Human children aren’t the only ones that get bored. Your dog needs opportunities to engage their brain too. Daily walks are an important part of that, but they also need toys. The best dog toys are those that work with their instincts. Dogs have a natural drive to chase and catch, to chew and to dig to search and hide things. We all know dogs love to chase frisbees and balls, but how can you cater to their instinct to root around searching for things? With dog toys that make them make an effort to retrieve a treat! These are also known as enrichment toys, enrichment activities or enrichment games.
A bored dog is a destructive dog. Providing plenty of mental stimulation is a win-win. Your dog will be happier, and you’ll be happier with them leaving your furniture alone, and even the neighbours will be happier because bored dogs bark more. Two types of dog toy can give your dog the mental engagement they need to thrive.
Of course – there's a secret ingredient to these – their favourite treats have their place in both these activities.
Snuffle mats for dogs come in various sizes and shapes. The basic design is that strips of cloth are affixed to a flat mat in a way that creates various loops and pockets. You hide small dry dog treats in the mat, and your dog sniffs them out and eats them up. The strips of cloth should be long enough that isn’t too easy, and accessible enough that your dog doesn’t try to chew through them in frustration.
When shopping for a snuffle mat, ensure it is easy to clean and sturdy enough for your dog. A calm, mature Golden Retriever is likely to have a more patient approach than a young, eager terrier. It’s always best to supervise this enrichment activity to make sure your dog doesn’t rip out any of the cloth.
If you work from home, this is an ideal way to keep your best friend happily occupied while you work or attend video meetings. It’s also a good distraction for your dog while you are cooking.
Puzzle Toys for Dogs
The Kong is a classic example of a puzzle toy. A puzzle toy is made of thick rubber or plastic with a hollow centre where you put small dog treats. The dog has to really work and think about how to get the treat out. Some have just one or two holes for the treats, while others have a more complicated design. Some give your dog enough access to the hollow part that you can put in wet food or peanut butter. (Just be sure the peanut butter doesn’t have xylitol.) As always, look for one that is sturdy enough for your dog and easy to clean.
Watching your dog approach an enrichment activity can give you real insight into how their unique and individual mind works. Do they charge into the game with gusto, using a bit of force to get the treat? Or do they carefully examine it and think about how to manoeuvre the toy to get the treat out? You might have almost as much fun watching your dog play as they do playing.
By Irene Hislop