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Getting Started with Food Toys

Ensuring that our SideKicks get the appropriate amount of physical exercise is extremely important; it's something we all know about having a pet: get exercise, flex those muscles, keep the joints active, etc. It's good for their overall health and well-being. But, did you know that mental exercise is just as important? I remind all my clients - and nearly every person I come into contact with - that the brain is a muscle, too, that needs exercise like all the other muscles in your SideKick's body!

I could go on for quite awhile about the purpose(s) of mental exercise and the benefits; and I could spend even longer talking about different ways of getting your SideKick daily mental exercise. But, the purpose of this month's blog post is zeroing in on one option for mental exercise: food toys.

Food toys are just one example of a fairly easy way to get daily mental exercise: there's so much variety in shape and sizes and difficulty level; and food toys are kind of like the slow-cooker of mental exercise - just set it and forget it.* There's not much you usually have to do to prepare them and they don't take a lot of effort on your part. But, how are you supposed to get started with food toys when there are so many options out there?

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Well, let's get down to the nitty-gritty, then!

Since adopting our pupper almost 3 years ago, I've spent a lot of time trolling the internet and pet supply stores for a variety of different food toys to experiment with and use with her. I don't think she's been an unwilling guinea pig for us. That said, I usually think of a food toy as being in one of three different categories:

1) Stuffed food toys:

As the category name implies, these toys can be stuffed with a variety of different foods for your SideKick to lick out or dig into (check out this post for ideas!). Use these toys as something fun and mentally enriching for your SideKick to do in their kennel, as a quiet evening activity, or something to keep your SideKick a little occupied when guests are over!

You can literally stuff these toys with almost anything you can think of (of course, avoiding food that is dangerous for dogs or that your SideKick is allergic to or does not like). Examples of what we've stuffed our pupper's toys with lately include leftover ham, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt, peanut butter, boiled chicken, sweet potatoes (cubed or mashed), canned pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, berries. A quick Google search for stuffing recipes will yield a plethora of ideas that you and your SideKick will enjoy testing and experimenting with!

Below are a few of the favorites in our household:

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Left to right: Kong Quest, Kong Classic, Kong Genius Mike, and West Paw Toppl

Pro Tip: Make up a few stuffed toys ahead of time and freeze them for your SideKick; they'll be ready when you need them and the frozen stuffing will up the difficulty level just a bit, lasting just a little longer for your SideKick!

2) Treat-dispensing toys:

Treat-dispensing toys, in my opinion, serve as an "in-between" type toy - they're not usually something you'd stuff, but you can't quite fit your SideKick's whole meal in them either. These toys are great for giving your SideKick a small problem-solving activity off to the side while you're enjoying dinner, while you're doing some chores around the house, or while entertaining guests.

Treat-dispensing toys are usually filled with - you guessed it - treats! If you're ambitious or thrifty, you can find a wide variety of homemade dog treat recipes on the internet; these have the benefits of being made with only ingredients you and your SideKick like and you can easily customize the size of the treats to fit the toy(s) you're using! If you're not keen on DIY treats, no worries! There are full aisles of treats available for you to choose from at any pet store; additionally, some brands even have special treats that correspond with their treat-dispensing toys.

Below are a just a few options for you and your SideKick: