Enrichment Toys 101

Canine enrichment has been a hot topic lately and different types of enrichment toys have flooded the market. Which one is right for your dog? Well it depends on your dog and on what you’re trying to accomplish. Here are some top five popular categories for enrichment toys.

Slow Feeders

A little more interesting than just plain eating, but not the most engaging toy

outward hound slow feeder
Fun Feeder Slo Bowl by Outward Hound

Slow feeders are exactly what it sounds like–they help feed your dog more slowly. It’s usually a plastic dish with  a vertical design to make little sections of kibble, so that your dog has to methodically go around the bowl to get all the kibble. Designs can be relatively easy (like the one pictured here) or very intricate for varying levels of difficulty.

Why should you use a slow feeder?

  • For dogs that tend to gulp food quickly (which can be a medical concern), it will force them to eat slowly.
  • Requires more effort and thought than a regular bowl, which can add an interesting element to regular meal times. Most are dishwasher safe, so just as easy use as bowl.

 

Treat Dispensers

More engaging than a slow feeder, and requires more movement and creativity.

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Kong Wobbler by KONG

Treat dispensers are toys that make a dog perform a behavior in order to get the treat. Think of a slow feeder as coins dropped in between the seat cushions. You have to dig there out, but if you can reach it, it’s right there for the grabbing. On the other hand, treat dispenser are like safes. You have to perform a behavior, unrelated to physically getting the money, to get access to the money.

Depending on the toy, a dog may have to get really creative to get access to the food. He may have to roll the toy, pick it up and shake it, knock it over with his head or paw, or throw it against the wall.

Why should you use a treat dispenser?

  • For dogs who think slow feeders are too easy
  • For dogs who like interacting with objects (picking up, pawing, nosing)
  • Fun to watch your dog figure it out

 

Kongs and Busy Buddy Bones

Half chew, half treat dispenser. Make your dog work long and hard for the food!

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Classic Kong by KONG
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Busy Buddy Bristle Bone by Outward Hound

Kongs and Busy Buddy bones are great options that combine long lasting treat or chew with some canine enrichment. Both toys offer obvious treats but require some work to get the food loose and into the dog’s mouth.

Kongs have become a staple in many dog homes, and for a reason. They are inexpensive and easy to stuff, keep dogs occupied for a long time, and can easily be reused. If you need tips on how to stuff a Kong to make it last, check out our article here.

Busy Buddy bones are a type of nylabone that incorporates rawhide rings to make the chew even more enticing. They come several parts that can be taken apart to add the new treats, then put back together to make a semi-permanent chew toy.

Why should you use a Kong or Busy Buddy?

  • These are great for dogs who love to chew but tear through bully sticks in seconds.
  • Kongs can also be incorporated into a dog’s regular meal time or daily routine.
  • Great to use as a long lasting treat for crating, car trips and snacks.

 

Snuffle Mats

Needle in a haystack–engage your dog’s seeking behavior.

large-paw5-wooly-snuffle-mat.jpgSnuffle mats look like bath mats gone wrong–big loops of fabric sprouting all over a flat mat. All those crazy, overstuffed loops and strips are there to help treats hide until a dog uses their nose to sniff it out and find the exact spot a treat is. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, in a good way!

Why should you use a snuffle mat?

  • Easy to make a DIY one to add to regular meal times
  • Great for dogs who love sniffing or for dogs who can’t go on walks

 

Puzzle boards and toys

Requires the most creativity and problem solving of the puzzle toys.

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Mini Mover by Trixie

Puzzle boards are not for dogs who get frustrated easily. They are brain games for dogs–boards with drawstrings, compartments, drawers and lids that dogs need to carefully and systematically go through in order to find a treat. They are the Rubik’s cube of puzzle toys! Some can be quite difficult to physically maneuver for dogs, while some just require patience and creativity.

If your dog gets frustrated easily, we would recommended starting them on some easier toys first, like a treat dispenser, then work up to an easy puzzle board.

Why should you use a puzzle board?

  • Really challenges dogs to problem solve and think creatively
  • Can help a few treats last a long time
  • Problem solving can be fun for dogs

 


 

Looking for more enrichment?

