Why Puzzles and Interactive Toys Are Great For Your Dog
Have a dog that's always getting in trouble?
Keeping his mind busy might be the answer to his restlessness.
Toys Can Help Dogs That "Need Jobs"
Some breeds were created to stay busy. Sheepdogs, herding dogs and hunting dogs can get bored easily and resort to destroying things or excessive barking and pacing as a means to relieve that extra energy. While nothing really replaces daily exercise, providing mental stimulation can make these dogs calmer because they suddenly feel like they have a job. “While these dogs make great family pets because they are very intelligent and intuitive, they require a higher amount of focused attention—which they don’t always get, especially in families with kids,” says Brad Nierenberg, a dog blogger at PawsitivelyBradleyNierenberg.com. “Puzzles and interactive toys can help give them a task and a problem to solve, which keeps them happier than a simple game of fetch or tug of war.”
This is important because dogs that “need a job” have a problem-solving mindset and will find puzzles very satisfying.
Keeping Lonely Dogs Occupied
While ideally you wouldn't leave your dog home alone for many hours, chances are you do—at least while you're at work. Having interesting puzzles or toys around can help alleviate boredom and might even ease separation anxiety. “Puzzles and interactive toys can be good for dogs that spend several hours alone, as long as they aren’t toys that require supervision,” explains Nierenberg.
That said, not all dogs will play when they're alone. “It depends on the breed and personality,” says Nierenberg. “Some dogs won’t play unless there is a person to play with them.”
Even for dogs who don't find alone play too exciting, toys can still help relieve boredom at least part of the time—especially if they get lots of human contact and interaction once you get back home. “Building good habits with your dog when you leave them, such as training them to be calm when you leave, or tiring them out with a walk or playtime, along with using an interactive toy will make alone time a better experience for your dog,” says Nierenberg.
Choosing the Right Puzzle For Your Dog
Not sure where to start? Interactive toys and puzzles come in different levels—easy to hard, explains Dr, Judy Morgan DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT, author of From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing. “So for dogs that are just starting out with puzzles, you might start at a lower level,” Morgan says.
Personality and breed also play a big part on what type of toy your dog will enjoy. “Dogs with herding instincts need to think, so toys that require problem-solving are a good start,” says Nierenberg. “Dogs that like chasing need satisfy their prey instinct, so toys that require finding something would generally be good.” The best way to discover what your dog likes is to try a few different options. “Some dogs also really like variety, others will gravitate toward the same toy over and over,” says Nierenberg. “Search games are great for active dogs, while puzzles that don't require a lot of movement can still provide stimulation for pets with mobility issues.”
One last benefit of interactive toys? They can be great for senior dogs. “Just as solving puzzles like Sudoku and crossword help keep humans functioning at a higher level, the same applies to senior pets,” says Morgan. “Having to focus and find a solution stimulates brain connections.” If the toy allows you to add treats, Morgan recommends picking treats that are high in omega 3's, as these nutrients help feed the brain.
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com