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Keep your dog's mind - and body - busy!

Updated on January 29, 2014

Interactive toys are fun for both of you

A new category of dog toys is gaining popularity - interactive toys!

The first examples, developed by Nina Ottosson in Sweden, were made of wood and were treat-based: the owner would "load up" the toy with treats and the dog would have to manipulate the puzzle parts to find the treats.

As the toys started to catch on, more designs became available, including toys in plastic and plush.

As small-dog owners, our favorites (and our dogs') are the plush interactive toys - they're small and light enough for our dogs to carry, tug, and fetch.

Old dogs love new toys

My own dog, Roc, a 12-year-old Brussels Griffon, loves finding the hidden squeaky toys inside the bigger "burrow."
My own dog, Roc, a 12-year-old Brussels Griffon, loves finding the hidden squeaky toys inside the bigger "burrow." | Source

Work your dog's brain, too

Dogs of any age can and do enjoy learning new things. Interactive toys take advantage of dogs' natural instincts to hunt, dig, use their amazing scenting abilities, and play.

As a trainer, I've found that letting dogs use their brains is even more tiring than miles of hiking. When you ask a dog to think and learn, you're exercising her brain - just as tiring as vigorous exercise.

Fight cabin fever - engage your dog's brain

The winter of 2013-2014 is proving difficult for many of us - including our dogs. Sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions mean that long walks in the neighborhood are out of the question.

And the smarter and more creative the dog, the faster he'll find trouble. If we don't offer alternatives to engage our dogs, they'll find their own ways of staying busy.

Fortunately, asking a dog to use its brain can be just as tiring for the dog as the longest hike.

If you don't currently have any interactive toys - improvise with simple games from household items.

Play the doggy version of the "Shell Game"

You'll need:

  • 3 disposable cups
  • yummy, smelly dog treats
  • play on a hard floor (the treat will get smushed or lost in carpeting)

Hide the treat under one of the cups, move the cups around and ask your dog to "find it!" The dog has to use its nose to find the treat and the game is rewarding - she gets to eat the cookie when she finds it!

Dogs and their toys

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Keeshond Charlie likes Skinneeez toysBooker (Boston Terrier) likes UnstuffiesTeddy (French Bulldog) likes crackly/crunchy toys.Of course, there's a chance your dog will become a toy hoarder - like my own Teddy.
Keeshond Charlie likes Skinneeez toys
Keeshond Charlie likes Skinneeez toys | Source
Booker (Boston Terrier) likes Unstuffies
Booker (Boston Terrier) likes Unstuffies | Source
Teddy (French Bulldog) likes crackly/crunchy toys.
Teddy (French Bulldog) likes crackly/crunchy toys. | Source
Of course, there's a chance your dog will become a toy hoarder - like my own Teddy.
Of course, there's a chance your dog will become a toy hoarder - like my own Teddy. | Source

Anything can be a dog toy

  • Hide some treats in the middle of an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll. Fold up the ends so your dog has to "find" the treat
  • If your dog has a good "stay," or if someone else is home - play "Hide and Seek" with your dog. When you've found a good hiding place, call your dog to you and have a celebrations (with treats and praise) when she finds you.
  • Hide treats around the house and encourage your dog to find them. Be sure to keep count and pick up the ones that aren't found as part of the game.

Train your dog to be creative

"Clicker training" your dog is a good way to start.

The "click" tells the dog when it's done something you like.

  • The first step is to teach the dog to love the sound of that click. If you don't have a clicker, there are free apps to simulate the sound. Just click and give the dog a treat. Click/treat. Click/treat. Click/treat. It won't take long for your dog to love the sound and look forward to being rewarded whenever she hears it.
  • Bring out a little step-stool. Stand by it and wait for your dog to do something. Click if she looks at it. Click if she sniffs it. Pretty soon she'll learn that there's something good and interesting about that stool
  • "Up the Ante" - After rewarding (clicking/treating) your dog for the same thing three times, wait for her to come up with something else; putting a paw on the stool, poking it with her nose, putting two paws on it, climbing on it, or whatever she does.

All kinds of household items can become interactive toys. Be creative and encourage creative thinking in your dog, too!

Mix-and-match for a different game every time

Reward for the Dog
Interactive plush toy
Game of fetch or tug with you
Designed for doys to play with / None
Disposable cups
Handy / May not survive the game
Plastic Food Container
Handy / Must designate for dog's use
Empty Paper Towel Cardboard
Fetch, tug or treat
Handy / Dog will destroy it
Empty water bottle
Fetch, tug or treat
Inexpensive and handy / Noisy

Teddy with his Water Bottle Crusherz Interactive toy

Water bottles are great toys

Many dogs love the sound and texture of empty plastic bottles as play toys. My Teddy does, too, but he got a couple of sores and cuts from playing with them. The Water Bottle Crusherz toy is a good answer for us - the bottle can be changed when it's completely squished and the plush toy is easy for me to hold and tug. I sometimes put treats inside the bottle - Teddy can hear them rattling and plays even harder to get them.

Dogs can be opinionated creatures

Does your dog have a favorite toy?

See results

© 2014 HopeS

How do you engage your dog?

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    • kblover profile image

      Brian McDowell 

      4 years ago from USA

      Nice - I love giving my dog mental stimulation. I especially love training by shaping, which hits on that creativity aspect you mentioned and using marker training to communicate.

      I don't have a lot of interactive toys, preferring things like the shell game and having him search for treats in a room. One toy he still loves is this blue raindrop squeeky. He loves that thing for some reason. Had to sew it up, half the stuffing is out of it, and he'll bite it on cue. Go figure!


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