing, the Tux and the Qwizl.
This one involves pushing and kibble chasing! To make this one harder I put a tennis ball or crumpled paper inside it.
Perfect for sniffing and soothing! Tuck kibble or treats into the fleece strips and let your pup sniff and forage for them. These are great for promoting calm door greetings or just feeding meals at home but you can also take them on the road for dogs that are easily overwhelmed or worked up in new environments.
The snuffle ball provides more of a challenge than the snuffle mat and it also provides more activity. A nice mix between calming and active!
These are a great soothing activity! Licki Mats are a textured silicone mat perfect for wet ingredients. Apply canned food, plain yogurt, canned pumpkin, raw food etc. To the mat and let your dog lick away! And, for an added challenge you can pop them in the freezer.
-Outward Hound slow feeder
Another staple in my house! These are perfect for slowing down speedy eaters and they also provided an added challenge. I use them for both kibble and raw diets.
-Nina Ottosson Puzzle toys
A huge variety of puzzles available with varying skill levels.
-Busy Buddy Tug a Jug
Another Active toy! This one is more of a challenge, the dog has to move the rope in the jug to release the kibble. It’s a bit noisy on the floors but definitely keeps them busy longer than other toys.
Another favourite! Easy to fill, easy to clean, quiet in a crate or on floors. Orbee also makes a ball that can be inserted into the snoop to provide a greater challenge.
I would love to hear about your dogs favourite enrichment toy! Share in the comments or tag us on Facebook or Instagram!