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All dogs need toys to encourage play and provide mental and physical stimulation. However, there are so many different dog toys on the market it can take time for pet parents to find the right ones for their canine companions. While it may take some trial and error to find the best toys for your pup, there are several things to keep in mind.
Every dog is unique, and while your dog might love chewing bones, others prefer rope toys. In addition, your dog's age may play a role in the types of toys they enjoy playing with. For example, senior dogs may not have the energy they once did to run and play, so they might prefer stuffed animal toys or puzzles. Meanwhile, puppies will need toys that work their minds and bodies. Whatever the case, and whether your dog is a heavy chewer or a gentle giant, dogs need toys, but how do you find good toys for dogs? Keep reading to find our list of the best toys for dogs.
Why Play Is Important For Dogs
Play goes beyond providing your dog with something fun to do; it can reduce stress and help your puppy expend excess energy that may contribute to destructive behavior when they're bored. Stress is a serious problem for many pets, especially dogs that have spent time in shelters and those with separation anxiety.
However, enrichment in the form of play can help dogs focus on a specific task and reduce their stress while calming them down; it gives them a sense of control over their environment and activities and will reduce excess energy that may make them prone to anxiety.1
Play also provides your dog with mental and physical stimulation, which are important for their overall health and well-being. Dogs who play have improved bone health and organ function, so they're healthier overall. Exercise helps maintain good overall health by keeping your dog's body functioning properly and helping them burn off calories from food to prevent weight gain and associated health problems like diabetes.2
In addition, mental stimulation gives your dog something to focus on, even if they're not engaging in vigorous exercise. Since your dog's brain needs just as much exercise as their body, play can engage your dog in several different types of activities throughout the day, even if they're not running around burning a lot of calories.
5 Best Toys For Dogs
Finding the best dog toys for your pooch is important. Remember, every dog is unique. Some love chewing, while others prefer to play with squeaky toys. Meanwhile, others should never have access to plush stuffed toys because they can destroy them and swallow the parts. No matter what type of dog you have, here's our list of the best toys for dogs to help your dog stay healthy and happy:
1. Snuffle Mats
If your dog loves sniffing the grass outside to look for things to eat, they'll love a snuffle mat. Snuffle mats simulate a dog's instinct to forage for food in the grass. In the wild, wolves might look for berries and other food by sniffing the ground. Dogs can enjoy the same feeling when they use a snuffle mat, which is typically made out of a fabric that resembles grass. All you have to do is hide a few pieces of food or treats in the mat and let your dog sniff around to find the food. Snuffle mats can help your dog eat slowly or keep their minds active and engaged in an activity. They encourage the natural instincts of sniffing and foraging for food.3
These dog toys are easy to clean, often machine-washable, and you can take them anywhere. They're also easy for all dogs, including those with mobility issues, because they don't require vigorous activity. Instead, your dog may remain stationary while sniffing treats or food.
2. Treat Dispensing Toys
Treat dispensing toys are another great option for all dogs. They make great puppy toys because they can focus your puppy's attention and prevent them from engaging in less desirable behaviors like nipping at your hands to play. However, adult dogs also enjoy them, and many treat dispensing toys encourage your dog to move around to get some physical exercise.
Treat dispensing toys come in many shapes and sizes and can be stuffed with anything from food to treats and spreadable foods. They're commonly used for self-soothing, training, and entertainment.3 Because there are so many different kinds, there are various difficulty levels. You can start your dog with an easy treat dispensing toy and gradually increase the difficulty. Some treat-dispensing toys encourage physical activity. For example, they make treat dispensing balls that roll around the floor, and your dog will have to chase them around the floor to be rewarded with treats.
Any food-motivated dog will enjoy these toys because they make them work for their food but are rewarded for their effort.4 In addition, many dogs must work hard to get the final treats out of the toy, making the activity exhausting for them. Keep in mind, highly food motivated dogs may eat their kibble from a treat dispensing toy while less food motivated dogs may need higher value treats to participate.
3. Slow Feeder Dog Bowls
If you have a dog who scarfs down their food quickly, they may benefit from slow feeder dog bowls. These bowls are designed with puzzles to force your dog to think about how they'll get the food out. They're available in various sizes and patterns to increase the difficulty and provide some enrichment for dogs.3
Of course, slow feeder dog bowls won't work for all dogs. Some may knock their bowls on the ground to get the food out. Still, they make an excellent option for some enrichment while they eat, which can make them slow down their eating to reduce any uncomfortable digestive issues like gas. Additionally, they are pretty easy, making them a great introduction to food toys.