Of course, toys aren’t the only forms of enrichment. Look out for our next blog post featuring some great forms of interactive enrichment!

The Best Way to Stuff a Kong

You may have heard everyone raving about Kongs, but if your dog doesn’t seem too interested in his, you aren’t alone! There are a lot of ways to fill a Kong, including a lot of ways that deliver food too quickly and too easily. Here is our trainer’s ultimate guide to making your Kong last!

1. Start with the Good Stuff

 



Ingredients
: Peanut butter, cream cheese, pure canned pumpkin or mashed sweet potatoes

Instructions: Take sticky, yummy food like peanut butter, and smear it inside your Kong. You want the insides to be coated with a thin layer, around the whole Kong. Do not completely fill the Kong! This shouldn’t be the bulk of your Kong, but this great layer on the walls should keep your dog interested until the very end.

Optional: Freeze
At this point, we recommend freezing your Kong with the peanut butter or cream cheese. This helps it last longer, but if you’re in a hurry, this isn’t necessary.

 

2. Make Your Stuffing

Main ingredient: Your dog’s regular kibble or canned food

Filler: Mashed bananas, plain yogurt, pure pumpkin or sweet potato

Extra: Shredded cheese

Instructions: Now it’s time to create the stuffing! This is the main portion of the Kong, so you’ll want to use your dog’s regular kibble as the base. In a small bowl, mix kibble (the amount will vary on the size of your Kong and your dog) with the filler of your choice. Think of potato salad consistency. Too much filler will make your mixture runny, and not enough will make it spotty. Or you can just stuff it full of regular canned dog food. If you’re feeling extra generous, throw some shredded or grated cheese into the mix!

 

3. Stuff!

Instructions: When you’re done mixing the stuffing, it’s time to get it in the Kong! Take your (frozen) Kong and start adding the stuffing. You can use your hands, but we prefer using a butter knife and teaspoon to really stuff the mixture inside. Make sure you’re packing the stuffing in, so that the stuffing doesn’t fall out too easily.

Note: Some people choose to freeze after stuffing the Kong. In our experience, this makes the Kong too difficult for most dogs because mixing the kibble with a wet ingredient causes the stuffing to freeze into a solid block.

 

4. Top if Off and Serve

When you’re done, smear some more cream cheese or peanut butter over the top of the Kong to seal the stuffing in. It doesn’t have to be a lot! (You can even sprinkle some kibble or cheese on top of that too)

Your Kong is now ready to serve. We recommend feeding Kongs in a crate, as it can get messy, but enjoy watching your pup work on his Kong!

Five Cues Every Dog Should Know

Every household and its needs are unique, and there is no one right way to train a dog. For example, as a trainer, I do not require a heel when walking my dog so if a friend were to take my dog on a walk, they might be surprised to find that he happily trots in front of them, stopping to sniff trees and grass as he sees fit. If my friend had wanted to go on a brisk, 4 mile walk for exercise, my dog would be very poorly trained for it. It doesn’t mean my dog isn’t trained, it just means he’s not trained for fast, purposeful walking (which we never do). This is a good example of different training needs for different families.

That being said, there is some fundamental training that is needed in every home. If you are a dog owner, consider if your dog is well versed in these five fundamental cues:


1. Sitting at thresholds

bulldog-waiting-at-the-doorEvery dog should be taught to sit and wait to be released at doorways and curbs. It’s a great cue to teach and it’s often taught simply by building a habit. Training your dog to cross thresholds at your cue ensures that you won’t have any accidental run-aways or close calls with cars.

Whether you have a older dog or a puppy, you can start teaching this right away. Old dogs can learn new tricks! It’s always better to be safe than worry about your dog darting out in front of a speeding car.

2. Leave it

7881106210_ae9386fee8_bAt some point in your dog’s life, if not daily, you’re going to have to ask your dog to leave something alone. It might be some food you left on the counter, some trash on the sidewalk, or even another dog (who doesn’t want to play) that he won’t leave alone. Often, the result of your dog not leaving the thing alone is actually a big hassle to you–you might lose your dinner, your dog might ingest something to make him sick, or the other dog may get over threshold and turn aggressive.

