I’m no stranger to getting creative about helping my dogs expend energy.
For the last 12 years, I have shared my home with two insanely active herding pups. Interactive dog toys have been a lifesaver! Why? There are many things that I have learned—like, you can’t pretend to hide a tennis ball behind the couch cushion. They were watching. They know.
Never show them two treats and only give them one. They were counting. They know.
And never assume that there’s a magical amount of exercise to get them tired and keep them happy. It’s not that simple...
Of course, exercise is important. You should and must exercise your dog. If I had avoided exercise with my two, I’d have track marks in the walls from where they climbed them as youngsters!
But over-exercising can actually have the opposite effect of calming and tiring out a dog. More exercise, in humans or dogs, means increased physical fitness, and, ultimately, the need for even MORE exercise. It’s easier than you think to create a super-powered athlete who will never again let you miss a walk.
And while it’s insane to think I’m implying you should give up exercising your dog altogether, what I’m saying is, in addition to a reasonable amount of exercise, you need to also train your dog’s brain to relax and find a more constructive activity to do. Enter, interactive dog toys.
Interactive, or puzzle toys help.
With my own personal life experiences, teaching five puppy classes a week for the past 20 years, and a weakness for shopping on Amazon (Seriously, anything in the world can be shipped to your door in two days! ANYTHING!!!), I’ve become quite the interactive dog toy aficionado.
I’ve tried just about every interactive dog toy imaginable, and I’ve learned some tricks along the way for matching puzzle to dog.
Style 1: The Power Chewer
The Dog: He needs to constantly have something in his mouth (I’m looking at you, golden retrievers!). He likes to greet you after a long day at work with what I call “the offering”—this can be a toy, a sock, a pillow, even a wooden spoon. He just loves you so much and wants to bring you the first thing that fits in his mouth. If he doesn’t get the appropriate training, even couch cushions and chair legs might fall prey.The Solution:
- Himalayan Chews.
- Cow Hooves.
- Jumbo-sized Bully Sticks.
- Frozen Marrow Bones. While this isn’t really a puzzle, they are definitely an interactive dog toy, it will keep your dog busy for hours. Never cook the bone -- this will make it brittle and apt to splinter. Stick to the larger beef bones, and avoid giving this messy treat on a carpeted area.
When selecting edible interactive dog toys, err on the side of things that are edible, and buy chews at least one size larger than the package recommends to avoid foreign body surgery if it goes down the hatch.
Style 2: Distressed Doggo
The Dog: He’s a ball of nervous energy. He might get anxious when left alone or doesn’t know what to do when visitors come over. He copes with his stress by bottling it up and suffering silently, becoming hyper-focused on something he can control, or going on the offensive by growling at something that intimidates him in hopes of getting some space. He needs an outlet, and simple interactive dog toys help keep his brain busy without adding more stress.
- Petsafe Manners Minder. This interactive dog toy provides movement and a sense of place help a nervous dog move away from a stressful stimulus, like a person they would like to avoid.
- Snuffle Mat. This is an easy DIY to have your dog work for his meals. Using fabric swatches of various lengths, it encourages your dog to work for his food while staying in one place (traditional food puzzles roll around). Buy one on Etsy or try your paw at making your own interactive dog toy.
Style 3: The Brainiac
The Dog: Get a border collie they said. Having a smart dog will be great they said. But if you don’t find a way to work that brain, your dog will. And let me tell you, his idea of fun very rarely matches up with your idea of a good time. These dogs can go straight into the college level puzzling. Look for the interactive toys that ask your dog to make correct decisions in order to uncover treats or toys; or puzzle toys with various chambers which require them to maneuver these interactive toys in unconventional ways to get the food out.
- CleverPet’s video game system promises an interactive experience for your dog that can change games to alleviate boredom, advance the levels as your dog becomes more proficient in using it, and offers an app that lets you know your dog’s preferences and activity. At $250+/system, it comes with a hefty price tag, but teaching your dog to work smarter instead of harder is worth it.
Style 4: The Baby Dog
The Dog: He’s going to explore every inch of this wonderful new world with his mouth. Whether your hand, your pant leg, the edge of the carpet, or an actual dog toy, baby dogs seem to be equal opportunity chewers. Puppy chewing usually subsides by the time they lose their baby teeth, around 6-8 months. But after the initial excitement of your new bundle of joy wears off, you’ll have questions about whether that rescue organization gave you the beagle mix that you applied for, or if they actually switched that darling puppy out for a baby honey badger.
- You can’t go wrong with the classic interactive dog toy! Kongs are the king of puzzle toys. Just stuff with food, and snacks and allow your puppy to work for their food! Click here for some awesome Kong recipes.
- This easy DIY option calls for filling an ice cube tray or Dixie cup with kibble, treats, and water (as if you were making ice cubes). Freeze them until they are solid, and let your pup go to town! Not only will it take more time for your puppy to eat a pupsicle than it will to eat breakfast out of their bowl, but the cold ice will also soothe your puppy’s sensitive gums. That’s a win/win!
Style 5: The Leisurely Pup
The Dog: Maybe he can’t handle physical activity at the moment. Maybe he’s aging and needs some brain exercise. Maybe he’s recovering from surgery or an illness and is on crate rest--there are plenty of reasons why a dog might not be able to tolerate large amounts of exercise, but their brains can and should!
- Foraging Box. This DIY interactive dog toy has some brain-boosting benefits without empty calories, and look for more of the same for other options for your leisure pup. This will help him physically unwrap his breakfast and snacks.
- Snuffle Mats (see section two). Also great for dogs with limited mobility!
Your pup may fall into several of these categories, so their interactive dog toys needs may change with the situation that they are in. But remember, dogs have four legs and a brain which all need to be exercised equally. Find your favorite puzzle toy and get to work!