Puzzles are great toys for dogs who need additional challenges. If your dog seems to complete their treat dispensing toys faster than ever, consider getting them a puzzle that will further challenge their minds. Puzzles range from easy to difficult and allow you to level up when your dog learns different puzzles.3 With puzzles, dogs have to move around different pieces to reveal the treat, and they don't require your dog to be physically active, either. Instead, as long as your dog is able to stand and use their nose to move pieces around, they can complete the puzzle, making them a great toy for senior dogs with limited mobility.3
As we've mentioned, there are various types of puzzles to choose from. However, we suggest starting your dog on the lowest level. Most manufacturers rate their puzzles by difficulty, so you can easily find the best one for your dog. Once your dog completes one level, they can move up to the next one.
Tip: To make puzzle food and treats last longer, freeze them with water.
5. Lick Mats
If your dog loves peanut butter or spray cheese, they might enjoy a lick mat. Lick mats are most commonly used as distractions during nail trims and baths, but they can be used any time of day to engage your dog in an activity while providing them with positive reinforcement. Lick mats are made of flexible silicone and suction cups on the back, so you can use them anywhere in your home, including the bathtub.3
They have various surface patterns and depths to allow you to increase the difficulty and types of treats you can use with them. For example, with lick mats, you can use wet food, peanut butter, soft treats, and spray cheese to entice your dog to focus on an activity, no matter what's going on around them. These can be used to ease anxiety and prevent boredom.
Keep in mind, lick mats are not ideal for dogs that tend to chew things up and swallow them. Lick mats should only be used with supervision to ensure the dog won’t ingest or chew up their mat.
Do dogs really need toys?
Yes, dogs need toys. Toys can provide your dog with enrichment while preventing boredom and destructive behaviors. In addition, they can be used to reduce stress, especially in certain situations. For example, if your dog gets scared or stressed when new people come into the home, you can give them a toy to distract them and help them calm down until they feel more comfortable.
Of course, some toys can also provide your dog with comfort. For example, adding a favorite toy to your dog's sanctuary space can make them feel less stressed. But, of course, while many dogs love stuffed animals, others, especially those with strong prey drives, may chew them up, so you should know your dog's chewing habits before you introduce them to any new toys.
How do I keep my dog entertained while I'm at work?
We recommend always monitoring your dog while playing with toys. In addition to toys, you can keep your dog entertained by giving them a window to look out of and leaving the television on so they can listen to different sounds. Better yet, consider hiring a dog walker to keep your pup physically active and entertained while you’re away.
What is the best toy for my dog?
The best toy for your dog depends on their interests. Most dogs will love treat-dispensing toys because they get rewarded for all of their hard work. However, puzzles are also a good option for pets who need more of a challenge, but you may have to teach your dog how to complete them. You should always be careful with toys with squeakers because many dogs may rip them out.
Mental stimulation is crucial for preventing boredom and destructive behavior. However, it can also reduce stress. Finding the right toy is the best way to mentally stimulate your pooch. Some toys will keep their attention for only a few minutes, while others might keep them engaged for much longer. Of course, finding the best dog toy might take time, especially if you're unsure what your dog likes to do.
While dog toys can reduce anxiety, some dogs are more anxious than others, and toys might not be enough to reduce anxiety to improve their quality of life. Talk to a Dutch vet today if you believe your dog has anxiety. We can diagnose and treat anxiety and other behavioral problems in pets to help them live happier, healthier lives. Try Dutch.
Croney, Candace, et al. "Enrichment in Kennels ." Purdue University, https://vet.purdue.edu/discovery/croney/files/documents/enrichment.pdf.
"Benefits of Exercising with Your Dog." VMBS News, 11 Mar. 2022, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/benefits-of-exercising-with-your-dog/.
"Toys and Puzzles for Your Pet." OSU Veterinary Medical Center, https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/sites/default/files/files/companion/behavior/behavioral_med_puzzle_toys.pdf.
- "Tips for Buying Dog Toys." VMBS News, 11 Mar. 2022, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/tips-for-buying-dog-toys/.