So training a solid ‘leave it’ cue before any of these situations happens is pretty critical. The most important thing to remember is that without training, your dog will not leave it alone. Without training, there are no benefits to him walking away and your yelling is often not a good enough punishment for him to stop. Start building a positive association with the words ‘leave it’ through obedience training.

3. Leash walking

theme-movement-dog-movement-walk-81106.jpegWhat good leash walking skills are may differ from family to family, but whatever standards you may set for your home, your dog should be trained to abide by them. For most homes, no matter how loose or close they walk their dogs, some common standards are no pulling, no sitting, and no constant crossing in front.

Poor leash skills are one of the most common reasons why people avoid walking their dogs. Make sure your dog gets the enrichment and exercise he wants from walks by training good leash skills. Leash walking can be fun and stress-free for both you and your dog!

4. Reliable recall

SONY DSCWhether our dogs are on or off-leash, indoors or outdoors, we ask our dogs to come to us for a thousand different reasons. They may be serious, like calling your dog away from a dog fight, or silly, like calling your dog to the couch just so you can give him some cuddles. But big or small, a reliable recall is hard to come by naturally.

A big factor inhibiting naturally great recall is that you often unknowingly punish your dog for coming to you. You may use “come here” to call your dog in from the yard, or start grooming him, or to get him away from a toy or piece of food. In all these scenarios, your dog has to turn away from something great (outside, food/toy) to something significantly less great (going inside, being groomed). Despite this difficulty, a reliable recall is a must have for practical and safety reasons. The best way to ensure your dog has a reliable recall is to work on training it.

5. Settle (on a mat)

96156eb0-a918-4cd5-92e6-215dc2560385_1.b1799a1f219c4559590cc28a8a53a51eYou may call it place, climb, chill, spot, settle, mat, or really any number of different names but at the end of the day, your goal is to get your dog to go to his bed or mat and stay there, calmly.

This is an all around great cue to have at home. When guests come over, you can ask your dog to settle so he doesn’t jump on them the second they walk through the door. When you’re cooking, you can ask your dog to settle, so he’s not constantly under your feet or trying to counter surf. If you need to get some laundry folded and he wants to play–settle. Settling on a mat is easier for dogs than laying down and staying. In addition to being more comfortable for longer stays, the mat has physical boundaries so dogs have a clear understanding of where they are supposed to be.


We love our dogs, but they don’t come with natural, genetic behaviors that make them perfect companions for the modern home and lifestyle. That’s where training steps in. It gives you and your dog a system to live by that reduces stress for both of you! So how do your dogs measure up to this list? Do you have different fundamental cues in your home?

Fido, Be a Dentist!

dog-734689_1280Would you ever tell your dog, “Be a dentist!” and expect him to go to the computer, pull up applications and start typing out his resume for dentistry schools? Of course not! It would be insane to tell your dog this cue and expect him to actually follow through.

Yet, many dog unknowingly owners ask for similarly unreasonable behaviors all the time. Things like get off, lay down, leave it, come here–these cues can all be as ridiculous as “be a dentist” when they’re not previously trained. If a dog hasn’t been trained to drop it, he knows as much about dropping a toy from his mouth on a cue as he does about applying to dentistry schools. That is to say, his knowledge on both subjects is a big fat zero.

As a dog trainer, I meet a lot of dogs and their owners. Usually, their dogs are friendly, excited and eager to get to know me, so they either jump or put their front paws on me. And immediately, their owner yanks their leash back, yells, “Get off!” and apologizes to me. And I quickly respond with, “It’s ok.”

And maybe I don’t make it clear that it really is okay. Jumping on people is a common dog behavior, and most dogs are smart enough to have figured out that when you jump on someone, they pay attention to you. Bingo, it’s exactly what they want. It’s normal, whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, we don’t like it, which is why we are yelling at the dog in the first place, and why I’ve been hired to train the dog.

