Activity Toys

Dogs love to forage for food!

Activity toys are usually food based and provide ways to feed your dogs’ usual food (and extra treats if you like) through interesting activities which add fun and enrichment to their day.

Some activities are designed for your dog to do on their own (after an initial period of introduction), others are for you and your dog to do together.

 

So how do activity toys help my dog?

Activity toys promote gentle physical activity, brain work and problem solving. This provides enrichment and makes your dog’s day more interesting, keeps boredom at bay (less opportunity for mischief and means your dog is occupied and happy while you are busy!) and allows your dog to do normal, natural dog behaviours like sniffing, licking, chewing and hunting around for food.

Used correctly, they can really help as part of behaviour improvement programmes too (anything from fear and anxiety, over arousal and excitement to separation related behaviours and sound phobias – but it’s essential to use just the right toy in the right way for this – contact us for advice).

How do I choose the right activity toy for my dog?
Read this section, then follow the steps!
  • These toys come in all different designs and with different levels of difficulty – it’s important to choose toys which are appropriate to your dog’s size and  experience – and meet their own personal preferences, which can take a bit of experimenting to find out!

There are now loads and loads of activity toys on the market (hurray!) but this can make it really hard to know where to start or what to try next, so we have divided the collection into sections to help you, based on:

      • What type of activity you are looking for (quiet or active, alone or with you, to calm or add exercise)
      • How hard to make it for your dog
      • What sort of food or treats you want to use (dry or wet)
      • And we have a whole section of extra durable toys for power chewers and those who really like to bash them around!

We have explained each of these in the following sections – you can then use the filters at the bottom to select what you need! 

Step 1 - choose the type of activity you want to encourage your dog to do

Activity toys can promote different types of behaviours….

Wet food toys for licking and chewing – promote calm, relaxation and release endorphins

Dry food dispensing toys – promote exercise and physical activity. All activities involve stretching and flexing (even licking!) but these encourage greater physical exertion and moving around

Nosework and foraging toys to rummage in or search for hidden food! Foraging is about searching for food. It is a natural and highly engaging and rewarding activity for dogs and helps with relaxation, decompression from stress and meets lots of daily welfare needs as well as providing gentle exercise and movement. It is calming, can reduce anxiety and boredom and is an incredibly powerful tool for promoting relaxation.

For our ‘foraging’ activity section, we have chosen those toys that we use most often for those purposes (and particularly as a part of ACE Free Work – more on this in our online course section). For us, it isn’t so much about the active ‘dry food’ dispensing toys (which are great as an activity and for enrichment but are more physically focused), it is the activities which get noses on the floor (or up in the air) and promote gentle mooching and manipulating of objects to find the food within – and there might be a bit more problem solving involved. But you can of course pop things like a kong or a lickimat in as part of a foraging set-up too! 

 

For doing alone or with you?

In each of the above categories there are some activities which can eventually be done alone and some which are designed to be done more with you there to help and support. We therefore have two further categories:

– can do alone

– best done together

 We strongly recommend you supervise dogs with ALL activity toys to start with, until you are confident that they can use them properly and safely (e.g. only chew what should be chewed!). Some dogs also need a bit of support and encouragement to start with and may even need to be rewarded for ‘giving it a go’.

​But activity toys are also an important way of keeping your dog occupied when you need to get on with other things. The ‘can do alone’ category are the ones we find tend to be best for this, but it does of course depend a bit on your individual dog. 

The toys that are designed to be done with more active supervision – and even participation – are just that bit harder to do properly! Left to their own devices, they are likely to be used inappropriately (simply tipping them over rather than working calmly and methodically), or they are more difficult and need support and encouragement to avoid frustration or to ensure that the dog uses the skills the toy is intended to help develop. It may even need you to place or hide something or help the dog get in to the toy once they have located and retrieved it. Fabulous activities, but definitely better together in our view.

Step 2 - choose the level of difficulty which is appropriate to your dog

There is no single way of categorising activity toys and some of it does depend on your dog! Do they prefer to use paws or noses to approach new objects? How confident are they with noises and movement? Do they prefer licking or chewing or rummaging?

