Many dogs love to play toys. From rattling or squeaking plush toys that they like to cuddle or throw around with great abandon, to chewing balls and rubber toys that provide puppies and older dogs alike with something to exercise their jaws with, or puzzle toys to help keep them occupied when nothing else is going on.

It’s important to know however that toys and games can play a far greater role in a dog’s life if you choose them wisely, and can become a useful training and behaviour modification tool as well.

So, rather than cluttering your home with many cheap toys and balls that provide no real benefit other than just giving your dog something to chew on for a while (or to be destroyed immediately if they’re anything like Darcy!), why not make more considered toy purchases for your dogs that will save you money in the longer term, reduce the chances of your dog choking on or swallowing plastic and other foreign objects, and provide an interactive, mentally and physically stimulating experience for your dog?

By doing so, you can use these toys for fun when you are with them, but many can also play a role in reducing anxiety, boredom and chewing issues in dogs when they have to be left alone.

Puzzle toys are great to help your dog learn to think and use his sense of smell as they work to figure out how to solve the puzzle and gain a reward, usually in the form of a treat, along with your praise. Some of the games require the dog to flip over bone-shaped covers, or to push a sliding game piece, or pull out a small drawer. You can provide help as the dog learns the game, but with practice, most dogs figure out what’s needed and they can progress onto more difficult ones over time.

These provide dogs with great mental stimulation when you are out and, if playing together, can help strengthen the handler/dog bond. Some great board game puzzles can be found in the Nina Ottosson range.

The Kong toy range is another widely available range of interactive toys with the original Kong looking like a hollow rubber snowman that can be filled with kibble, frozen with raw mince or other dog treats and requiring the dog having to manipulate the toy so the treats come out. They also have their Genius line of toys.
Again these are great for dogs that like to keep occupied, especially if you fill and freeze them with their daily meal quota. A frozen Kong toy can keep your dog occupied for a long period providing both physical exercise and mental stimulation that can again help with controlling anxiety and boredom (a daily exercise routie is still required however).

The important thing when selecting toys, particularly if you are leaving them alone with them is that they are made of a safe, durable and non-toxic material that they can’t chew through. Whilst the Kong toys are sturdy, they are definitely not indestructible as Darcy will attest to, so if your dog is a ‘chewer’ then do make sure they are supervised and /or choose an appropriate sized Kong wobbler that is too big for them to get their jaw around, and definitely not small enough for them to swallow. Kong toys are found in most pet stores including PETstock.

When it comes to a safe and durable interactive toy range that can withstand the jaws of some of the toughest chewers, then you can’t go past Aussie Dog Products, and particularly the ‘Alone’ range for dogs that suffer from anxiety or boredom. These guys make toys for lions, elephants and other zoo animals so that says a lot about how tough some of their products are!

For a fun, safe, non-toxic, soft (ish) ball their new Buddy Ball is awesome. It can be thrown for a game of and/or filled with a treat and has a natural chicken smell. Even Darcy, who can de-fluff and destroy a tennis ball in minutes, has not managed to get one tooth mark into his buddy ball after 6 months.

They also have a great range of toys for strong and safe tug, fetch and throwing games for your important play time together, whilst their ‘Alone’ range of treat dispensing toys will not only mentally and physically keep them occupied, they even have a ‘staffy’ ball that withstands the strongest of jaws.

Many of these toys might cost more upfront, but their benefits and lifespan far outweigh buying a pile of cheap rubbish ones, not to mention the safety aspect.

Click on the links to find out more about the important role interactive toys can play in addressing issues such as anxiety and boredom, fast food eaters and the importance of family play time, as well as the dangers of choosing cheap, toxic toys.

About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.