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The Dog Blog

Mental Enrichment For Your Dog: Interactive Toys

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Interactive toys are a form of mental enrichment for your dog. A general explanation would be any toy that gets your dog to think. It is the mental engagement that drains energy. It actually drains even more energy than a normal play session or what other forms of exercise would.

KONG Classics, squeezes and stuffing ideas

There are so many different types of interactive toys for your dogs to engage with. There even are different difficulty levels for them to work their way through and learn to solve. Some of these can be more difficult to learn.


The best way to approach different difficulty levels of interactive toys would be by using back chaining. Here, you start the teaching process with the final task. This would look like showing the dog what the goal is for the reinforcement with the toy. Then, at the dogs pace, work your way back through the process and adding a new step each time the previous one is having success. Ensure that you are only reinforcing at the end of the chained events.


Types Of Interactive Toys (Individually Played)

Treat Grenade

  • any form of toy that dispenses treats/food

  • different difficulty levels for how easily they move around

  • hole sizes can also adjust for different food size and difficulty

Stuffable Toys

  • like the brands KONG and West Paw, these are toys that have holes, slits and grooves that food, both hard and soft, can be stuffed into

  • can be frozen to add more engagement

  • the image above are all of the sizes of KONGs and an example of some ways to stuff them

Snuffle Mat

  • a mat with different materials and folds for the dog to sift through to find the hidden food

  • can be bought or made yourself

Lick Mat

  • typically with suction cups on the back to stick to floors and walls, with different grooved patterns to put wet foods in/on

  • can be frozen to add more engagement time

Spinning Bottle

  • bottle spins from getting batted and food falls out of drilled holes

  • made from putting a hole in a bottle's cap with a rod through it's centre width wise, then put a rod on a spit

Puzzles

  • toys with buttons and flaps for the dog to push and pull to reveal the hidden food in the compartments

  • different levels of difficulty available


Types Of Interactive Toys (Owner Involved)


Flirt Pole

  • tie a toy on the end of a rope and swing it around in the same manner as you would with a cat wand

  • can be bought or made yourself

Scavenger Hunt

  • simply place bits of food around the area to be found while making it progressively more difficult by changing the height level they are at, what they are under, etc.

  • you can even place some without your dog watching to increase the difficulty level of the game

The 123 ABC Game

  • played with 2 of more people, take turns picking a number (ideally between 1 - 3) and a letter of the alphabet

  • the next person thinks of a command that begins with that letter and has the dog perform the behaviour the amount of times from the number given

  • example - player one: "2, S", player two: *gets dog to perform 2 spins* player two: "3, P", player one: *has dog perform 3 'play deads'*

Agility Courses

  • have your dog go through the poles & tunnels, across the frames & ramps, over the jumps, through the weave poles and more

  • consult with your veterinarian before adding a lot of jumping into your dogs routine or if they are still growing

  • can be bought or made yourself

Rally Course

  • set up multiple stations with different tasks for your dog to complete at each one, get creative

  • change location, distraction and duration to increase difficulty


Advanced Level Interactive Toys


Communication Buttons

  • this allows your dog to communicate not just with you, but to be able to specifically tell you what they would like to engage with

  • this takes training to be able to set up and use


Keep Track Of Your Food Usage


A fair share of interactive toys do involve food. It is important to keep your dog on a healthy balanced diet while still engaging them. If you use kibble in some toys then lessen the amount given at meal time to equal the same amount. Use the same idea for other food items. Try to avoid excessive treat use and sugar quantities. Instead you can use dog safe fruits and vegetables. Speak with your veterinarian if you need help with balancing their diet.

Wet Food Ideas: - wet dog food (eg. digestive) - squeezable food (KONG: puppy (chicken), liver, pepperoni, cheese & bacon, peanut butter) - low sodium bone broth - blended or softened kibble

Dry Food Ideas - regular kibble - new kibble (eg. digestive) - dog safe fruits - frozen or fresh (apple, banana, etc.) - dog safe vegetables - frozen or fresh (carrot, celery, etc.)

Anytime you introduce a new food to your dog, you should always do so a slow rate and stick to one new thing at a time. Begin with little bits and increase the quantity with time. Ensure that you are always moving forward based on how your dog is responding to it. By only introducing one new item at a time, you can easily find the culprit if your dog doesn't respond well to it.


Brands Of Interactive Toys


Some brands worth noting are both KONG and West Paw for a variety of durable, stuffable interactive toys. Find them at your local pet stores, Amazon or other retailers of choice. You can purchase a snuffle mat from almost anywhere and make them as easily as cutting up old clothes or rolling up towels/blankets. Puzzles can get expensive but you can always look online for second hand ones or create your own. Pinterest and Youtube are great inspirational outlets for all things dog.


Sizing, materials and durability should always come into consideration before we give it to our dogs. Ensure that sizes are correct so they are not a choking hazard. See that nothing is too sharp or can break and be swallowed. Dogs should be supervised when using interactive toys, some needing more devoted attention than others and your own engagement.



Have any questions? Reach out or comment on the post to get the answers/advice/help you'd like. We would love to hear from you!

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