Loving your dog means taking care of their needs even when you’re not around, and choosing the correct toys to keep them occupied during long work days or nights out socializing can do a world of good for their furry little brains. So which playthings will keep them engaged and entertained during your absence?
We contacted some experts in just what that could mean, and the overwhelming consensus boiled down to providing toys with a purpose whether it be finding the hidden treat inside for food-motivated four-leggers, solving simple puzzles to keep your dog cognitively engaged, and focusing on specific breeds’ individual needs to determine which activity or toy will be most effective.
Dr. Gerardo Perez-Camargo DVM is the VP of Research and Development at Freshpet and has a degree in Veterinary Medicine from Spain as well as a Ph.D. in Applied Biochemistry and Food Science from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, and he took the time to break down this concept to us a bit further:
“We are all different as people, and pets are all different as well. What you have to keep in mind is that we have different breeds that have been selected and bred for different purposes.”
There’s more on his individual picks later on down this list, so keep reading to find Fido-friendly playthings from him and plenty of other experts below.
Fun is great but safety is also key for pet lovers, so check out our list of GPS tracking collars to make sure your little loved one stays close to home.
This treat-stuffed goody was suggested by Andrea Arden whose career as a pet expert and dog trainer spans 30 years and includes features on Animal Planet, Today, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and more. She created a toy of her own for puppies called the comfort bone, which is specifically geared toward smaller dogs that can be filled with soft food and even frozen if you wish to encourage playful activity that’s both healthy for the mind and gum/teeth health. Reviews show breeds across the board enjoy it, too, from a five-pound Yorkie to a Beagle-Bullie mix counted among impressed buyers.
Echoing the sentiment above about popular treats Bully Sticks’ potential choking hazard once nibbled to the end, the Bully Buddy also ranks high on the list of toys useful for keeping a tight grip on the delicious treats while also providing dogs a perfect resting spot on either side so they can hold the sticks steady while chomping away.
Recommended by Jackie Murphy aka The Pet Lady with Bow Wow Labs, Buddy’s long list of benefits include “screw twist technology keeps bully sticks securely,” as Jackie mentions, continuing, “dogs can really appreciate this feature as opposed to working their paws to keep a loose bully stick in place. It's a light-weight device and is BPA-free and dishwasher safe. Bully Buddies are available in five sizes.” The starter kit seen here includes everything in the photo, including the toy, six sticks, and an airtight jar to keep them fresh and tasty for your discerning little chewer.
Yes, that is a kitten you see in the picture above. However, Dr. Perez-Camargo made a strong argument for the laser pointer being a dual cat and dog toy by specifying the type of breeds that will get feisty for this simple handheld trickster.
“Some breeds are much more eye-oriented,” he explains. “You have setters, you have pointers–these breeds are considered sighthounds. They have been bred to look for things that move–to find birds [when hunting], to point you out that ‘Hey, that’s where those things you’re looking for are!’” He suggests not only keeping them trained on the laser pointer for fun but also leading them to windows or safe balconies where they can “see things happening outside” to stay happy.
This one might seem like a joke, but the good doctor insists this is the perfect way to keep small breeds like terriers and dachshunds busy. “You can take a cardboard box and hide a toy or a treat in there so they have to work their way into the box… You can put one or two boxes inside the other and hide the toy in the central box, and the dog is going to smell it and want to go get it.”
You may want to have backups on hand as well because cardboard has a tendency to fall apart and that’s totally okay as far as Dr. Perez-Camargo is concerned, and like humans, dogs are capable of knowing the value of hard work and how it pays off. “Let the dog destroy the boxes sometimes,” he tells us. “Sometimes destroying is good fun, and you get to let them work for things. The fact that you work for something makes you enjoy it more rather than if you just get it firsthand. It gives an extra value to what you are trying to get to.” So grab any other toy on this list or your pooch’s favorite treat and have fun hiding!
This toy suggestion comes to us from Brooklyn-based dog toy company and customizable subscription service BarkBox. “Toys that hide treats or hold chews are a time-consuming activity to keep your pup occupied while you sit on your hour-long conference call in peace and quiet.”
The Tough Timber Pine Tree is the perfect treat-hiding toy for more active and medium to large dogs (two sizes are available) who love an end game when it comes to solo play. A treat compartment on the bottom side of the toy gives the perfect hiding spot for bones or other nibbles, and the unusual shape gives an erratic bounce that promises to keep your fuzzy buddy chasing it around for hours.
Just in time for fall, here's another Super Chewer from Bark that imitates a dog's natural favorite toy, now safer and less likely to shed bark all over your couch! Want even more reason to grab this one? Consider that it is also bacon-scented, plus you can choose different sizes of the toy to fit your dog's mouth size.
If soft toys like the giraffe above are more your dog's speed, you'll be delighted to find the ZippyPaws birthday box is a top-rated product you can pick up for your pooch to celebrate their special birthday or gotcha day, or even just for an especially celebratory weekday because let's face it: dogs probably don't know what you're celebrating anyway, they just like seeing you happy and being happy themselves. And should they not enjoy the whole box as one user explains, at least there are three full toys to try: "My 8.5lb Yorkie did not enjoy being forced to wear the cute hat. However, he loved running after the cake piece and balloon. The squeakers are solid, and not annoyingly high pitched like some dog toys. The packaging was awesome, and the whole set is super cute."
This toy promises to “engage your dog's natural curiosity and instinct to play” with a variety of goofy sounds that mimic human laughter without the need for batteries thanks to a series of tubes inside. There are several places where the dog can grip the ball as well, making it easy for larger breeds to pick it up and carry it around with them. Durable and pet-safe phthalate-free vinyl can withstand quite the chewing from standard breeds of all sizes, but supervision is best if your furry friend is a particularly strong-jawed breed.