Enrichment Toys 101

Canine enrichment has been a hot topic lately and different types of enrichment toys have flooded the market. Which one is right for your dog? Well it depends on your dog and on what you’re trying to accomplish. Here are some top five popular categories for enrichment toys.

Slow Feeders

A little more interesting than just plain eating, but not the most engaging toy

outward hound slow feeder
Fun Feeder Slo Bowl by Outward Hound

Slow feeders are exactly what it sounds like–they help feed your dog more slowly. It’s usually a plastic dish with  a vertical design to make little sections of kibble, so that your dog has to methodically go around the bowl to get all the kibble. Designs can be relatively easy (like the one pictured here) or very intricate for varying levels of difficulty.

Why should you use a slow feeder?

  • For dogs that tend to gulp food quickly (which can be a medical concern), it will force them to eat slowly.
  • Requires more effort and thought than a regular bowl, which can add an interesting element to regular meal times. Most are dishwasher safe, so just as easy use as bowl.


Treat Dispensers

More engaging than a slow feeder, and requires more movement and creativity.

Kong Wobbler by KONG

Treat dispensers are toys that make a dog perform a behavior in order to get the treat. Think of a slow feeder as coins dropped in between the seat cushions. You have to dig there out, but if you can reach it, it’s right there for the grabbing. On the other hand, treat dispenser are like safes. You have to perform a behavior, unrelated to physically getting the money, to get access to the money.

Depending on the toy, a dog may have to get really creative to get access to the food. He may have to roll the toy, pick it up and shake it, knock it over with his head or paw, or throw it against the wall.

Why should you use a treat dispenser?

  • For dogs who think slow feeders are too easy
  • For dogs who like interacting with objects (picking up, pawing, nosing)
  • Fun to watch your dog figure it out


Kongs and Busy Buddy Bones

Half chew, half treat dispenser. Make your dog work long and hard for the food!

Classic Kong by KONG
Busy Buddy Bristle Bone by Outward Hound

Kongs and Busy Buddy bones are great options that combine long lasting treat or chew with some canine enrichment. Both toys offer obvious treats but require some work to get the food loose and into the dog’s mouth.

Kongs have become a staple in many dog homes, and for a reason. They are inexpensive and easy to stuff, keep dogs occupied for a long time, and can easily be reused. If you need tips on how to stuff a Kong to make it last, check out our article here.

Busy Buddy bones are a type of nylabone that incorporates rawhide rings to make the chew even more enticing. They come several parts that can be taken apart to add the new treats, then put back together to make a semi-permanent chew toy.

Why should you use a Kong or Busy Buddy?

  • These are great for dogs who love to chew but tear through bully sticks in seconds.
  • Kongs can also be incorporated into a dog’s regular meal time or daily routine.
  • Great to use as a long lasting treat for crating, car trips and snacks.


Snuffle Mats

Needle in a haystack–engage your dog’s seeking behavior.

large-paw5-wooly-snuffle-mat.jpgSnuffle mats look like bath mats gone wrong–big loops of fabric sprouting all over a flat mat. All those crazy, overstuffed loops and strips are there to help treats hide until a dog uses their nose to sniff it out and find the exact spot a treat is. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, in a good way!

Why should you use a snuffle mat?

  • Easy to make a DIY one to add to regular meal times
  • Great for dogs who love sniffing or for dogs who can’t go on walks


Puzzle boards and toys

Requires the most creativity and problem solving of the puzzle toys.

Mini Mover by Trixie

Puzzle boards are not for dogs who get frustrated easily. They are brain games for dogs–boards with drawstrings, compartments, drawers and lids that dogs need to carefully and systematically go through in order to find a treat. They are the Rubik’s cube of puzzle toys! Some can be quite difficult to physically maneuver for dogs, while some just require patience and creativity.

If your dog gets frustrated easily, we would recommended starting them on some easier toys first, like a treat dispenser, then work up to an easy puzzle board.

Why should you use a puzzle board?

  • Really challenges dogs to problem solve and think creatively
  • Can help a few treats last a long time
  • Problem solving can be fun for dogs



Looking for more enrichment?

Of course, toys aren’t the only forms of enrichment. Look out for our next blog post featuring some great forms of interactive enrichment!


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