How to stimulate my dog's mind?

Dogs have a natural need to use their mouths to gnaw, lick, rip apart and explore items or objects around them. This need is a separate reservoir of energy, which needs a natural outlet on a daily basis. Even if the dog is properly exercised, their mind needs activation and work as well. If dogs are not directed towards meaningful, allowed activity, it can turn into destructive behavior or even apathy.

How to play with my dog using an activation toy?

Based on recent reader feedback, we turn our attention to toys and activities which will help you play with your dog in a way that challenges their mind. Why we say play with, is that activation toys, like food, should be used to strengthen your role as your dog’s leader and access to the toys you use to play with her should be controlled by you.

Nina Ottosson's toys will challenge your dog's mind.

Nina Ottosson’s toys will challenge your dog’s mind.

Just the act of taking out a given toy should be a joyous thing that the dog will happily engage in. That is why leaving a given toy lying on the floor will reduce its natural charm. The main principle in dog ownership is that to your dog you should be the source of everything good in life and if you achieve this, she will follow your guidance in every situation.

Leadership stems out of a positive practiced relationship with your dog, where you set the limits on what is allowed behavior. Simply bribing your dog away from undesired behavior will not. In a situation where the reward is bigger than your bribe, you will lose no matter what. It is one thing to reward your dog for desired behavior, rather than bribe them away from an undesired one.

In our opinion, some of the most engaging activation toys are created by Nina Ottosson. Her activation toys are recommended by all experts and range between easy (level 1) and expert (level 4). These toys are not intended for the dog to play alone with, rather than working with her to puzzle it out is a rewarding activity in itself.

Eve playing with Nina Ottosson's Outward Hound Treat Maze.

Eve playing with Nina Ottosson’s Outward Hound Treat Maze.

Your role is more that of a referee, guiding your dog towards the proper way of playing with the toy rather than letting her just use brute force and destroy the toy.

The treats do not exit the maze unless the dog uses a proper technique.

The treats do not exit the maze unless the dog uses a proper technique.

Eve has found, even after some time, the Ottoson level 2 toys still engaging. She really enjoys playing with the Outward Hound Treat Maze on a daily basis. She has become somewhat an expert at it and being an intelligent dog she has figured out multiple different strategies for getting the treats out of the toy as quickly and efficiently as possible.

How to calm down my dog with the help of an activation toy?

As stated in an earlier article, feeding your dog with raw food is a trendy topic with a lot of proponents and dissenters. We use Kong activation toys to calm down our energetic dogs or to prevent them from engaging in undesired behavior such as one caused by separation anxiety for example.

Eve enjoying her minced meat lollipop with the help of Kong Classic medium.

Eve enjoying her minced meat lollipop with the help of Kong Classic medium.

The classic Kong toys, which are made out of natural rubber, are the perfect activation toys once packed with minced meat and frozen solid in a freezer. Alternatively, if you have bought or prepared raw meatballs and frozen them, you can slide them inside a Kong and voila you have your activation toy armed and ready to go in no time at all - pre-frozen.

  1. Pick up the Kong activation toy in your hand.
  2. Pick up a frozen raw meatball in your other hand.
  3. Place the meatball on the counter.
  4. Push the meatball into the toy against the counter top (use both hands if need be).
  5. If you’re having difficulties with this, you can use a drop of cooking oil as a lubricant.
  6. Once the toy is armed with the meatball, use this opportunity to rehearse your dog obedience. Drill her with the basics, such as how to sit or lay still and wait for your permission to engage with the toy.

How to take care of my dog’s teeth and satisfy her need to chew?

In addition to food, dental care is an important part of dog ownership. Chewables are also a great way to direct the natural need for dogs to chew or gnaw on something towards something more acceptable than your shoe or the telly remote for that matter.

Natural rawhide makes the best and most enjoyable chewables.

Natural rawhide makes the best and most enjoyable chewables.

For example, Barkoo rolled chews or chew sticks which are made our of natural beef rawhide are much healthier and safer choices than real bones, especially cooked ones, which are outright dangerous.

The trick with chewables, as with any other toy, is not leaving them lying around rather than give them to your dog as a treat or “toothbrush” after each meal. One common mistake is to buy an over-sized chewables for your dog, who will lose interest in them in quick order. Giving smaller things more often to chew on will help you better engage with your dog as well.

One good rule of thumb is to never give any treats or food to your dog without making her work for it. Asking her to sit down quietly until you give her permission to food or treats is the best way to enhance your role as her leader.

You can even turn this into a game, where she sits in front of you and looks into your eyes until you give the break command. It is the type of basic obedience that is easy and natural to do and which yields the best benefit - no bribing needed.

Outward Hound’s Nina Ottosson Activation Toys

These toys are the gold standard for dog activation toys and they are meant to help you play with your dog in a way that challenges their mind but at the same time is fun and engaging.

Kong Activation Toys

Kong activation toys, which are made out of natural rubber, are a great way to stimulate your dog and feed her raw food, such as minced meat.

KONG Classic activation toy.

KONG Classic activation toy.

KONG Extreme activation toy for power chewers.

KONG Extreme activation toy for power chewers.

Natural Rawhide Chewables

Natural rawhide chewables are a great way to handle the basic dental care of your canine family member, as well as direct her natural need to chew on something away from your shoes or whatever else happens to be within her reach.

Barkoo natural rawhide chew stick.

Barkoo Natural Chew Sticks (25cm) offer engaging and tasty dental care for your medium to large size dog.

Barkoo natural rawhide rolled chews.

Barkoo Natural rawhide Rolled Chews (12.5cm) offer longer lasting chewing pleasure for smaller dogs.

Affiliate Programs

In the name of transparency, we think it is good disclose the affiliate programs, to which we belong to. In practice, this means that should you end up buying products through our affiliate links, those entities will pay us a small commission. You will not pay us, nor is the price any different, should you buy directly from a given site.

  • Zooplus UK online store for chewables and KONG activation toys.
  • Amazon UK online store for Nina Ottosson activation toys.

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Lari Huttunen

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