Orly loves her Kong. The bouncy red toy signals food of course. She’s gotten adept at emptying them far more quickly than I can fill them. When she was about 3 months old, she figured out that if she backed the Kong into a corner, it would stay still for her to dig deep into it and extract every last bit of food. She doesn’t even need to hold it in place with her paws!
I can still slow her down if I pack the food in tightly. If I simply mix her kibble with peanut butter or yogurt, she empties the Kong in under a minute.
But if I soften the kibble with warm water and then really stuff it in there, I can keep her busy for several minutes! When that gets to be too easy, I will escalate further: Freezing the softened-kibble-stuffed Kong.
We’ve branched out beyond Kongs, too. She has a big orange treat ball that slowly gives up bits of dry kibble as she rolls it around. (Cali loves that one too.) She’s got the longtime champ, Squirrel Dude, a purple Kong knockoff that is much harder to empty. We’ve got some newer toys, too: The West Paw Toppl is well loved by both Cali and Orly. I have offered them that one with frozen yogurt, though that can get messy and is a better option during outdoor-snacking weather.
The food toys slow down her eating and also tire her out a bit (nothing really tires her out these days) and keep her entertained. I use them for her puppy lunches, often in hopes of keeping her busy while I have work meetings. It rarely works; she finishes emptying her toys long before the meetings end.
I enjoy watching her figure out new ways to empty her treat toys, showing creativity and intelligence as she solves the problem of extracting food from a moving object.
A friend recently asked me for advice on addressing some behavior issues with a young golden retriever. Since I have extensive experience with young golden retrievers, I quickly deduced that the main issue was that the golden’s energy level far surpassed that of her human. She needed a way to burn off some of that energy, something that would provide mental stimulation as well. Bored, smart dogs with energy to burn can be a dangerous combination!
I suggested several chew toys and treat toys, both of which will engage the attention of food-motivated dogs (goldens define food-motivated) and pose a mental challenge. In other words, burn off physical and mental energy, keep the dog busy, and make everyone’s life a little more peaceful. Sounds great, right?
These toys work for any dog who is willing to put some effort into obtaining a yummy reward. All have been thoroughly vetted by an expert panel consisting of:
Jana, a 10-year-old golden who will work for hours for the tiniest morsel of food
Cali, an 11-month-old golden who has about a 20-second attention span, but who enjoys most of these toys and will actually play with some of them for as long as half an hour (!!)
Albee, a 2-year-old Labrador who prefers not to have to work for her food after spending a long day at the office, but who also enthusiastically approved several of these toys
Our newest favorites are all in the “Busy Buddy” family — The Bristle Bone, which is used with rawhide or cornstarch rings, is beloved by all three expert testers. Albee has managed to de-bristle the bristle rings, though, which makes it really easy to get the rawhide and also diminishes the teeth cleaning action of the toy. The Jack toy is Cali’s favorite, but Jana has managed to take it apart several times, making it far too easy to slip off the rawhide ring and devour it. The Ultra Stratos is a new addition to this toy collection and seemed promising, but again, Jana managed to defeat it fairly quickly. Now that we have several of these Busy Buddy toys, I make up new configurations of rings, bristles and rawhide, and I am going to get smaller rings to make it even harder for top expert Jana to get to the rings. Still, she will spend a good hour chewing on one of these toys if I manage to screw it together tightly enough. In my book, that is a huge success.
I can’t write about chew toys without mentioning old standbys: Rawhide, bones, Nylabones, and antlers.
All members of the expert panel love antlers, but I stopped getting them because we got a soft one once; Jana managed to eat a couple inches of it before I noticed, and she got really sick. In general, though, they are safe, long-lasting chews. If you get them, purchase from a U.S.-company that uses wild-shed antlers. Antlers don’t splinter like bones, and they are all natural.
Bones can be OK if they are fresh, boiled just a couple min to kill germs. When they’ve been around a while, they get brittle, though, and they can splinter or crack. That is how Jana cracked a molar recently, a very expensive lesson! We sometimes get the ones with some gristle still on, give them to the dogs outside (separated so they don’t kill each other) and throw them out when the bone part starts to look dry.
Cali has recently discovered Nylabones, and she’s a big fan. Jana and Albee will occasionally get into a chewing frenzy as well. These last a long time and are safe chew toys.
I generally avoid rawhide, since dogs can bite off large enough chunks that they can choke, and since most rawhide is treated with really toxic chemicals. There are some U.S. made brands that claim to be organic, but I still stay away from rawhide. There are so many preferable toys to choose from.
These are great for mental stimulation as well as fun. You can feed the dog part of each meal in one or more of these, which will burn some mental energy.
Our experts give 4 paws up to:
The classic Kong, stuffed with … just about anything. Some favorites are kibble mixed w/peanut butter or yogurt and frozen; kibble softened in chicken broth (or warm water) and frozen; plain yogurt (also frozen) — this one is messy and best enjoyed outside. There are literally hundreds of Kong “recipes” if you Google “Kong stuffing.”
Squirrel Dude is still the reigning champion at our house. Jana loves him and cannot get all the food out. (The other dogs are less willing to work that hard, but he’s very popular will all testers.)
Busy Buddy Twist n’ Treat — good with peanut butter and kibble. Plain kibble falls out too easily.
Kong Genius toys are challenging — Cali hasn’t mastered them yet! Jana loves them. Albee doesn’t want to work that hard. They link together to make it even harder to get the food out.
Other favorites, beloved by Albee in particular, are the Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball and the TreatStik. These both hold kibble and the dog bats the toy around to make the kibble fall out.
And of course, Jana’s longtime favorite, the Orbee ball with a large biscuit stuffed inside. She has to break the biscuit into small enough pieces that they will fall out of the small hole. She’s gotten so good at this, though, that unless the biscuit is very hard to break, she’s done in a few minutes.
General advice — Avoid toys that use a specially designed treat. The refill treats are usually overpriced. There are many, many toys that can be filled with the dog’s kibble, which means you can make the dog work for part of each meal. The only exception I’ve made is the Busy Buddy toys, because they are among the few toys that keep Jana busy for hours (really!) and the rings last a while. I also advise avoiding the ones that are a harder plastic (like the Buster Cube); they are very noisy on the floor as the dog bangs them around to get the food out.
This stuff is all available on Dog.com and Amazon. Local St. Petersburgers can get them at Pet Food Warehouse, a wonderful, locally owned pet store. If you get on their email list, you get a monthly newsletter with a $5 coupon!