Dog toys are a great way to feed and entertain your dog. Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they need physical exercise but sometimes they get bored with regular dog toys. When they play with a food toy, they are getting reinforced (when they get a piece of food) for playing with the toy, therefore the play often lasts longer.
Some food toys also provide physical exercise because the dog pushes the toys around the house or yard. The downside of some of these food toys is that they can get expensive. However, some of the best food toys are homemade and can be far less expensive.
One of my favorite food toys for the summer is the giant ice cube. The giant ice cube is very easy to make and can be used for dogs that have special diets. All you need to do is fill a plastic bowl with water or broth (any broth will work- chicken, beef, vegetable) then add food or treats to the liquid. I will add kibble, dog treats, spoonsful of peanut butter, carrots and anything else my dog likes. Sometimes I will also stuff a Kong and place the stuffed Kong into the liquid. Once I have placed the food and treats in the liquid, I will freeze it (it usually takes 24 hours, depending on the size of your bowl). Once it is frozen, I take the giant ice cube outside, take it out of the bowl and put in on the grass in my backyard. Dogs will lick and chew the ice to get to the food. Sometimes they will even push the ice cube around the yard to try to find a “good treat.”
Another homemade food toy I like uses a plastic water or soda bottle. Depending on the size of the dog, I will use a small or large bottle. I cut holes in the sides and take the cap off. Next, I fill the bottle with kibble (sometimes I put a few special treats in too). Once the bottle is filled, I let my dog push the bottle around the house or yard. As he pushes the bottle, kibble and treats fall out for him to eat. This is a great toy for mental and physical exercise.
As with every toy, make sure your dog does not chew or eat the bottle. If this is the case, this toy is not a good fit for your dog.Not all mental stimulation has to come from a toy. Sometimes I will also do an “Easter egg” hunt for my dogs. Instead of hiding Easter eggs, I will hide kibble and treats around my backyard or in my house. My dogs will spend hours looking for a treat that may have been left behind. This is another way to stimulate your dog mentally and physically. This is a great game to do if your dog will be left alone for a few hours.
We all want our dogs to be happy and healthy. By enriching your dog's mind and body with mental and physical exercise, you are enriching their lives. Give it a try, your dog will love you for it.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as a handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West. Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a "Registered Veterinary Technician," a "Certified Professional Dog Trainer" (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers" and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Shannon's dog training philosophy revolves around force-free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal. Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training.