I want to start by thanking everyone on the front lines of this current situation: whether you are working in a hospital, a grocery store, or any essential service. I appreciate you. My heart also goes out to anyone out of work, struggling, or with affected loved ones. I am thinking of you.
Now, let’s talk about transitioning the beast indoors…
This is the dog that has already had several hours of walking and training (Mr. demo dog) and STILL clearly has energy to spare…
Those of us who’ve been at home more often than usual with our terriers are starting to learn JUST how busy these dogs can be. “Normal” life was the tip of the iceberg, wasn’t it? Even though I am used to working all day with Miles by my side, and in general spending 24/7 with him, the beginning of this transition was a drastic shift for us, too. Miles and I are used to a much busier work life and a jam-packed schedule of travel, agility training and competitions, beach romps, and rigorous hikes. Those are things that really take the edge off for a wild wiry terrier, and they just haven’t been possible for us right now.
Right now, we are ALL trying to find simple ways to take the edge off.
What Makes Food-Stuffable Dog Toys Different Than Other Toys?
It is a common misconception that regular dog toys can and should keep your puppy or adult dog occupied. Most fuzzy, round, squishy, ropey, and squeaky dog toys are interactive. When most puppies and dogs don’t have an audience or buddy to play with, they will lose interest in normal toys quickly, or they will spend mere minutes shredding them to bits then lose interest! Interactive toys are fantastic for spending quality time with your dog, but what toys really can offer you a break? Puzzle toys have long been touted as the solution to doggie boredom, and although I value them as fun learning games, I know that they also fall under the category of interactive toys. Puzzle toys are not safe to leave alone with busy dogs: doing so can be downright dangerous. Then there are treat dispensing toys, my favorite of them being the Treatstik. These toys great for dispensing treats or kibble, but do require some supervision. So where can you find that break I was talking about? Food-stuffable dog toys!
HOME is a different space right now, where doggie boredom can run rampant easily, even though you are walking your dog more than ever. Right now the best thing you can do for your dog (and for your sanity!) is to stuff ALL of your dog’s meals into food-stuffable dog toys.
Training Without Actual “Training?”
As a professional dog trainer that specializes in tricky terriers, I am all about suggesting the simple routines that will make a huge difference in your life with minimal effort, first and foremost! We all need immediate relief where we can get it, especially now!
“Training your dog” isn’t just time spent working together. Did you know that training can also occur when you do something as simple as giving your dog something to chew in the right place and at the right time, as a regular routine?
Benefits of food-stuffable dog toys:
- Helpful for energetic pups who just can’t settle. Have you ever taken your puppy or dog on long walk, only to find that s/he becomes even more energetic afterwards? Even when you know your puppy or dog is tired? High-energy puppies and dogs often go straight from exhaustion to hyperactivity, because they don’t know how to relax. Sniffing, licking, and chewing are naturally self-soothing for dogs. Food-stuffable dog toys can help teach even the most energetic dogs how to transition from “tired time” to “relaxing time” instead of “tired time” to “frenzied tired time.”
- Teaching “relaxation mode.” Feeding food-stuffable toys in an area that is quiet and just for your puppy or dog is useful to help teach them to rest when they are tired. Feed food-stuffable toys in your dog’s crate with the door open, or in an area of your home that is separated with baby gate(s).
- Easy and invaluable right now. Quiet time alone is important for dogs, even if especially if you are home a lot right now! Now is the time to get your puppy or dog used to spending relaxing time on their own, and to help them build positive associations with the experience. (Note: If you notice that your puppy or dog is not comfortable in a crate or an area that is away from you with a food-stuffable toy, please consult with a certified professional – true separation anxiety/distress is often not caused by environmental factors and is important to address).
- Dogs need sleep, too! Dogs and puppies always want to be with us, and sometimes they forget to rest! Dogs need chances to nap during daylight hours. I can’t tell you how critical figuring out ways for your puppy or dog to nap is, during this strange time. So many of the behavior problems I am seeing right now are due to lack of daytime doggie napping! Feeding your dog a food-stuffable toy in a nice, comfy, quiet area is a great way for your dog to transition into a nap time without them feeling the need to be hyper-vigilant towards what is going on in your home. If you live with more than one dog, provide them with food-stuffable toys in separate areas. No one wants new problems right now, and this is an easy way to prevent that from happening.
- Great for vet visits right now. I can’t go into the vet with Miles right now, so instead, I send him in with his food-stuffable toy. Miles gets a monthly preventive joint supplement injection. The food-stuffable toy is a nice alternative to me going in with Miles, and I highly recommend it for anyone whose dog needs to see the vet.
Quiet terrier time in a comfy crate with the door open with a food-stuffable toy
Prepping Food-Stuffable Toys
- Kibble: You can mix your dog’s kibble with some canned dog food and then stuff the mixture into the toys, or you can soak your dog’s kibble in warm water or broth, then stuff the mixture into the toys.
- Dehydrated or Canned: Simply stuff the wet food into the toys. Freeze if you like!
- Raw: Every few days in the evening, I thaw a few days of Miles’ meals in a mixing bowl. When the food is thawed, I stuff it into a bunch of food-stuffable toys. These can be stored in the fridge, or if your dog doesn’t mind cold food, frozen to make the food last longer.
Miles’ raw food dinner in a food-stuffable dog toy.
Choosing a Food-Stuffable Dog Toy
There are countless food-stuffable dog toys available, but not all are created equal. Some can cause tooth breakage, and others are breakable and the pieces can easily be ingested by your dog. It is important to choose a very functional, safe toy.
When my routine became dramatically different, I began to re-visit Miles’ early days – aka the days filled with food-stuffable toys. That caused me to also revisit what I feel are the major downsides to the classic versions: they are hard to stuff due to their small openings, and also due to their small openings, many dog will lose interest and leave food behind, making them nearly impossible to clean! This seemed like a great opportunity for me to take some much-needed time to research and field test all of the currently available food-stuffable dog toys.
My criteria for the perfect food-stuffable dog toy:
- Must be easy and no-mess to stuff
- Must be safe to leave alone with a rough chewer
- Must occupy a distraction-prone dog for as long as possible
- Must keep the dog’s interest until all of the food is gone
- Must be dishwasher-safe, and must be “cleanable” by the dishwasher
- Needs to be able to be safely frozen to make the food last longer
- Must always be safe for dog’s teeth, even the harshest chewers
Left: I like to freeze soft food in the toys to make them last longer // Right: “Dishwasher safe” shouldn’t just mean the toy will come out alive — it should mean the toy will come out clean, too!
My Favorite Food-Stuffable Dog Toy
The Toppl is hands down my favorite food-stuffable dog toy! It fits and exceeds all of my criteria. It is so easy to stuff and use for meal prep: check out this little comparison video of the Toppl vs. the most classic food-stuffable toy. It is safe for 10/10 tough chewers like Miles, and won’t cause any broken teeth no matter how nutty they get with it. Freezing soft food such as raw or canned food is 100% safe in the Toppl, and makes the meals last much longer. The Toppl keeps the interest of even the most distractible dogs, and the dishwasher can truly clean it! I like the large Toppl the best. Even though the small Toppl fits up to 4oz of food, I stuff Miles’ 3oz of breakfast or dinners into the large, which can easily handle up to 10oz.
- Side note: when writing this article, I noticed this cool story about what the Montana-based company that makes the Toppl is currently doing to help provide healthcare workers with face masks.
Have you tried food-stuffable toys before with your dog? Were there ones you did, or didn’t like? Have you tried or want to try this one? Share your thoughts below in the comments!