Why Do Dogs Need Food Toys?
Many dogs today were bred for specific jobs. Jack Russell Terriers were bred for fox hunting. Great Pyrenees were bred to guard livestock. Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred for pulling carts, driving livestock, and being watchdogs. Today many of our pet dogs no longer perform these duties. Many of them have a lot of time on their "paws," staying at home while we're away at work or school. Although this might seem like a very relaxing life, dogs are very smart and tend to get into trouble when not given enough mental stimulation and enrichment. After all, just because they have a cushy life doesn't mean they don't still have the drive to work as their ancestors did.
Depending on your dog's breed, health condition, and other factors, physical exercise is important, but what about activities that challenge the brain? The canine version of a crossword puzzle can be just as or more important for some dogs than physical exercise. This is especially true for dogs with physical limitations, including dogs with medical problems limiting their mobility or dogs recovering from surgery who need down time to heal but who feel like running a marathon. It can be a lifesaver for pet owners who may not be able to commit to multiple hour long walks per day.
In addition to relieving boredom, enrichment can help relieve your dog's stress as well as the stress that comes with being in a shelter or even at the doctor's office.
Many dogs are motivated by food, and many enrichment toys keep your dog's interest by dispensing food if he manipulates the toy in just the right way. Some dogs will even choose a food dispensing toy over food placed directly into their bowl! But where to start? There are so many food toys these days. It will take some trial and error to figure out which toy is best for your dog. Always start by supervising your dog to make sure the toy is safe for him.
Which Food Toy Is Best for Your Dog?
- Is your dog a heavy chewer? Start with a less destructible toy. Consider a softer rubber such as the Amaze A Ball™ since it will compresses when your dog bites down rather than pieces breaking off.
- Start with an easy toy such as a Kong® or Busy Buddy® Squirrel Dude™ toy so your dog can succeed. Toys come in varying difficulty levels. Some dogs will get frustrated and give up easily. Other dogs will work for hours to solve a difficult puzzle and come up with creative ways to do it. He may just destroy the toy to get to the food out.
- Toys like the Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat™ dog toy are adjustable so you can make them more difficult to solve as your dog learns how to retrieve the food.
- If your dog is more interested in chewing but needs a little motivation, consider a treat-holding toy like the Busy Buddy Bouncy Bone™ or Busy Buddy Funny Bone™ toy.
- Swap out toys so that your dog doesn't get bored with one toy. If you take out the toy only once a week, your dog will be more excited than if that toy is used daily.
Once your dog has learned to use the toy and you have determined your dog uses the toy safely (e.g., your dog does not chew off large or sharp pieces of the toy or get his jaw stuck in any of the openings), you can then give him toys at strategic times.
How Can a Food Toy Help Prevent Bad Behavior?
- Stop begging when you're eating dinner
- Keep dogs from chewing or barking when home alone
- Distract dogs from jumping or being scared when meeting new people
- Keep dogs calm in the exam room at the vet
Shelters may use the toys when they are open to the public. It can be very endearing for potential adopters to watch a dog play with a food toy as well as relieve boredom and combat stress during the hustle and bustle of the day. The toy will be extra special if it's given at certain times and your dog doesn't have free access to the toy. Have you ever seen a dog who was excited for his owner to leave because he knew that meant he was getting a special food treat or toy?
Now that you're armed with this information on how to combat boredom and stress using food toys, get out there and have a blast picking out and introducing your dog to new and fun toys! You will probably have just as much fun as your dog does.