Most pet parents know how important physical exercise is for their dogs. Without a daily walk, run or cycle, most dogs go stir crazy. They drive their parents insane with barking, chewing, pacing and other destructive behaviors. What many pet parents don’t know is that mental stimulation is as important for dogs as physical exercise. Brain work can calm dogs, tire them out, make them more confident problem solvers. They also meet their innate canine needs and keep canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia) at bay. Interactive toys and puzzles are simple tools to get your dog’s brain working.
Training is a great way to stimulate your dog’s brain. Training that involves focus and a good human/dog relationship, such as agility and canine freestyle are brilliant. Don’t fret if you don’t have the time to add extra training classes to your schedule. There are plenty of less demanding ways to engage your dog’s brain. Brain games and puzzles are a growth industry in the canine world, with plenty of options and varying levels of interaction required.
Kyjen founder Kyle Hansen and Nina Ottosson revolutionized the world of doggy toys and games. The wood and plastic puzzles and games produced are among the best interactive dog toys available. They are aimed at doggy grey matter, and are designed to tap into their learning style, using treats to reward good (clever) behavior. Dogs must use their brains in order to win and earn rewards.
These types of interactive dog and puppy toys take teaching and training your pet to a whole new level. Furthermore, teaching your dog step-by-step problem-solving skills has never been more fun. If it’s your first experience of having a dog, or you’ve just gotten a new dog, these interactive dog games provide a fantastic way for the two of you to bond.
Puzzles can be as simple as toys with hollow cavities that conceal treats. There are also complex problem-solving puzzles that really challenge your dog’s brain to find and uncover hidden treats. Some dogs get the idea more quickly than others, especially dogs that have been trained using force-free methods since puppyhood. However, most dogs will get the hang of the games eventually and relish finding the treats and solving the puzzle.
Nina Ottosson, a Swedish designer, created Zoo Active Games. They vary in complexity and interactivity. For example, dogs have to figure out how to remove pegs or rotate discs to uncover hidden treats. They are graded according to difficulty. Once dogs have mastered one level they can move on to more challenging tests.
Just remember that because the toys contain loose parts, there is a choking risk to some dogs, particularly inexperienced and bitey puppies. It is very important that you never leave your dog unattended with the games or puzzles. They are a lot more fun when you play together.
Here are a few of the coolest of Nina Ottosson’s interactive dog toys.
(Remember; always start with Level 1 games so that your dog can learn the principles without getting frustrated.)
- IQ Games: These are simple Level 1 games for brain work beginners. The Qulan, for example, is a simple treat dispenser ball with openings for treats to fall out when the ball is pushed, rolled or dropped. The DogSpinny consists of two rotating discs with depressions at intervals in which you can hide treats. Your dog has to rotate the top disc to uncover the treats.
- DogTornado: This interactive game will provide hours of fun for you and your dog. It’s a very clever puzzle that has four layers of rotating discs. Only three of the four layers have hidden compartments for hiding treats. Your dog must figure out how to rotate the discs with a paw or their nose to get to the tasty treat. It listed as a Level 2 game, but you can increase the difficulty to make it more challenging.
- DogTurbo: This game consists of two discs with passages extending from the middle to the edge. Each passage contains a movable peg. Dogs must move the pegs to the edge of the disc to release treats from the side. It requires a lot of mental gymnastics, which is fitting for a Level 3 puzzle. You can also make it more challenging for your dog once she’s figure it out.
More puzzles, games and food dispensers for your dog
- Buster Cube: Similar to Ottosson’s Qulan, except instead of a ball, treats or food got into a cube. The cube must be rolled, pushed or dropped for treats to fall out of the different compartments. It’s an easy game for beginner dogs. It’s also a great distraction if you have to do something important and need your dog out from under your feet. You can adjust the level of difficulty for a more challenging game.
- KONG Wobbler: KONG makes a wonderful range of interactive toys for cats and dogs, including food dispensers designed to make dogs think for their meals. KONG Wobblers use the same design as KONG Classic toys, but they have a weighted bottom that gives the toy a wobble action that releases treats/food when your dog paws it or nudges it hard enough with her nose. It’s loads of fun and has the added benefit of slowing down eating.
- Kyjen Yin-Yang-Yum Scent Puzzle Training Toy: Hounds in particular will enjoy the challenge of this scent game. They are by no means the only dogs who will get a kick out of using their noses to solve the puzzle. It consists of two discs, the top of which is divided into rotatable Yin and Yang shapes which are held in place by two cups. Dogs have to remove the cups to reveal a treat cache, and then they have to rotate the yin and yang to get at 4 more caches. It’s challenging, but great fun.
If you have a dog whose get up and go just won’t quit, more physical exercise is not necessarily the answer. Try some challenging puzzles to tire out your dog instead. After all, you know the difference you feel between an invigorating hour of exercise versus an hour of really challenging problem solving.
Amazon has a range of interactive dog toys for dogs, puppies, cats and kittens which are designed to challenge your dog, enhance their mental capabilities and reinforce training on every level.