Dogs need jobs. And not the kind where they sit in a cubicle in front of a computer all day. No, dogs need physical activity and mental tasks to feel important, to exercise, and to create a general sense of well-being. A walk can help, but that active little mind is always at work. If bored, your pup can destroy furniture, floors, or even fine china. So what’s a dog owner to do?
Sandy Schultz, the manager of Bark ’n Purr Pet Center, an independent pet store in Austin, TX, has a few ideas. “Smart toys, also called enrichment toys, are a great way to engage your pet,” she says. These toys enlist your dog’s body and brain, giving him something interesting to do with both. Here’s a list of five of the best ones out there.
The Kong: This rubber monster is the king of enrichment toys—and we mean that in the gorilla sense of the word, not in the Elvis sense. “I always recommend starting your dog with a Kong, since it’s a little easier than other enrichment toys,” says Paula Baker Prince, director of training at DogBoys Dog Ranch, a training and daycare facility in Pflugerville, Texas.
How It Works: A rubber contraption with a hole in the center for food, it’s virtually indestructible and makes dogs work for their treats by bouncing the toy, licking the edge, or just plain chewing on it for hours.
How Much It Costs: You can find this popular dog toy for as low as $6.99.
Egg Babies: This toy, known to some as “crack for dogs,” is made by Kyjen and is one of the best-selling dog toys every year. Known to some as “crack for dogs.”
How It Works: The toy’s plush exterior hides three plush egg squeakers inside. Your dog uses his ears, mouth, and paws to remove the eggs from the duck, turtle, platypus, or other animal. Egg Babies are adorable toys that make your dog work for his fun.
How Much It Costs: At under $10, this baby gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
The Babble Ball: Made by Pet Qwerks, any size Babble Ball will have your dog scampering around the floor in no time.
How It Works: When touched, this textured plastic ball repeats a variety of phrases, such as “Oh, no, you got me!” The best part: It turns off when he’s done playing.
How Much It Costs: At the risk of sounding just as repetitive as the Babble Ball, it costs less than $10.
The Dog Brick: Is your dog too quick for a Kong? Nina Ottosson’s Zoo Active collection boasts more than 20 activity toys and puzzles, but Modern Dog magazine agrees that the Dog Brick is one of the best for overachievers.
How It Works: Watch as your dog tries to slide the bricks on the game board aside in order to get the treats underneath.
How Much It Costs: “The wood version is more durable than the plastic,” says Schultz. At $50, it’s the priciest on our list, but it’s also the most complicated. Consider it an Ivy League education for your pet.
A Toy Storage Bin: Not a toy exactly, but carrying toys to a bin is the ultimate job for a dog. And it sure beats digging holes in the backyard.
How It Works: It may take a little time, but if you train your dog to put away all of his toys at the end of the day, you’ll work his body and his mind at once, leaving you with one dog-tired dog. Plus, he’s helping you clean the house!
How Much It Costs: We like Martha Stewart’s toy storage bin, which runs for $9.99 and comes in four colors. But you can also make your own bin using household items for an even better price: free.