So the level of difficulty is often geared to your dog’s individual motivations, both in terms of the activity itself and also the value of what you put in it! 

Over the years we have seen some clear trends in what most dogs tend to find easy, a bit more tricky and really quite hard and have used this knowledge to form the guide below. Please also remember that choosing the right size is important and that difficulty can often be increased by how you set up the activity and whether or not you make it interactive and add extra ‘challenges’ for your dog to focus on! Some toys appear in more than one collection for that reason!

And it isn’t just about making it as hard as possible. Too difficult and your dog will become frustrated and your risk them losing interest or, worse, it becoming a negative exercise for them. Start easy and build your way up together! 

Easy: Great for getting started, fairly easy to manipulate to access the food.

Medium: These toys need a bit more dexterity and co-ordination

Hard: Need significant dexterity and/or some problem solving skills!

Struggling? There are notes in the description of each toy or just get in touch with us, we’re here to help. 

Step 3 - choose the type of food you want to use

Some activity toys are designed to work with dry food (like kibble, air dried or semi-moist, non-sticky treats, or biscuity textures) and some with more sticky textures (like wet food, whether cooked or raw). Some toys can be used with either. 

This makes it really easy for you to use your dog’s usual food in the toys (rather than simply adding lots of treats – although we recommend you always pop a few ‘surprise’ goodies in there too as it helps motivation). 

BUT please note the type of food will change the nature of the activity.

Dry food toys

Best for kibble, biscuits and other dry treats. Some semi-moist treats are fine (or air-dried meat treats), just nothing sticky! These toys typically need to be physically manipulated to make the food come out.

Wet food toys

These need stickier foods that dogs need to work to remove by licking and chewing (rather than dry foods which simply fall out). Don’t forget you can use soaked biscuits, or sometimes mix dry biscuits into something sticky like goat’s yoghurt – it depends a bit on the toy (lickimats have different filling requirements to activity feeders or kongs!)

It’s why we make food choice the last step – prioritise what you want your dog to experience first, then level of difficulty and only then think about restricting food types.

It’s great to be able to use your dog’s usual food for activities, but why not also use toys as an opportunity to introduce something new in order to give your dog a more enriching experience? 

So if your dog usually eats just dry food, why not have some wet food (with similar ingredients if you like) to use in licking and chewing activities. Similarly, if your dog usually only eats wet food (perhaps on a raw diet), why not find something dry and crunchy to use a dry food foraging or exercise activity. There are lots of suitable dried treats on the market – even freeze dried raw food works! 

Remember wet food can also be your usual dry food soaked in some water or even a bit of home made stock (no salt or onions please!) – but if you use kibble, you’ll probably need to mush it in a blender after soaking as kibble swells and goes spongy. Cold pressed  and freeze dried don’t tend to do this and are easier to use)

Share your life with a power chewer? Need something a bit more robust?

We have a selection specifically for that too. These are the ones which have stood the test of stronger, more powerful dogs and whilst no toy is completely indestructible (no matter what manufacturers might claim!), these stand up to some pretty robust use! Toys do need to be sized appropriately and used correctly (for example if a toy is for bashing around to make the biscuits fall out, it shouldn’t be left out for chewing). 

Just select ‘super durable’ in the filter.

 

But please remember that although the toys which are ‘super durable’ are more designed to stand up to chewing and physical exercise (i.e. being bashed around!), they don’t necessarily promote the calmer behaviours like licking and foraging in the same way that some of the other toys do.

Sometimes the most important exercises for boisterous, powerful or ‘over enthusiastic’ dogs are actually the quiet ones which help them reduce arousal and feel more settled, particularly those designed for licking and foraging. These don’t stand up to being chewed as it isn’t what they are designed for, so just remember to supervise them initially and if needs be add in some extra rewards for interacting with the toys calmly.  

Choose your filters

(you can use any section individually or combine them)

or leave blank to scroll through all the activity toys

 

choose the type of activity...
choose alone or together...
choose the difficulty....
choose the food type...
for super durability.....