You can easily get lost in the pet store at the toy aisle if you haven’t been there in a while. There seem to be a million new types of toys in all shapes and colours, and it’s hard to separate what you “need” from the cutest and best advertised.
Toys break down into a few different categories:
- Food Dispensing
- Chewy & Edible
Food Dispensing Toys
In my opinion these toys are some of the best toys money can buy! They are great to keep your puppy (or adult) dog busy when you need a dog free moment, or when you are at work. These toys are very helpful in teaching puppies to have quiet settle down moments, help prevent separation anxiety, slow down eating for dogs that like to gulp down their food, and satisfy the puppies need to chew while teething. These toys are exactly what they sound like, you fill them with food and let the puppy figure out how to get it out.
Some of my favorites:
Fill the Kong with a “recipe” of your choosing and let your puppy keep busy trying to get every last morsel out. This is usually the best (easiest) toy to start with to teach your puppy this new game of foraging for food. A good way to start is to fill it with the puppy’s kibble, wet dog food, or some yummy treats, and just let them fall out as the puppy paws at, drops, or tries to lick the food out of the Kong. Some dogs love it if you add a little peanut butter around the rim blocking in the kibble. As your puppy progresses there are a lot of great recipes you can try, or invent some of your own. Tess loves her Kong’s but won’t work very hard to get the food out for some of the “harder” to get out recipes, or frozen. I still use them, they just don’t give me much time. If your puppy is the same there are some other options to make it a little harder for them. Or you may need to up the ante with the food inside to increase their interest.
Busy Buddy Squire Dude
Works the same as the Kong, just another brand you may find or prefer. This one has rubber nubs at the opening so it is a little harder to get the kibble out, so if you aren’t stuffing the toy, just filling with kibble this can be a better alternative as it takes a little longer for the puppy to get all the food out.
These toys are similar to the Busy Buddy in that you fill them and they have little nubs preventing the food from falling out to easily. Tess has both the Leo and Mike and they work great when I go to work in the morning. I was finding I was barely out the door when she had emptied her Kong, where these (partially filled) will keep her busy for closer to 15-20 minutes. They can be a little harder to find at the pet store, but I have found them well worth buying. One of my foster dogs had to show her how to use it, so (if that isn’t an option for you!) I’d suggest filling it with yummy treats the first time you fill it.
Busy Buddy Barnacle
I attended a seminar where the instructor’s dog was using the Barnacle and ever since I’ve been on the hunt for one. I can’t seem to find it at our local stores, so an online purchase may be in order. It works similar to the Squirrel Dude or Kong Genius.
The Kong Wobbler is another great food dispensing toy. This one works a little like those blow up clowns, the puppy has to knock the Wobbler over to get the food to fall out of the little hole part way up the toy. It takes a little longer for the puppy to empty than some of the toys, is very easy to open and fill (and clean!). So could be an easy way to put in a meal and let the puppy keep itself busy for a while. This brings us into the little more “active” toys than some of the earlier ones mentioned, so this won’t teach your dog to settle down and relax when you are gone, but will keep him busy when you need a moment and can’t keep him entertained.
Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat
The Twist ‘n Treat was one of the first food dispencing toys I bought for Tess, and it works great. It’s similar to the Wobbler in that it’s a more active toy as they have to spin it around to get the food to fall out. I like it as a puppy toy especially since it comes in different sizes (so a smaller size can be great for the smaller puppy food) and you can make the opening larger or smaller to make it easier or harder for the puppy. The only downside to me is it doesn’t hold a great deal of food, and they can empty it pretty quickly.
Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble & Magic Mushroom
I haven’t used either of these products, but they look like they would be good alternatives to the Wobbler, or Twist ‘n Treat if you can’t find them.
Tricky Treat Ball
I have used this one for Tess for a while, it is a great keep busy toy. In fact I think I have a video I’ll post of her using it as a puppy. It allows you to put quite a bit of food in, is good for slowing down quick eaters, and will keep them busy for a while. Downside is I don’t find it particularly easy to clean.
Outward Hound makes a number of different puzzles you can purchase for your dog, there are other manufacturers that sell them as well. I find them to be a little hard to find at the local pet store, but they are worth looking at if you can find them or order online. I bought a fairly simple one for Tess to start with, we haven’t gotten a tonne of use out of it. I find it’s a little more hands on for me, having to refill it since the one we had did not hold much food. So it didn’t work for us as a busy toy, but others look like they hold more food and would work well for a dog that is a quick eater. The Treat Wheel pictured above, or Star Spinner look like they might have been a better purchase for what I wanted. So my advice would be to know what you are looking for when buying one…whether you want to be part of the game or are looking for something with more capacity for food.
I would say there are two big categories in here, toys you can tug with and toys you throw.
Not everyone likes to teach their dog to play tug, and feel it can teach them other “bad” habits. Many hunters feel it can be detrimental to their hunting training, and some people feel it can teach aggression. For the type of sports I do it would be helpful (Tess isn’t much of a tugger). So you may or may not want to purchase tug toys for your puppy depending on what your feelings are on this.
If you have a dog that is a strong or enthusiastic tugger I would suggest one that has a little give, either elastic or rubber that will absorb some of that shock to your body (and theirs). For dogs that aren’t big tuggers ones like the hol-ee roller can be good to build interest as you can toss and tug; or hide ‘n treat tugs that have food inside the dog has to “tug” open.
For our retriever friends these are likely going to be their favorite toys, and will pretty much be anything they can catch. Some of Tess’s favorites are her Kong Aqua, Training Dummy, Chuck It – Max Glow Ball (she thinks it makes an awesome smacking noise when she bites it), Chuck It – Ultra Tug Duo, Hero Sonic Frisbee, and her Squeaker Ball. Not exactly a toss toy but fits here probably better than anywhere is her Jolly Egg, which is awesome at getting her warn out chasing it around trying to catch it…yes she is spoiled!
Chewy & Edible Toys
Nylabone is probably the king of this category, they have an endless line of edible or chewable toys to keep teething puppies happy, or adult dogs satisfied. Tess’s food allergies made these a godsend when she had chewing urges, her favorite now is the stick one; but for dogs that need to stay away from real animal chews these can be a great alternative.
Rawhide, pigs ears, bones, antlers, hooves, and similar have been popular for ages, dental chews would also fit in this category. However, a word of caution, be very careful when buying real animal chewies. I would recommend checking with your vet before giving any to your new puppy. I would only purchase products made (and sourced) in North America, any of these treats should only be fed when you are home to watch, bone fragments, pieces of rawhide or pigs ears can get broken off and small pieces can get lodged in the dog’s throat. Chicken bones are also a no-no since them can also get stuck in the dog’s throat. So feed (and purchase) with caution!
These are usually my favorite to buy, because they are so cute! These would be your stuffies, or any toy your dog might carry around with them. Tess likes to destroy these! She is not the cuddle, carry around type…or maybe more accurately I haven’t taught her not to! So after buying expensive toys for her as a puppy I am now a spendthrift in this category. I often look in the sale bin for these toys, or wait until after holidays when they go on sale. Recently I’ve been buying the stuffing-less toys and they have stood up well. The supposed non-destructible stuffies I have bought have not lasted much longer than the inexpensive so I don’t purchase them and instead go the sales route.