Your dog needs both mental and physical exercise. These interactive toys and feeders make great gifts – and will keep him busy all year round!

Dogs can be like small children. Their attention span isn’t all that long, and they may quickly get bored. They need lots of exercise and play to burn off their energy – and they also need something that’s going to be interactive and get them to think.

One way to help stimulate you dog’s mind is to look at some of the ingenious interactive dog toys and feeders on the market nowadays. These products are especially designed to give canines mental stimulation, to make them work for their food and treats, and/or to keep them occupied long after that stuffed toy or rubber ball has lost its appeal.

What inspired these devices?

While it may seem that puzzle toys and interactive feeders are a new phenomenon, they’ve been in use at zoos for quite a long time to help enhance environments, and prevent boredom and OCD in the animals. Several years ago, thanks to a growing awareness among dog guardians of the mental and physical needs of their canine companions, these products started popping up in pet supply stores.

“People know the importance of mental and physical activity levels, the health risks associated with obesity, and the links between boredom and undesirable behaviors,” says Katherine Crawford, a product manager at PetSafe “Interactive dog toys and feeders have become more popular because they provide tools to help address many of these concerns.”

What are the benefits?

1. “Interactive toys and feeders help prevent bad behaviors and relieve anxiety through natural activities,” says Alexandre Tremblay, president of Aikiou, a company that makes interactive feeders. Katherine agrees: “When occupied, dogs are less likely to engage in potentially destructive behaviors that often result from boredom.” Anyone whose dog has chewed up their shoes or torn the stuffing out of their sofa cushions can minimize these behaviors by giving their furry friend one of these products to keep him busy and engaged, especially when they have to go out and can’t be there to supervise the dog.

2. “These products are excellent if the dog is injured and not able to move around,” says Nina Ottosson, a Swedish entrepreneur who has designed a line of puzzle games and toys for dogs. “They’re also great for older dogs that are still mentally healthy.” In fact, any dog whose physical activity has to be limited, whether he’s recovering from CCL surgery or is a senior with arthritis, can get a lot of enjoyment out of puzzle toys.

3. Interactive feeders are an excellent idea for dogs that eat too fast. They not only force the dog to slow down – encouraging better digestion – but they also help satisfy his prey drive by making him work for his food.

4. An interactive toy or feeder may even help alleviate grief. “We know of a dog who was left alone after his person had to have his second canine companion euthanized because of cancer,” says Alexandre. “The dog stopped eating and his family turned to a behaviorist for assistance. They told him to try an interactive feeder to stimulate the dog into eating again. This dog resumed eating right after he was given the feeder, and got back into shape within a month.”

How do these products work?

When it comes to interactive toys and feeders, a wide variety of designs is available. “I find that my most popular products allow you to change the difficulty level from easy to more advanced by, for example, adding blocks or pegs to get a more challenging game,” says Nina.

Here are just a few examples of what you’ll find on the market:

• Aikiou’s interactive dog feeders feature over a dozen different compartments. “The dog has to use his paws and sense of smell to find the food hidden inside,” says Alexandre. “He needs to turn the central wheel and move the blockers to solve the puzzle and gain access to his meal.”

• “The DogTornado has four layers of rotating discs,” says Nina. “In three layers, there are compartments where treats can be hidden. The dog has to rotate the different layers in different directions with his nose or paw in order to find the hidden treats or food.”

• Nina’s company also offers a dog treat maze; in order for the dog to access the treats inside, he has to make the toy move so it will wobble, rock and spin, sending the treats through the maze and then out the top or bottom.

• “Those with senior dogs like our Busy Buddy products,” adds Katherine. “When filled with treats or kibble, these toys give senior dogs extra motivation to engage in beneficial physical activity, which might not otherwise occur. And instead of finishing their meals in a few seconds, they are encouraged to work for much longer to get all the food out of the toys. Mealtime becomes a game they look forward to each day.”

When choosing a product for your own dog, be sure to consider what you want to accomplish with it. If you’re looking for something to slow down a greedy eater, consider an interactive feeder. If your dog needs more physical and mental challenge in his life, a puzzle toy that needs to be moved around in order to dispense its goodies might be best. If you have an old or injured dog that can’t move around much and needs some relief from boredom and inactivity, a toy that can be operated with his nose or one paw may be the way to go. Whatever your dog needs, you’re sure to find something to satisfy him.

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