Bored No More!

The best opportunity for working your dog’s brain and keeping them busy is at their mealtime. You can coordinate their meals with your departure for the day to keep them occupied while you’re gone, or at times when you need your dog to be busy (ie: while you’re cooking dinner).

There have been many advances in food dispensing toys for dogs, from fancy electronic ones to the basics. Here’s a list for a variety of budgets:

  • Foobler – at around $35 this is a very cool option for dogs who need to be kept busy
    over a longer duration of time. It has 6 different pods to fill up with food, each pod can be released at a specific time with a bell indicating to your dog that food is available. For more information watch their youtube video
  • Kong Wobbler – ranging from $20 to
    $30
    (depending on size) this widely available toy will slow your dog down if they tend to inhale their meals as well as keep them busy knocking the food out. Some dogs will finish food in the wobbler quickly, it won’t keep smart dogs busy long.
  • Wobble Ball by P.L.A.Y.

    Wobble Ball by P.L.A.Y – around $24 this is not only an adorable food dispensing toy, but they also offer a guarantee that if the top is damaged by your dog they will replace it at no charge.

  • West Paw’s Toppl – under $25 (depending on size) you can stuff these toys with food and freeze them as well as use them as kibble dispensers. Make sure you watch their video for some neat things you can do including combining two together for more of a challenge!
  • Kongs toys – ranging from $15 to $30 depending on size/type and available at all pet supply stores, these are toys that can be stuffed with peanut butter, wet food, kibble, etc. The options are endless and there are great videos showing how to stuff them to keep your dog busy for as long as possible  For best results freeze overnight!
  • Treat Dispensing Ball

    Pickle or Treat Dispensing Chew Ball by Starmark – around $25 both of these toys are made of a more indestructible material than most toys. These are a personal favourite of mine for heavy chewers. 

  • Nina Ottosson Toys – some of the original advanced enrichment toys for dogs, Nina Ottosson toys are found for a variety of prices and length of time they keep a dog busy will vary. There are puzzles that are fun for the occasional game, as once some dogs figure it out they can finish it quite quickly, versus toys that can be used for every meal. They are found more & more in pet shops, but you may have better luck finding them in dog boutiques or online versus box stores.
  • Safemade makes toys for stuffing that you also can bake! They have some great recipes for what to do with their products. 
  • Planet Dog has a variety of durable toys that can be stuffed with food from $20 and up and they donate part of their profits to non-profit animal groups.

SAFETY NOTE: Never leave your dog alone with a food toy that is untested in case they chew a piece off. If you have a heavy chewer it’s ideal to only leave them alone with hard plastic food dispensing toys that they can’t fit in their mouth.

Trick Progress

In a previous post I talked about Sandy & I’s current trick – walking through my legs and standing on my feet. We’ve made some nice progress and she’s targeting my actual foot now as I fade the physical targets. She’s much more focused, calm, and not adding in a bow from which I conclude she’s targeting with purpose as opposed to guessing, which you can see more of in the first video from the previous post. Our next step is getting both paws at the same time.

I always start this trick with my feet way too far apart, thinking my feet are so close together when in fact it’s quite a stretch for Sandy to reach both my feet at that distance. In order to get her to balance on both my feet I’m going to need to move my feet closer than I perceive is close. Maybe I’ll be a training nerd and measure the distance between them!!

Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety?

You come home to an overturned garbage, a chewed coffee table, dishes knocked off the counter – and a dog who runs to greet you at the door. What happened while you were gone? You wonder, does my dog have separation anxiety?

This is one of the most common questions I get from owners. They will come home to destruction, or hear their dog barking, and wondering if their dog is panicking. This is not always true. Two scenarios could be at play here, a dog experiencing separation anxiety or a dog who is bored.

What’s the difference between Separation Anxiety and a bored dog?

Separation Anxiety will occur when a dog experiences panic while left alone. It is characterized by vocalization, peeing/pooing, pacing, panting, destruction (especially at points of human entry/exit). It can be associated with a single person (the dog panics every time that person leaves) or only when no one is home (the dog can be left with a human ‘sitter’ with no symptoms).

Boredom occurs when a dog is under-enriched. Maybe they are not receiving enough exercise, they are not using their brain enough, they have too much freedom in the house and therefore they choose their enrichment by exploring the garbage can, the laundry hamper, the kitchen counter….

How do you know for sure?

The best way to know what your dog is doing while being left alone is to videotape them. You can either setup a Go Pro type recorder, or angle your laptop so the webcam captures the main area they are left in and review the recording upon your return.

If your dog begins whining/howling/pacing as soon as you leave the house and the behaviour escalates over the course of the recording, you could have a dog with separation anxiety.

Instead, if your recording captured a calm dog exploring the garbage can with a wagging tail, you probably have a bored Fido.

What next?

Separation Anxiety will require the assistance of a certified dog trainer to help you get your dog more comfortable and confident with being left alone. You can begin by reading the book “I’ll Be Home Soon” by Dr Patricia McConnell for more information on the issue. There’s also Malena DeMartini-Price’s book “Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs” for an in depth look at the issue.

Boredom can be helped by looking at your dog’s daily routine and seeing where they can get more enrichment. Here are some quick ways to enrich your dog’s days:

  • Change up your walking routine – go to a new park or new neighbourhood for them to sniff and explore. It doesn’t have to be fancy or far away, anywhere new is a new adventure for your dog!
  • Feed your dog from a food dispensing toy – it allows your dog to use their brain and get a food reward for it. 
  • Structure times for training – pick a new trick to teach your dog and spend a few minutes every day working on it. You don’t need to dedicate huge sections of time to training, keep it short & sweet so it’s enjoyable for both of you. Kikopup has some great video tutorials for lots of tricks.
  • Interactive play – don’t forget that dogs like to play with YOU. Games like fetch or tug (if your space is limited) can go a long way in tiring a dog out and having fun together at the same time.

Trick fun!

Sandy loves learning tricks, she especially loves doing things with her paws

What dog trainers do when they find basketballs on the road.

A post shared by Katie Hood (@katiethehood) on

So I figured we’d work on the trick lots of trainers do – walk through my legs & target paws to my feet.

To my surprise, she struggled with this, specifically using both paws at the same time. I conferred with my excellent trick-training friends: Julie of Cat School and Lauren of Lauren’s Leash for some ideas.

(Here’s a photo of Lauren doing this trick with her dog Grayson when I visited them in NYC!)

Through discussion with them, I got Sandy targeting two yogurt lids side by side, then moved them to between my legs. Eventually I will get them further and further apart, but not until it’s clear she is targeting them simultaneously. The video below is our latest progress. She’s also added in a superstitious behaviour – can you see it in the video below?