19 Dog Toys That Will Help Your Energetic, Reactive or Fearful Dog
Updated With New 2023 Toy Ideas!
Mentally stimulating dog toys, sometimes called enrichment toys or interactive dog toys, are growing in popularity as a helpful tool for a number of dog issues.
The primary reason is that dog owners are seeing more and more evidence that they help their dog achieve a calmer state of mind. On top of that, their dogs absolutely LOVE them!
Mentally stimulating dog toys can also avoid scenarios such as this:
What’s So Great About Mentally Stimulating Dog Toys?
Fearful dogs, reactive dogs, and energetic dogs all benefit from what I call “mental exercise.” Mental exercise is when you keep a dog’s brain occupied and help to “tire” the brain out.
One popular form of mental exercise is known as a decompression walk. On a decompression walk the dog gets to sniff and explore. Sniffing is a great activity that tires their brain out and makes the dog much calmer.
But there are days when you might not have time for the long decompression walks that your dog needs. Or perhaps you need to keep your dog busy while you get some work done, or it’s subzero out (like it is today in Minnesota) and a long walk isn’t gonna happen.
Enrichment toys are the perfect solution. Combined with a solid training plan, they are an integral tool for helping your dog achieve a more balanced state of mind.
In this article, I’ll show you different types of mentally stimulating dog toys and some of my favorites in each category.
As you look through the toys, some will seem more appealing than others, and I always tell people to go with your gut to decide which toys your dog will like.
Even if a toy has stellar reviews, if you don’t think it would appeal to your dog, you’re probably right. Remember, you know best what toys your dog will like. I’ve spent too much money on toys with 5 star reviews thinking “it seems like mine wouldn’t like it but with so many 5 star reviews maybe he will!”
Nope. Should’ve listened to my gut; my dog had no interest.
Fun and Engaging Mentally Stimulating Dog Toys
Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them! By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com.
Stuffed Squeaky Toys for Dogs
This category is for non-destructo dogs who can actually enjoy a squeaky toy without immediately performing a dissection to extract the squeaker.
This is another new discovery! The pod makes a crinkle sound and the peas have squeakers in them. This one is a little easier than some of the others so might be a good mentally stimulating toy for beginners.
Hide a few pieces of food under the peas to get your dog started!
The Hide a Squirrel toy is a favorite in my household. One of my dogs would actually bring me the empty toy when it needed the animals stuffed back in!
This interactive toy is a cute variation with little sheep for your dog to find and pull out.
I couldn’t resist including the monkey version, the thought of yelling “go find your monkey toy!” or “where’s the banana?” is amusing all by itself.
I just discovered this toy and it’s a genius idea – the toy stuffs into itself and the dog pulls it right side out. The big questions is, will that prevent the dog from destroying it if they are a toy shredder? I’m buying one to find out, I will update this once I test it with my stuffed toy shredder (i.e. Tico the border collie).
DIY Enrichment toys
If you are on a budget, you might want to make your own mentally stimulating dog toys. This article about DIY dog enrichment activities has a long list of DIY ideas to keep your dog mentally stimulated!
Food Dispensing & Treat Toys
This category is for actually feeding your dog his dinner. It makes mealtime a challenge for your dog, providing mentally stimulation as the dog keeps working to get all the food out.
It also slows down how fast they eat, which some dogs need.
Bonus feature: food dispensing toys aren’t just mental stimulation for your dog, they buy you time to work on making dinner for the humans in your house – score!
This toy gets rave reviews, it’s on my dog toy wish list to try soon!
This toy is GENIUS! It comes with a starter pack of “pupsicles” for you to use, but it also has a tray if you want to make your own. I also love it because the pops have limited ingredients and aren’t full of preservatives or unhealthy additivies.
They even offer calming pops with natural calmers like Passion Flower, Thiamine (Vitamin B1), Tryptophan, Dried Hops, and Magnesium.
Update: My daughter bought one of these for her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and LOVES it! She said her dog loves it, she has used the toy with the Pupsicle Pops that come with it and has made her own as well. Two important point she me:ntioned:
- After using the toy, she said she would not leave her dog alone with it (i.e. if your dog is a chewer) – her dog started gnawing at the toy and was able to gnaw some of the plastic off.
- She made her own frozen balls out of canned pumpkin and yogurt using the tray, said it worked great, but that the ones that come in the Pupsicle Pop bag last a lot longer, so just something to be aware of. She plans to use the bagged ones when she needs them to last longer.
Put your dog’s dinner in this fun toy and let them roll the ball around to get out a few pieces at a time. Not only does this engage the dog’s brain and keep them entertained, but it slows down how fast they eat which can reduce the risk of bloat.
I have one of these and use it with every foster that comes into my house. It slows down their eating rate, makes dinnertime fun, and the mental stimulation calms them down. Simply pour the dog’s dinner into the toy and set it down. The dog bops the toy around and as it rocks pieces of kibble fall out.
This is a great toy for putting peanut butter or dog toothpast in, it takes a while for your dog to lick it all out by turning the rubber rings.
