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 just in general spending 24/7 with him, the beginning of this transition was drastic 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.
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 dogs don’t have an audience or buddy to play with, they will often lose interest in these 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. 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! These toys are high-value, engaging, and are safe (if used properly, read on) to give to your dog for prolonged enjoyment!
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, first!
“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:
- Teaching your dog “relaxation mode.” Puppies and dogs that haven’t been trained yet often go from exhaustion to hyperactivity, rather than exhaustion to napping! Sniffing, licking, and chewing are naturally self-soothing for dogs. If used for feeding meals often, food-stuffable dog toys can help teach your dog how to transition into “relaxation mode.”
- Crate time is important. I like to feed food-stuffable toys in the dog’s crate, and build the association of “relaxation mode” there. That way, when life is busy, you can have peace of mind knowing that your dog is safe in their crate and that they are relaxing in there, too.
- Preventing separation anxiety! Crate time 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 in the crate, and to build positive associations with the experience.
- Private time. Dogs always want to be with us, and sometimes they forget to rest! Feeding your dog a food-stuffable toy in the crate is a nice way for your dog to relax without being hyper-vigilant towards what is going on around them. If you live with more than one dog, I strongly suggest giving them their food-stuffable toys in separate crates.
Quiet terrier time in the crate with a food-stuffable toy.
Prepping Food-Stuffable Toys
- If you feed 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. I do not recommend freezing these meals.
- If you feed raw dog food: Bravo! This transition will be easy! 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. My mathematical formula is this: 2 food-stuffable toys for each day (breakfast, and dinner). Therefore, if you are like me and like to prepare 3 days of food at once, you will need a total of 6 food-stuffable dog toys. I then freeze them, and serve them frozen, which makes the food last longer!
Miles’ raw food dinner in a food-stuffable dog toy.
Choosing a Food-Stuffable Dog 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 many dog will lose interest and leave food behind; and it is nearly impossible to clean that remaining food out by hand or in the dishwasher! This seemed like a great opportunity for me to take some much-needed time to research and field test all of the most popular modern 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 “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!