Did you know that providing mental stimulation for your dog is just as important as providing physical exercise? No one understands this better than Dr. Jill Sackman, BluePearl Veterinary Partners’ Michigan medical director and an expert in behavioral medicine. There are many ways to entertain your dog mentally, and according to Dr. Sackman, interactive toys are perhaps some of the most fun and effective.
Interactive toys are puzzle toys designed to keep your dog engaged and give him a unique challenge. These toys come in many different styles, ranging from simple puzzles to complex food challenges. Puzzle toys reward dogs for playing, making them especially beneficial for highly energetic and intelligent breeds or dogs who are anxious. They also serve as great distractions when you want to entertain your pup in the other room while you host a party or do chores.
Here are some of Dr. Sackman’s favorite types of interactive toys:
- Toys you can stuff with food – Look for a toy that you can fill with your dog’s favorite snacks. Your dog will happily spend hours licking and pawing at the toy until every morsel of food is gone. Some of these toys, such as the Original Kong, are shaped with tiers that get progressively narrower, making this toy even more fun and challenging.Fill these toys with your dog’s favorite treats and dog-safe fruits and veggies. Next, add something delicious and sticky such as peanut butter, cottage cheese, yogurt or store-bought toy fillers. Make sure you overfill the toy the first few times to introduce your dog to the toy and make it easy to begin removing the food. For an added challenge, you can freeze the toy for a few hours before giving it to your pup.You can also use these toys to provide your dog with his regular meals. Simply measure out his normal kibble portion and put the food into the toy. This allows your dog to eat his meal while also getting mental stimulation.
- Toys that dispense treats with certain movements – These are toys that you can fill with small, dry treats. To remove the treats, your dog will have to roll or push the toy around the room to get the treats to dispense through a small hole. These toys not only develop your dog’s ability to focus and improve his problem-solving skills, but they also provide physical exercise. Some of these toys, such as the Buster Cube, have complex compartments that make the “game” last longer.
- Customizable puzzle toys – For highly intelligent and active dogs, look for interactive toys that you can customize. Some manufacturers sell food-interactive toys that can connect together for an elevated level of mental stimulation. The more toys you connect, the greater the mental challenge for your dog. The Kong Genius line of toys offers different “puzzle pieces” that can be filled with threats and easily connected.
“Draining energy in dogs mentally is just as important as draining physical energy. Many destructive, unruly or unwanted behaviors can be improved just by using puzzle toys in dogs,” says Dr. Sackman.
For more tips on mental exercise for your dog, contact your primary veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.