The Kong Gyro is a clever little toy. You can use it for their dinner or just put treats in it.
The dog moves it around the room, chasing it and pouncing on random pieces of kibble that fall out.
The snuffle mat may possibly be the best thing since sliced bread.
You bury dog treats or kibble deep down in the mat, and your dog has to sniff each one out and eat it.
Not only does this keep your dog busy, but the sniffing actually helps calm the dog down.
My daughter’s agility trainer has seen fabulous results using this mat in places like agility trials and pet training classes for dogs that get too amped up by the surrounding stimulation.
I’ve also used it for my foster dogs for multiple reasons. First, it buys me time when I need to get something done; it takes them awhile to eat their dinner out of this.
Second, it slows down their eating rate. If I foster an underweight dog, they tend to inhale their food. The snuffle mat slows them down, reducing the risk of bloat and making them less frantic about eating in general.
This is another toy I just discovered. The duck has squeakers so that the dog can carry it around and squeak it even when it’s empty. I also like that you can hide food in the wings as well, so multiple places for the dog to sniff and track down food.
The Kong Wobbler is like a miniature Bob-a-Lot. You can use it for their dinner or just put treats in it.
The dog moves it around the room, chasing it and pouncing on random pieces of kibble that fall out.
It comes in 2 sizes so make sure you order the one that will be best for your dog.
NOTE: Be Sure To Use a Variety of Food Dispensing Toys
If you use mentally stimulating dog toys for every meal, you want to have a variety to use so your dog doesn’t get bored. You’ll find a great selection of ideas in this article featuring dog food dispensing puzzle toys
Chewing (Rubber) Toys
This category has huge happiness potential for destructo-chewer dogs.
This special class of dog owners single-handedly supports the dog toy industry for the rest of us by buying multitudes of toys (thinking, THIS one will last, I’m sure of it!) only to find said new toy in pieces within minutes of arrival.
My daughter got this to entertain her dog when she has to study for a long time.
You can fill it with treats, peanut butter, or even a bully stick! Her dog loves it, and reviewers say it is amazing. Available in 2 sizes.
Important:: make sure your peanut butter doesn’t contain xylitol – it is poisonous and could kill your dog! Natural peanut butter with no added ingredients or sugars is best – look for products with only peanuts and salt on the ingredients list)
This is similar to the standard Kong toy, but has a clever, more chewable shape.
Fill it with treats or some paste-like mixture (peanut butter, or our favorite – canned sweet potato and canned salmon mixed together to make a dog delicacy). Freeze it for even longer lasting stimulation for your dog. Available in 2 sizes.
Puzzle Toys For Dogs
This one is somewhat self-explanatory, but for those of you new to puzzle toys the gist is that you hide treats or kibble in and under things and your dog has to figure out what needs to be done to get to the treat.
They may have to lift something, slide something, or do some other maneuver for the treat to be exposed. The trial and error they use to figure it out is great mental stimulation.
This was my border collie’s first puzzle toy. It was actually really cool just sitting and watching him figure out what to do. He would try things or paw at the toy, and if it didn’t work, he would pause then try a new approach until, finally, success!
This puzzle toy is a great one to start with, there are two basic movements the dog has to learn to get to the food.
This advanced puzzle toy made by Outward Hound would make a great challenge for a dog that gets bored with the “standard” food dispensing toys.
Electronic Mentally Stimulating Dog toys
If you are not on a strict budget, these electronic dog toys are unbelievably cool! I have used the PupPod and my dog LOVED it.
The PupPod (click link for my product review) not only automatically dispenses treats when your dog does certain things, but it increases the difficulty as the dog gets smarter to keep the dog thinking and problem solving – how cool is THAT?
The ifetch Interactive Fetch-N-Treat Pet Ball Play Toy Game keeps your dog both mentally and physically entertained by throwing the ball for eternity.
Those of us with ball obsessed dogs appreciate the beauty of this; these dogs always want to play fetch. (Note: comes in 2 sizes which throw a small or normal sized tennis ball)
Are Mentally Stimulating Dog Toys Worth it?
Don’t underestimate the power of mental stimulation for your dogs.
More and more trainers are realizing the importance of this tool, and are encouraging clients to invest in mentally stimulating dog toys like those mentioned in this blog.
Trainers are also encouraging owners to give dogs time on their walks to sniff and mentally engage in the environment. Decompression walks for dogs pay off in calmer behavior and a greater ability to focus on training and counterconditioning.
Remember to switch up what interactive toys you use so your dog doesn’t get bored; if you rotate them the excitement and engagement will be much higher.
Still not sure if an interactive dog toy is worth the expense? Read more endorsements of this kind of toy by England’s nationally known dog trainer Victoria Stilwell and in the highly respected Whole Dog Journal.
What toys have you found that entertain your dog? Post them in the comments section with a link if possible so we can all benefit from each other’s discoveries!
Want to save this article for future reference? Save this pin to your dog toys board: