I am often asked about toys for dogs. There is so much on the market that so many owners are just confused with choice. I am a fan of toys where the dog can get food out of slowly. Puzzle toys, Kongs, anything where they get to chase food around for a while and it keeps them interested. Food puzzles are also great for problem solving. If you feed dry food, you may choose to put your puppy's breakfast in a toy instead of a bowl before you leave for the day. This benefits the dog in a few different ways. They get a positive when you are leaving, making it less likely for them to pine for you. They are not able to eat their food too quickly, which can aid digestion. They spend time problem solving and give mental and physical stimulation that may decrease the chances your dog develops boredom-related behaviour problems such as barking and chewing (more on this later!).
Like with any purchase, you get what you pay for. There are many products that are made from easily chewable rubber or breakable plastic. You need to feel comfortable that you will be able to leave you dog with such a toy and you won’t be paying a vet to cut it out of his intestine later in the week.
Make sure that if you are repeatedly putting food in a toy, that you can take it apart and clean it easily. This is something I wish I had done. I have spent good money on some interesting looking toys that once Minnie has chewed, I can no longer open it up to clean it properly. With one of Minnie’s food toys I once looked in the dark hole I was supposed to put the dry food in – and when I saw a little spider looking back at me it was time to throw that toy away!
Stuff the toy with guilt free food and don’t over feed. Just because your food-dispensing dog toy can be filled with just about anything, doesn’t mean you should. Use healthy treats when stuffing dog toys and consult with your veterinarian prior to making treat giving a routine. He or she may have recommendations as to the amount of calories for the treats given daily/weekly so that your dog does not become overweight or obese. Our dogs will eat almost anything, so I have also filled up my Kong with mashed potato, sardines and grated carrot – yum! Putting your dog’s breakfast in the toy is always a good way to avoid this problem, although I wouldn’t do it every day, or you dog may become bored with this schedule too.
Be aware that food toys, or any other environmental stimulation at home will not stop destructive behaviours (or if it does, it is rare, and you are lucky). Toys are often marketed in a way that suggests it will stop destructive behaviour – but it really is a marketing ploy. Almost all puppies are destructive, so, at the moment, keep your eye on them and restrict their play area so he can’t eat things you don’t want to lose. If you want to stop destructive or other unwanted behaviours, you will have to train your dog! If you train them to respect boundaries, not to jump on you and to see you as the leader, he will stop being so destructive.
Finally, rotate your choice of toys. Don’t just keep adding to the pile of toys your dog has in their back garden. Let them have two or three at a time, during the week swap for a different two or three. It will encourage your dog to not take them for granted and they often act like a toy they haven’t seen in a week is as exciting as a brand new toy.
If you have any other suggestions or tips, let us know in the comment section.
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