But until you work with your dog and train this cue and behavior, don’t tell your dog to “get off.” I know it can be embarrassing, and it’s tempting to cave to social pressure and just yell the cue to make sure the person being jumped on knows that you saw what your dog did and you’re not happy about it. But in reality, having a dog who knows exactly what “get off” means and doesn’t do it, is probably worse perceived than a dog who just doesn’t know better. It would be better for you and the dog to remove the dog from the situation without negativity while apologizing to the other person. Plus, most knowledgeable dog owners will completely understand why your dog is jumping and chances are that their dog does this too. I don’t know how many times I heard, “Oh, I don’t care. He’s just being a dog,” when I apologized for my dog, as a puppy, jumping when greeting strangers.

If you do chose to still yell “get off!” to your dog before training polite greeting behaviors, acknowledge that you’re doing this for your and your company’s benefit. Your dog has no idea what you’re saying and there’s very little chance he’ll actually settle down. Recognize that he will not follow through because the phrase “get off” doesn’t actually mean anything to him. Know that expecting a dog to listen to a cue he has not yet been trained to do, is as ridiculous as asking him to be a dentist.

I understand it’s frustrating even for us with the best of intentions, and sometimes we can’t help reacting by yelling, “Get off!” It’s a natural behavior for us, just as it’s natural for your dog to jump. But if you’re not upset, for your sake and your dog’s sake, when your dog jumps on me to say hello, don’t yell. Instead, let’s work together to train him that “get off” means put all four paws on the ground and that he should greet people by sitting politely at their feet. Because if your dog actually listened, without training, when you told him to “get off,” you’d have a miracle on your hands, not an actual dog. And that would be a whole other story.

 

Choosing a Breeder

When shopping for the perfect new addition to your family, the choices can be overwhelming. It may be tempting to pick the first cute puppy you meet, but for the future happiness and health of your family and your new dog, it’s important to carefully research the breeder and find a responsible, reputable breeder who will give you the best chances of a dog’s long, healthy and happy life.

There are several types of breeders you’ll encounter when shopping for a new puppy. Here is a quick rundown of each type of breeder.

child-1538561_960_720Hobby Breeder A hobby breeder is not a professional breeder. This may be the friend with accidental puppies or someone who thought it would be fun to breed their personal dogs. Puppies from hobby breeders can range from healthy, purebred puppies from a great line to mixed breeds with problematic health or personality tendencies. Hobby breeders do not work for profit, and their dogs are usually sold by word of mouth or social sites such as Facebook.

downloadBackyard Breeder Backyard breeders are similar to hobby breeders. They often only breed from 1-2 dames and 1 sire, usually from their own home. They may breed purebred or mixed/designer dogs and their puppies often come with high price tags, but no other official guarantee. Their sires and dams might be registered, but their puppies are not. Backyard breeders work mainly for profit and you can find their puppies on social sites such as Facebook or Craigslist.

Puppy_mill_01Puppy Mill A puppy mill is a large facility where dogs are usually kept in strict confinement and bred over and over again in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. Sires and dames are not assessed for any health or temperament issues and puppies are also not socialized. Puppy mills work solely for profit. You can find puppies from puppy mills online (on the mill’s own website) or at pet stores.

16551507729_f9dddb28a1_bCommercial Breeder Commercial breeder are similar to puppy mills. They may offer slightly better accommodations for the dogs, but are larger scale operations with hundreds or thousands of dogs and several different breeds. Commercial breeders work solely for profit and you can find their puppies at pet stores.

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Responsible Breeder A responsible breeder is experienced and has a great reputation. They breed from several sires and dames who are all tested and cleared for breed prone health issues, and come with official papers. Responsible breeders take a hands-on approach in socializing, rearing and training their puppies and are thoroughly knowledgeable about the breed and each puppy’s specific lineage. Puppies from responsible breeders usually come with a high price tag, but breeders usually don’t turn a a large profit, if at all, due to the medical care they’ve already invested in each puppy. Responsible breeders usually have waiting lists, but you’ll hear about them by word of mouth or from their websites.


