Have an active dog that could run all day, but you can’t? Or maybe you are just trying to get through winter or a healing period for yourself or your dog. Regardless, a great way to increase environmental enrichment for a bored dog is to stop feeding your dog from a bowl.
Over the years, I have tried several puzzle/interactive food dispensing toys with both of my dogs and have found a few favorites.
*This post does contain affiliate links. I am an Amazon affiliate and may earn from qualifying purchases. I am also an affiliate for West Paws. Any earnings from these affiliate sales go back into supporting this blog. And I truly do love the products I have listed in this post.
1. West Paws Toppl
My current absolute favorite food dispensing toy for both dogs is West Paws’ Toppl. The Toppl has replaced both rawhides (one of my dogs started trying to swallow them whole after having a couple of teeth extracted) and Kong-type toys (which are so hard for me to clean out well) in my household.
The Toppl is made with zero-waste and recyclable Zogoflex material that is non-toxic (BPA free, Latex Free, and FDA compliant) and dishwasher safe.
The soft rubber-like Zogoflex material is also safe on the dogs’ teeth. This is a big priority for me after Glia (my 40-pound black lab mix) broke two teeth chewing on off-brand nylabone-style chew toys in the past. And despite being soft and gentle on teeth, the material is still durable. Neither of my dogs has managed to chew off any small pieces yet. I would still use caution with heavy-chewing dogs though. So use at your own risk and only give the Toppl to your dog under supervision.
The Toppl comes in 3 sizes: small, large, and extra large. If you purchase 2 different sizes, you can interlock them to slow down the dispensing of kibble or other dry foods. The small will nest in the large, and the large will nest in the extra large.
Personally, I think the Toppls dispense dry kibble too fast even when interlocked, and I would recommend a treat ball option (like the Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball listed below) instead for dry kibble. But where the Toppl really shines is as a place to stuff wet and fresh foods. The Toppl is shaped with a round bottom, an open center cavity, and soft, rounded inner “teeth” to hold treats in the contoured cavity.
As part of a balanced diet, I will stuff canned dog food into the Toppls to slow the dogs down and have them take their time licking the soft food out of the Toppl. The canned food option is great for dogs on prescription diets, as you can provide a tasty treat toy while still keeping them on their prescription food.
For nights when I want dinner to take even longer, I will freeze the dog food in the Toppl. And for a bit of variety, I will often stuff some tasty treats, like carrots, into the wet food before freezing.
If you are looking for some really creative Toppl stuffing ideas, check out Tori Mistik’s Instagram account.
Oh, and did I mention that this toy also floats? Yep, you can use these toys around water without worrying about them sinking to the bottom of the lake.
And even better, all of the Zogoflex dog toys are infinitely recyclable. You can send worn-out toys back to West Paw. They will sanitize them, grind them up, and then turn them into more things dogs love!
Additionally, West Paw guarantees every product they manufacture at their location in Montana (aka all of them). If you don’t love your West Paw product, the Love It Guarantee allows you a one-time refund or replacement per toy design.
Really, what’s not to love about West Paw and their fantastic Toppl?!
Full disclosure, I bought my original Toppl (size small) from Amazon in 2020. I subsequently asked for another Toppl for Christmas and received a size large. I loved them and used them regularly, so decided to sign up to be an affiliate with West Paws. I received a few products, including an extra large Toppl, from the company this fall as part of their affiliate program. But I loved the Toppl long before receiving any product from West Paws.
Interested in purchasing a Toppl for your pup? You can purchase them straight from West Paws, although they are also available on Amazon. If you purchase directly from West Paws, don’t forget to use the code WESTPAW10 for 10% off your order!
2. Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball
The Omega Tricky Treat Ball is my current favorite kibble/dry treat dispensing ball. Unlike the Toppl, which both dogs tend to lay down to lick, the Omega Tricky Treat Ball keeps them up and moving. We have several treat balls, but this one is my favorite for a few reasons.
- The ball is a softer plastic. This means that when it is batted around the house, it isn’t as loud and doesn’t hit wood furniture as hard.
- The ball is easy for the dogs to pick up. The textured surface makes for easy gripping and the dogs can easily pick the ball up and bring it back to me if I ask them to.
- The treats don’t fall out too fast. This ball actually takes a bit of time to get all of the treats out, so play is extended compared to our other balls with bigger or more holes.
Unfortunately, this ball isn’t labeled as dishwasher safe nor does it have the recyclability factor of the West Paws products. But this ball is durable and has been a staple in our house since we purchased it in 2018.
While the Tricky Treat ball doesn’t come with a Love It Guarantee, you can get free returns if you purchase through Amazon.
*The balls pictured above are an older version with a honeycomb pattern. But we also have a newer Tricky Treat Ball with the round craters that Glia loves just as much.
3. Lick Mats and Slow Feeder Bowls
Another fun way to feed your dog is with a lick mat or slow feeder bowl. Both of these options slow your dog down and make mealtime last a little longer.
As of mid-2022, I have switched out my standard dog bowls for slow feeder bowls. My little dog, Sasha, is still pretty quick, but at least it takes a little more effort.
We use lick mats as a special treat with canned food, peanut butter, or mashed dog-safe fruit (like bananas) smeared across the lick mats. Similar to the Toppl, if you want a lick mat to last longer, freeze it before giving it to your dog.
But if you want to use the lick mat as a distraction while trimming nails, brushing, or performing other care, make sure the reward is easy enough to lick up so your dog doesn’t decide that it isn’t worth the effort.
The lick mats I have at home, I received as part of a giveaway. But you can find several brands on Amazon and most are dishwasher safe. The MateeyLife Licking Mat is a bestseller on Amazon.
4. Budget-Friendly Games
And for those of you who aren’t looking to purchase any new toys for your pup right now, don’t forget that there are several ways to make mealtime more fun without purchasing anything new.
Play a Game of Hide and Seek
Whether you hide yourself with some food or just sprinkle your dog’s kibble around the house, having your dog go searching is a great way to provide some interaction and mental stimulation around mealtime. If you break the food up into smaller meals, you can have your dog searching multiple times a day.
Use Old Boxes and Egg Crates
Take advantage of boxes shipped to your house by hiding treats/food inside of them. Many dogs like to shred the cardboard to get to food in a box.
If you don’t want your dog to learn how to shred boxes, then place the treats underneath open boxes so that your dog has to tip the boxes over or slide them off in order to get to the food underneath.
Drill Holes in Old Cottage Cheese ,Yogurt, or Milk Containers*
You can make budget-friendly treat dispensers by drilling holes in old cottage cheese or yogurt containers and letting your dog nose them around until treats come out.
Alternatively, you can place food in a milk jug and leave the cap off. Then your dog will have to pick up and shake the milk jug to get the food out.
*Make sure to thoroughly clean and dry any food products before using them as treat dispensing toys for your dogs. Also, only use under supervision and know your dog. Don’t give your dog any material that is a risk for ingestion and foreign bodies.
Or maybe it should be happy treating and eating today!