Food toys and puzzles come in many varieties and have different purposes. There are:
- Bat ‘Em Arounders
- Chewers and Lickers
Snufflers are food toys such as snuffle mats/balls and are typically used with kibble or small dried treats. You can also use the grass in your yard as a natural snuffle mat. Food is accessed not by chewing or by hitting the toy around, but simply by sniffing it out. These options are excellent (perhaps the best?) choices for stressed or reactive dogs as well as for senior dogs. You can buy snuffle mats on Amazon and at many pet supply stores. You can also make one yourself! I cut up an old fleece blanket to make one. It is a lot more work than you think to add enough fleece to achieve a dense mat. They are generally machine washable which is a huge plus in my household.
Another great way to achieve a similar effect is to make a bug pile of cardboard and sprinkle the treats around in it.
Fill them with:
- Dried Berries/Fruits/Veggies
- Dried Liver Bits
- Sardine or Anchovy Bits
- Any small dry treats
Bat ‘Em Arounders
These are toys that don’t require a lot of skill, just perseverance and enough confidence to hit a thing around making a lot of noise. You add treats or kibble, hand them to your dog, and listen as they smash them around hoping for food to fall out.
- Shy dogs – to build confidence providing the level of difficulty isn’t too high
- Old or disabled dogs who cannot get out as much as we would like
- Recovering dogs who need to expend energy
Too Difficult? Use smaller treats
Too Easy? Use larger treats
Dog Not That Interested? Add a big piece of chicken or steak
Be very cautious when these toys for dogs who are easily over stimulated. They encourage wildly hitting a thing without thinking, providing a very reinforcing intermittent rate of reinforcement. If you have a dog who is already prone to being crazy and not thoughtful, these might not be the best toys for you! If you have a normally very active dog who isn’t able to get out, this can provide a bit of stress relief.. just be careful with how much you use them.
Food puzzles come in many varieties and difficulty levels. I have 8 or 10 that I rotate in and out of my feeding routine. The goal of a food puzzle is to teach your dog to THINK and to thoughtfully figure out how to access the food. IMO, many people use food puzzles incorrectly, treating them like Bat ‘Em Arounders. Puzzle toys will not stand up to being tossed around and pounced on and are not designed to be used this way.
Only give your dog a puzzle that they will likely to succeed at in 15 seconds or less. If you have a puppy or insecure dog, this should be 5 seconds or less. If your dogs becomes frustrated or resorts to brute force, the puzzle you presented is too difficult. Simplify it! Help your dog be successful and build on that.
Chewers and Lickers
These are great for many dogs in just about any circumstance. When I need a quiet morning to catch up on emails, I feed my dogs their breakfast in these. I always recommend people bring a couple of these to puppy class, or other classes if their dog will have trouble settling, and I bring a bunch of them for my dogs when I’m competing and they will spend much of the day in a crate or in the car.
Fill them with food and healthy snacks, pop them in the freezer and pop them out when you want to help your dog be calm.
Use them for:
Filled with Dog Food and Topped with Yogurt
- Puppy Class
- Road Trips
- Quiet Time
- Visitors in the Home