Friday, April 19, 2013

Sniff It! Why You Should Encourage Your Dog to Use His Nose

As dog owners help their pets learn the rules of human society, we also put limits on how they interact with their environment.---"Don’t smell the neighbor’s butt!”---“Stop sniffing the ground!  We’re walking now.”---“Take your nose out of the fridge!”---

Dogs use their noses much more than we humans do, so give your dog a chance to sniff it!  Here are a few easy ways to let your dog use his nose. 

1. Throw some of your dog’s food in the grass and let him hunt for the tiny pieces of kibble.  

2. Using an old muffin tin, place dry food in the bottom of the tin and place tennis balls on top of the food.  Let your dog “find” the food under the tennis ball.  

3. Try stacking some egg cartons together with some dry food in between.  Click on the video below to see an example of this do-it-yourself toy.  

video

These are just a few simple ways you can encourage your dog to use his nose.  Use your imagination, try a few sniff-it games of your own, and let your dog hunt!

Not convinced?  Here are some more great reasons to play sniff it games with your dog. 

Hunting ...
1. Burns calories.   
If you’re watching your pet’s waistline, try some sniff games!

2. Provides mental stimulation.   
Bust your pup’s boredom by hiding some treats around the house.

3. Builds confidence.   
Increase your dog’s interest in engaging with environment by placing cookies in the yard or house for him to find.   

Friday, April 12, 2013

Choosing the Right Interactive Toy for Your Dog


If you're asking yourself the question - why interactive toys? Check out my blog entry Leaving the Bowl Behind.

Interactive Food Toys

There are a number of considerations when choosing a food toy for your dog.  Here are a few things to consider before you make a decision.
Will your dog be supervised when using the toy?  Or will you leave it with him when he's crated or alone at home?  

Toys that your dog utilizes under supervision can be somewhat less sturdyOn the other hand, toys left with your dog while unsupervised should be able to withstand concentrated chewing and a frustrated dog's attempts to retrieve the very last crumbs inside the toy.  

Here are a few toys I've found to be sturdy and typically survive most dogs' persistent attempts to retrieve the food inside.  

Star Mark Everlasting Fun Ball for Dogs
Everlasting Fun Ball: The jelly-like material is much sturdier than it appears.  
Kong Extreme Toy for Dogs Large
Kong Extreme: Marketed for aggressive chewing, strong-jawed dogs.  This is quite a sturdy toy and is frequently used by working dog handlers.


And one that is less sturdy, but an excellent toy for less persistent dogs or for use under supervision...

Omega Paw Tricky Treat™ Ball for Dogs - Medium
Tricky Treat Ball: The plastic is not all sturdy and can easily be chewed.  This is a great toy for dogs less likely to chew while retrieving the food inside. 


Do you want to be part of the game?  Or would you prefer your dog to work on them on his own? 

Some toys are specifically intended to be used under very close supervision (not at all sturdy) or require frequent reloading for your dog to enjoy.   All of the toys above (the Kong Extreme, Everlasting Fun Ball, and Tricky Treat ball) are intended for your dog to work on with little or no human aid.  Here is a toy that you can play with your dog.  The very popular Nina Ottosson line of toys fall in this category.
SPOT Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone Dog IQ Puzzle - Pet360
Spot Seek a Treat: Requires frequent re-loading and is not at all sturdy - but great fun for and your dog together!

How much space will your dog have to play with his toy? 

Some toys work best when the dog has a little room to play with it; others are great in any space, including a crate. The Kong is a great crate toy, as is the Everlast ball.  One of my favorite toys, the Kong Wobbler, requires a bit more space.  I find that Premier's Busy Buddy Barnacle can best be enjoyed in a slightly larger space, so it's not my first choice in a crate. 
KONG® Wobbler
Kong Wobbler: Very easy to load, but best used in a larger space.
Premier Busy Buddy Barnacle for Dogs
Barnacle: Can be used in a crate, but your dog can utilize more strategies with more room.  This toy in particular lends itself to a number different problem-solving strategies.

What type of food do you plan to use?

If you have no preference, no worries.  Some toys work better distributing kibble; others are better with small treats or even a mixture of dry and wet.  Premier's Busy Buddy line of toys seems to universally work well with kibble, though some of the toys certainly can be used with wet food and treats. 

A good comparison is the Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude and the Classic Kong.  The Kong can be stuffed in a variety of ways, but putting loose kibble in it is an incredibly easy win for most dogs.  The Squirrel Dude is somewhat similar to the classic Kong, but it has small prongs in the opening that make it ideal for use with loose kibble. 
Premier Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude for Dogs
Squirrel Dude: Not visible from the picture, but there is an opening at the bottom of the toy.  Inside the opening, there are a number of prongs that allow kibble to slowly fall out. 

Do you have concerns about your flooring or noise?

Some toys are made of hard plastic and might scuff delicate flooring or make noise on hard floors.  The Kong Wobbler is quite loud and can damage very delicate flooring.  Contrast the Wobbler with the Everlasting Fun Ball.  You'll find the material of the Everlasting Fun Ball very forgiving on floors.       

What's your budget?

There are a number of interactive toys on the market and more are appearing all the time.  But if you are on a tight budget, you can improvise some nifty toys.  Here is just one idea.
Either stack the cartons or close the lid for a simple, home-made interactive food toy.

Vegas has unstacked the egg carton and is eating the kibble he's found inside. 


Non-Food Interactive Toys

I use and prefer food toys, primarily because 1) I use them as a bowl replacement and 2) almost all dogs can be encouraged to engage with a food toy.  But recently I've seen a number non-food versions, most utilizing plush toys and tennis balls as the high value item. If you have a tennis crazy, toy-loving hound, then look for my future blog post on non-food interactive toys!