I’ve sunk quite a bit of money into toys for Jana over the years, starting with stuffed Kongs when she was a tiny puppy. It took her only a few days to master the art of completely emptying a stuffed Kong. Soon, she had it down to mere seconds, even when I had the Kong filled with softened kibble, mixed with peanut butter and frozen (most puppies love these, and tossing in a Kong make crate training so much more fun for the puppy).
Thus, when little Jana was only a few months old, my quest began for the perfect treat toy. “Perfect” being defined as “will keep her busy for more than 10 minutes.”
I have tried everything. She has a collection of treat toys large enough to open a museum, or at least a doggy day care. Sucker that I am, I will shell out retail if I see a new toy that looks promising. Online deals are another money pit. We’ve got the Dog Puzzler, the Buster Cube, and the Twist N Treat. We’ve tried the Tricky Treat Ball, Orbee ball and TreatStik. We’ve got complete sets of Kong Genius and Busy Buddy Linkables, rubber toys of various interlocking shapes. And no, the Thinking Dog Blog does not receive any free products to try out.
Jana is now 9 years old. She has, at long last, met her match: Squirrel Dude.
Squirrel Dude is a large purple squirrel made of hard rubber. He is hollow inside (much like Jana) so I stuff him with treats (much like Jana). Her job is to get the treats out.
She has been known to work at emptying Squirrel Dude for a couple of hours … and still bring him back to me with a biscuit piece or two rattling around in his belly. The introduction was made by a good friend and superior dog mommy (thanks, Emmalee!). It is a match made in heaven.
Squirrel Dude’s secret is a set of prongs or fingers that hold the treats in. That, and he’s quite fat, so it is not easy for her to squash him enough to break the biscuits into small pieces that will fall out through the (smallish) hole.
In many rounds of competition, Squirrel Dude has defeated Jana every time. Yet losing to this formidable purple rival has not diminished her affection for him at all. In fact, she is cradling him now, cookie bits still trapped in his belly, as she lies, exhausted, next to me.
Squirrel Dude’s closest competitor is the Busy Buddy Linkables, whose many possible configurations sometimes keep her busy for up to an hour. And the Orbee ball was an early success. Watching her figure it out — finally by rolling onto her back, squashing the ball with her jaws to break the biscuit, and manipulating the ball with her paws so the hole was lined up with her mouth and the pieces of cookie dropped right into her mouth — taught me a lot about her intelligence and problem solving ability. But she now has the whole operation down to about 3 min., and it only takes that long if I use a really thick, hard-to-crush biscuit.
What’s interesting is that Wylie is not at all interested in any of these toys. He likes the TreatStik and the Tricky Treat ball. Basically, as Deni says, he wants something he can just push around with his nose and have the treats fall out. Just goes to show that not all toys work for all dogs.
Jana, who is extraordinarily food motivated, will work much harder than Wylie to extract food from a toy. She enjoyed a TreatStik, too — only rather than push it around, she attempted to enlarge the hole the treats were falling out of. I finally took it away when she reverse-engineered it by figuring out how to unscrew the top.
I do offer her the other toys occasionally, if she needs a quick snack or if Squirrel Dude needs a day off. But, really, how can I resist a hunky purple guy who keeps my girl safely entertained for hours, challenges her mentally and wears her out?
A tired dog is a good dog, after all. And if the sweet little smile on her face is any indication, a happy dog as well.