Even with this knowledge, it can still be confusing when talking to breeders. When purchasing a puppy, here the questions to ask to make sure your puppy comes from a great breeder.

Can I visit the litter?

If the breeder says no, offers to bring the puppy to your home or worst, meet you in a public place like a park or gas station, run far, far away. Responsible breeders will welcome, if not require, you to visit your potential puppy before you make your decision.

Do the puppies have papers?

A responsible breeder will have all their sires, dames, and puppies registered. If the breeder claims the parents are purebred but don’t have any papers to show, it’s very likely that the breeder can’t actually guarantee the puppy is purebred.

Do you require me to spay or neuter?

A responsible breeder will usually require you to sign a contract promising you’ll spay or neuter your puppy. Responsible breeders like to know that they are not contributing to the vast number of backyard breeders or puppy mills, or even accidental hobby breeders because these other breeders do not put the health and prosperity of the puppy and breed first. (If you would like to become a responsible breeder yourself, most breeders will work with you if you let them know)  However, there is a rising trend of consciously not spaying or neutering your puppy at all or at least until the dog is much older. If this is the case, the breeder will at the very least inform you of their reasons why they do not encourage (early) spay or neuter and give you their professional advice on what to do with your puppy.

Are the puppies healthy?

The breeder should say yes, wholeheartedly, and have the vet papers to prove it. A responsible breeder’s sires and dams are not only 100% healthy, they are also tested for common breed issues such as hip dysplasia and cleared by their vet as unlikely to develop these issues in the future. A responsible breeder is also aware of any potential carriers–genes or features their dog may not display but could potentially pass on to offspring.

What are the parents like?

A responsible breeder will be intimately familiar with the sire and dame, if not also the grand-sires and grand-dames. They should be knowledgeable of not only their health, breed, and registration, but of any titles, their personalities, and what kind of environment they were raised and lived in. Personalities in dogs, similar to us humans, are strongly influenced by their parents. Responsible breeders will own the dame, if not the sire also. They will be able to tell you what your puppy’s parents are like–excitable, energetic, relaxed, cuddly–and hopefully you can meet them too and see if your puppy’s parents are dogs you personally love. Chances are your puppy will be like them, so if the parents are calm, cuddly dogs and you want an energetic hiking buddy, their puppy is probably not the perfect fit for you. And if the parents are fearful, reactive, or aggressive at all, run away as quickly as you can.

How many puppies are available?

If a breeder has multiple puppies available right now,  it’s ironically a bad sign. Responsible breeders don’t churn out puppies year round. They give their dames appropriate rest between litters, and they only have a limited number of dames to breed. So reputable breeders usually do not just have a litter of puppies available for you to pick and choose from immediately. That being said, even the best breeders may have a puppy whose future parents never followed through or a returned puppy (by no fault of the puppy), so you may be able to take home a puppy from the most recent litter. But usually, you will have to pay a deposit and wait for the next litter. Then, when your turn comes, the breeder will work with you to decide which puppy in that litter is best suited for you and your household.

When can I bring my puppy home?

6 or 8 week old puppies are adorable and you may be tempted to bring home your puppy as soon as you possibly can, but most responsible breeders won’t let you bring your puppy home before 8-12 weeks. The 6-8 week period is critical to a puppy’s social development and they shouldn’t be separated from their litter mates. Even at the 8-12 week age, puppies require careful socialization and training, so if you aren’t prepared to put in the time and effort as soon as you bring him home, it’s better to bring your puppy home later (and there is no shame in this, as bringing home a puppy can be, by itself, an overwhelming experience without all the worry about proper socialization). Responsible breeders are dedicated to the well-being of their puppies, so they’ll be able to make sure your puppy gets the socialization he needs.


It can get overwhelming trying to make your decision, but you don’t need to do it by yourself! Reach out to your local trainer or experienced dog owner to help you sort through your options and bring home a healthy, happy puppy.

If you need help socializing your young puppy or finding the right puppy from the right breeder, contact us and Sit Stay and Beyond would be happy to help you add to your furry family.

Trying to decide if you should adopt or shop? Check out our blog post on the pros and cons of rescuing or buying.