We humans love the fun that dogs bring into our lives. Playing goes a long way in forging a wonderful bond! Everyone can strike a balance between engaging in play with our dogs and providing fun and enriching activities that are more independent. These are important strategies to offset boredom in young dogs, especially. Boredom is a top-ranking source of stress for dogs. Because puppies and young dogs spend lots of waking hours seeking mental engagement, boredom also sets up for problem behaviors. Owners can channel their dog’s energy into constructive, safe, and appropriate activities with knowledge and preparation. Environmental enrichment and mental stimulation are important in building confidence in a timid animal or the “shadow” dog who would benefit from independence training. Here are some ideas.
Toys vs. Chews
Separate your dog’s playthings into two categories: toys and chews. You and your dog play together with toys. These include balls and discs as well as plush toys. When the game is over, place that toy in an area which is inaccessible to your dog. Plush toys are targets for shredding, which not only destroys the toy, but can pose a choking hazard. There are also behavior and training benefits to storing toys this way: they become “motivators”.
Chews provide independent engagement, environmental enrichment, and mental stimulation. Chews include bones and bully sticks, antlers, Himalayan chews, and hooves, among others. Check with your vet to make sure your choice is healthy for your dog. Some dogs don’t digest rawhide, for example. While it is a conventional means of delivering meals, the food bowl is boring! Food-dispensing devices rank high for the enrichment and mental stimulation they provide. It’s just as easy to scoop dog food into a food-dispensing device or puzzle. You can provide all meals and treats in a food-dispensing device. The foraging activity keeps your dog busy and out of trouble. This method of feeding helps to slow down consumption, too. These activities can reduce stress in fearful and anxious dogs.
The following toys are safe and fun for everyone. Use them as training motivators and practice obedience cues during playtime. Short (5-10 minutes) and frequent daily playtimes work best for puppies.
ChuckIt – there is a glow-in-the-dark ball option for fetch games at dusk
ChuckIt – Paraflight Max Glow and Flyer (disc)
iFetch Automatic Ball Launcher – Not inexpensive, but super-fun for the fetch-aholic AND provides great mental stimulation
JW Pet Crackle Heads Ball/Ricky the Raccoon – crackly, squeaker fun for fetch and tug
JW Pet iSqueak Ball – all toys are better with a squeaker
Kurgo Winga – similar to a ChuckIt!, but with a disc rather than a ball
Nylabone Happy Moppy Dog Toy – cute and colorful, durable and fun to fetch and tug
Kyjen/Outward Hound Hide a Squirrel Puzzle – a plush toy with other animal varieties; a game for the four-legged “problem-solver”
Kyjen/Outward Hound Plush Squeaker Matz – these durable tug toys are available in several lengths; go for the long toys for larger breeds
Kyjen/Outward Hound Hedgehog – it grunts; enough said
Kyjen/Outward Hound Flirt Pole Tail Teaser – a great outlet for dogs who love to leap
Kyjen/Outward Hound Zip and Zoom Agility Kit – a fun way to play and train; indoor and outdoor versions
Ethical Pet Skinneeez – long, stuffingless toys are great to play tug; they squeak, too
Ethical Pet Giggler Chicken Dog Toy – these are good puppy “chewers”; funny when shaken
Ethical Pet Latex Soccer Ball – buy two of these. One to fetch, then drop, and one to restart the game. Supervised play with a human only. This is not a chew!
KONG Funzler Dog Toy – novel because it takes different shapes and has Velcro……
KONG Tri-Fun Dog Toys – these crackle and squeak for extra fetch fun
KONG Puzzlements – interactive toys in four styles with various degrees of difficulty
Chews include items that dogs love to gnaw on as well as food-dispensing devices for foraging. Use food-dispensing toys for your dog’s meals – not only his treats. Chews are great in helping puppies and adult dogs to enjoy crate time as well as to achieve independence training. Pick up and change out to maintain the novelty and fun factor.
USA Bones and Chews – knuckles, smoked marrow bones, antlers, bully sticks, hooves, sterilized bones, cow hooves
Chasing Our Tails – bones and chews from the USA
Pure and Simple Pet – rawhide chews. Make sure rawhide is digestible for your dog.
SmartBones and DreamBones– these are rawhide-esque, but more digestible
Ferrara Farms Naturals – marrow bones, beef tendons, antlers, cow ears, and bully sticks
Himalayan Chews – made from yak milk and very long lasting; can be microwaved for a crunchy treat. No waste.
Merrick G.I. Bones – Smoked natural bones. Your dog can settle into a satisfying gnaw.
Nylabone – Puppy Chew Teething Rings, Keys, Pacifier – use to redirect puppy nipping as well as crate time; some are flavored
Nylabone – Dental Puppy Chew – nubby appeal for the little ones
Kyjen/Outward Hound Fun Feeders – available in a variety of colors and designs; helps to slow down food “inhalers”
KONG Classic – perfect device to introduce your dog to foraging for his meals; every dog needs at least one; buy the black version for insane chewers.
KONG Stuff A Ball/Puppy Activity Ball – two age appropriate styles; use it to play ball AND deliver dinner
KONG Wobbler – fun for the more advanced food “forager”; available in two sizes
KONG Puppy Teething Stick – rubber ridges that can be filled with peanut butter, etc. or not
PetSafe Busy Buddy – a collection of food-foraging toys in order of challenge (easy to difficult): Puppy Squirrel Dude, Twist n’ Treat, Kibble Nibble, Barnacle, Magic Mushroom, and Tug-A-Jug; most are available in several sizes
JW Pet Hol-ee Treat Ball – fun and well-designed for a practiced “forager”; perfect for kibble, not just treats
JW Rockin’ Treat Ball – works great for mealtime kibble; challenging
Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball – double fun: eat and play. Use it for meals
Starmark Treat Dispensing Bob-A-Lot – another “mindful” meal delivery option.
Nina Ottosson Puzzles – wonderful variety of interactive fun from the “Founding Mother of Dog Puzzles”; pricier than some, but great design and quality
Snuffle Mat – the latest, greatest, clever food-foraging toy. Available at Faux Paws in Summit and on Amazon.
Where to Find the Good Stuff
Especially when buying food and chews, read the fine print on the packaging. Look for products that are sourced and processed in the U.S. Packaging can be deceiving. There may be an American flag on the bag or a “made in America” statement, but it is produced elsewhere. When in doubt, ask your vet!
The following is a list of reputable retailers and a website where high quality standards and outstanding customer service prevail.
Faux Paws Pet Shop (Summit, NJ)
Woof Gang Bakery and Grooming (Westfield, NJ and other locations)
Cherrybrook (Garwood store and online)
Pet Valu (multiple locations)
Pet Supplies Plus (multiple locations)
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2017 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC