You can probably tell that I'm a big fan of using food toys for our dogs, and I also recommend them to all my clients. It's not that I am in cahoots with any commercial dog toy suppliers (though honestly, I wouldn't mind some free products to try . . .) it's because of all the benefits to our dogs by using them.
1. Mental stimulation
Probably the most important one on the list so it has to go first. Most of us are well aware of the physical needs of our dog, food, shelter, water, walks etc. but since most of our dogs don't have a day job they need a way to utilise their brain power. That's where training and food toys come in. Food toys encourage the dog to think, strategise and problem solve to get the food. There is also the option of making them easier or more of a challenge depending on your dogs current skill level.
2. Helps with anxiety
I work with a number of dogs who have behaviour issues that are based on anxiety. The process of addressing these behaviours and the root cause is certainly multifactorial, however, in almost all cases I suggest using food toys as a way to build up a dogs self-confidence. Using food toys teaches the dog perseverance, resilience, confidence and a "can do" attitude. Building up their self confidence helps them better deal with stressful situations in other aspects of their life.
3. Slows down speedy eaters
Eating food too fast can cause a dog to have gas, indigestion, vomiting or an upset stomach. None of these are ideal for the general health of the dog and they need help to slow down. One of the ways to do this is to use food toys. There are several different options for this; biscuits in rolling type toys, DIY bottle toy, PVC pipe etc. and if you raw or meat feed then you can always put it in a container or food toy as well.
The dog then has to work to get at the food rather than just being able to guts it down from their bowl. Our dog Ruby takes about 30 mins to eat less than half of her meal if we put it in a Kong and freeze it.
Dogs should get used to spending a bit of time on their own even when you are home. Rather than this being a really unpleasant punishment, using a food toy as distraction can make the time on their own more enjoyable. Plus they might not even notice that you weren't around! Giving a food toy before you leave for the day can also set up a positive leaving the house routine for your dog and help to prevent them from getting distressed.
5. Entertainment factor
Have I mentioned that it's fun?! As you know, dogs love to play! Food toys are fun for them plus they get rewarded (food) for playing and working out what to do. Earn while they learn!
If you've been inside a pet store anytime recently you will have noticed that there is a wide range of commercial products available. Many of which are excellent, long lasting and great value for money. Investing in a good quality food toy is money well spent in my opinion. That being said I think having a mixture of commercial and DIY dog food toys is the way to go. That way your dog has some variety without draining your bank account in the process.
As a dog owner, dog trainer and pet sitter I have learnt many different tips and tricks over the years and I thought this would be a great way to share them with you. Enjoy!