Loving your dog means taking care of their needs even when you’re not around, and choosing the correct toys to keep them occupied during long work days or nights out socializing can do a world of good for their furry little brains. So which playthings will keep them engaged and entertained during your absence?
We contacted some experts in just what that could mean, and the overwhelming consensus boiled down to providing toys with a purpose whether it be finding the hidden treat inside for food-motivated four-leggers, solving simple puzzles to keep your dog cognitively engaged, and focusing in specific breeds’ individual needs to determine which activity or toy will be most effective.
Dr Gerardo Perez-Camargo DVM is the VP of Research and Development at Freshpet and has a degree in Veterinary Medicine from Spain as well as a PhD in Applied Biochemistry and Food Science from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, and he took the time to break down this concept to us a bit further:
“We are all different as people, and pets are all different as well. What you have to keep in mind is that we have different breeds that have been selected and bred for different purposes.”
There’s more on his individual picks later on down this list, so keep reading to find Fido-friendly playthings from him and plenty of other experts below.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
They’re tough, they float, and they just keep bouncing and bouncing; these chew-proof balls are perfect for the tireless pup who wants to play fetch 'til your arms fall off.
Designed specifically for fetch, the Chuckit! balls have an extra thick rubber core and are designed in high-visibility colors to prevent you from losing them. Multiple sizes allow you to choose the best for your dog’s mouth shape and a launcher, should you use one for games at the park.
This treat-stuffed goody was suggested by Andrea Arden whose career as a pet expert and dog trainer spans 30 years and includes features on Animal Planet, Today, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and more. She created a toy of her own for puppies called the comfort bone, which is specifically geared toward smaller dogs that can be filled with soft food and even frozen if you wish to encourage playful activity that’s both healthy for the mind and gum/teeth health. Reviews show breeds across the board enjoy it, too, from a five pound Yorkie to Beagle-Bullie mix counted among impressed buyers.
Bully Buddy ranks high on the list of toys useful for keeping a tight grip on the delicious treats while also providing dogs a perfect resting spot on either side so they can hold the sticks steady while chomping away.
Recommended by Jackie Murphy aka The Pet Lady with Bow Wow Labs, the Buddy’s long list of benefits include “screw twist technology keeps bully sticks secure,” as Jackie mentions, continuing, “dogs can really appreciate this feature as opposed to working their paws to keep a loose bully stick in place. It's a light-weight device and is BPA free and dishwasher safe. Bully Buddies are available in five sizes.” The starter kit seen here includes everything in the photo, including the toy, six sticks, and an airtight jar to keep them fresh and tasty for your discerning little chewer.
Yes, that is a kitten you see in the picture. However, veterinarian and Vice President of R&D at Freshpet Dr. Perez-Camargo made a strong argument for the laser pointer being a duel cat and dog toy by specifying the type of breeds that will get feisty for this simple handheld trickster.
“Some breeds are much more eye-oriented,” he explains. “You have setters, you have pointers–these breed are considered sight hounds. They have been bred to look for things that move–to find birds [when hunting], to point you out that ‘Hey, that’s where those things you’re looking for are!’” He suggests not only keeping them trained on the laser pointer for fun, but also leading them to windows or safe balconies where they can “see things happening outside” to stay happy.
This one might seem like a joke, but the good doctor insists this is the perfect way to keep small breeds like terriers and daschunds busy. “You can take a cardboard box and hide a toy or a treat in there so they have to work their way into the box… You can put one or two boxes inside the other and hide the toy in the central box, and the dog is going to smell it and want to go get it.”
You may want to have backups on hand as well, because cardboard has a tendency to fall apart and that’s totally okay as far as Dr. Perez-Camargo is concerned, and like humans, dogs are capable of knowing the value of hard work and how it pays off. “Let the dog destroy the boxes sometimes,” he tells us. “Sometimes destroying is good fun, and you get to let them work for things. The fact that you work for something makes you enjoy it more rather than if you just get it firsthand. It gives an extra value to what you are trying to get to.” So grab any other toy on this list or you pooch’s favorite treat and have fun hiding!
This toy suggestion comes to us from Brooklyn-based dog toy company and customizable subscription service BarkBox. “Toys that hide treats or hold chews are a time-consuming activity to keep your pup occupied while you sit on your hour-long conference call in peace and quiet.”
The Pup’s Treat Pinecone is the perfect treat-hiding toy for more active and medium to large dogs (two sizes are available) who love an end game when it comes to solo play. A treat compartment on the bottom side of the toy gives the perfect hiding spot for bones or other nibbles, and the unusual shape gives an erratic bounce that promises to keep your fuzzy buddy chasing it around for hours.
Here's another Super Chewer from Bark that imitates a dog's natural favorite toy (the stick), now safer and less likely to shed bark all over your couch! Want even more reason to grab this one? Consider that it is also bacon scented, plus you can choose different sizes of the toy to fit your dog's mouth size.
This toy promises to “engage your dog's natural curiosity and instinct to play” with a variety of goofy sounds that mimic human laughter without the need for batteries thanks to a series of tubes inside. There are several places where the dog can grip the ball as well, making it easy for larger breeds to pick it up and carry it around with them. Durable and pet-safe phthalate-free vinyl can withstand quite the chewing from standard breeds of all sizes, but supervision is best if your furry friend is a particularly strong-jawed breed.
These are so cute you’ll want to play with them yourself!
The ZippPaws Burrow Log comes with three chipmunks that nestle nicely inside and are just waiting for your dog to dig them out and toss them around. Perfect for small to medium dogs, it’s a great way to keep them occupied when you’re busy working or away from the home, and the squeakers inside give your pooch even more incentive to keep playing until they’re all tuckered out.
Another serious cutie on this list is the Tuffy Ocean Creature Octopus, whose sturdy tentacles and goofy smile will put a smile on your face as your pup throws him around joyfully.
“My bulldog has always felt like the purpose of a toy is to rip it apart,” one happy buyer reports. “We’ve looked for years to find a toy tough enough for her. This is quite large (not heavy) but it’s a great size for her and our Lab pup to play with together. This toy gets hours of play everyday! I’d recommend this toy to mega chewers and dogs who like to play with toys together.”