Interactive toys can bust your pet’s boredom

Scrolling through internet posts this morning, I got a good chuckle out of a video of a dog playing with an interactive water fountain. The young boxer was having a heyday exuberantly bouncing on the contraption that dispensed a spray of water. The fountain is designed to eject water when the dog steps on a spring-activated pedal.

As I watched the happy dog playing with the apparatus, I thought it was a brilliant idea. The fountain not only provides fresh water as needed, it also serves as a motivational mechanism to encourage both physical and mental activity. While it was definitely apparent the boxer had sufficient physical motivation, the mental challenge of making the fountain spew completely consumed the animal throughout the video.

Interactive pet toys task an animal to overcome an obstacle to ultimately acquire a reward. Generally, food or treats are used as incentive to accomplish the mission. Apparatuses can be in the form of a puzzle or toy, while others require elimination techniques. The toys initiate activity, reducing boredom or destructive behavior while encouraging a thought process for the animal to reach its goal.

The original interactive toy, the Kong, was actually developed as a chew toy in 1976, according to kongcompany.com. The hollow, heavy rubber toy was created by Joe Markham to discourage his German shepherd from chewing on rocks. While working on a vehicle’s suspension system, Markham threw a thick rubber piece to the shepherd. The erratic bounce and toughness of the rubber inspired Markham to design the toy.

Whereas the Kong was initially created as an ideal chew toy, the additional advantage of the snowman-shaped design lies within the core. There is an opening on one end of the toy that can be manipulated to insert treats, peanut butter or other food products into the hollow center. The conquest of licking peanut butter out of the Kong often keeps a pup busy for quite some time.

There are some nifty interactive toys on the market today that are sure to keep a four-legged friend busy. The Tether tug is a long pole stuck in the ground with an equally long rope tug for agile breeds to pull on. A perfect toy for the ball chaser is a small apparatus that shoots tennis balls out a side opening after being deposited in the top. There are puzzles with little trap doors the dog can open with his nose and spinning devices with an opening for treat retrieval.

While there are commercial products available at pet and other retail stores, there is a swath of ideas for do-it-yourself interactive pet projects on Pinterest. Creative individuals have made PVC pipe gadgets with holes drilled into the sides. Treats or dry food are placed in the lightweight pipe, giving a dog the challenge of rolling the pipe around to extract the morsels.

Another post displayed plastic bottles filled with treats swinging from a simple homemade stand. A clever idea for the ball-loving dog is to place treats in the bottom of a muffin pan and then cover them with a tennis ball. For the dog days of hot summers, a frozen water cake interspersed with small rubber toys was displayed on another page.

When I was a kid, an interactive toy was an old sock tied in a knot playing tug-of-war with my best friend. In today’s race-for-time society, oftentimes, interaction with a pet is a quick pat in the morning and a few short hours each evening. For a dog home alone all day, a basket of toys becomes fairly boring — especially if no one is there to play with.

Unless, of course, they have a cool toy, like the holey ball stuffed with socks or the machine that dispenses bubbles when the dog touches it. Interactive toys provide a boredom buster while challenging an animal’s cognitive response. The toys initiate activity and help stimulate lackluster moments, providing a means of entertainment to occupy time. 

Laughing as I watched the video of the water-loving boxer one more time, I imagine that dog’s days are full of fun!   

Charlé Thibodeau has been a passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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