Puzzles & Interactive Toys
Dogs of all ages can benefit from mental stimulation, exercise and more by playing with puzzle or interactive toys.
Everyone likes a challenge—including your dog.
There’s nothing quite like cracking a code or piecing a puzzle together. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment, but it can boost a person’s (or pet’s) confidence. For a dog, having a challenge in front of them keeps things interesting, especially for pets that may otherwise have little else to focus on during the day.
“It’s important for pet owners to remember that dogs can (and do) get bored, and providing them mental stimulation through puzzle toys helps to fulfill an essential part of their lives,” says Emily Benson, marketing director of Hutto, Texas-based Starmark Pet Products.
Dogs need love, time and attention—something that busy owners can’t always provide. With packed schedules and less time to play with dogs, having a puzzle toy can help fill the void for pets that struggle with boredom.
When owners have time, playing with interactive toys with their pets can enhance their bond. Fetch, a classic game for pets and owners to bond over, is one example of how a toy can be used to strengthen the owner-pet connection.
“Pet parents want toys that bring happiness to their pets,” says Leslie Yellin, executive vice president of Moonachie, N.J.-based Multipet International. “By interacting with their dogs through play, they get to reap the benefits of sharing in their pet’s joy.”
In addition, interactive toys encourage dogs to exercise.
“Another great feature with interactive toys is that they get dogs moving, and with the increase in pet obesity, movement is key to staying in shape,” says Yellin.
As the humanization of pets continues, additional studies have shown that owners view pets as members of the family and want to ensure that they have the best life possible. For pets to have a happy, well-rounded life, being engaged and mentally stimulated is a huge piece of the puzzle.
“These days, dog parents are more conscious about their pets’ needs,” says Lisa Hisamune, director of sales at San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You). “They understand that dogs need to be active and entertained to keep them happy. Our customers were looking for a toy that would keep their pup entertained and stimulate their senses of sight, sound, smell and touch.”
P.L.A.Y. offers the Wobble 2.0, an interactive treat and puzzle toy. Treats can be put inside the toy, which rolls around and has cloud-shaped holes in different sizes. Dogs can roll the Wobble 2.0 back and forth until they discover how to get the treat to fall out.
The interest in finding calming products for pets, including ones with CBD, has soared in the last few years. With so many treats, chews and other food options available to help pets relieve stress from the inside out, interactive and puzzle toys can assist with stress in their own way.
As an alternative to supplements, pets can redirect stress by shifting their focus to puzzle or interactive toys that engage their interest and peak curiosity.
“An interactive toy or puzzle will help keep a dog busy and keep them from thinking about what causes anxiety,” says Mark Pasco, vice president of sales at Mammoth Pet Products. For over 25 years, the Mammoth Lakes, Calif. -based company has created interactive toys to help dogs get the full health benefits of playtime.
A dog’s anxiety can manifest itself in a number of ways, but having a toy to maintain a dog’s focus can keep them away from developing problematic habits.
“For anxious dogs, puzzle games provide a necessary, positive outlet for their anxious behavior,” says Denny Hamill, CEO and owner at iFetch. “They can focus on solving a puzzle instead of channeling their anxiety in an undesirable way, like destroying toys or furniture or acting out aggressively.”
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, the company offers the iFetch and iFetch Too ball launchers, along with the iFetch Frenzy for smaller dogs and its latest toy, the iDig. The iDig provides dogs with an outlet for their natural desire to dig. The “scent-oriented” puzzle toy has flaps that can hide treats and toys that dogs can reach by digging.
“Some puzzle toys are great to use with anxious dogs because it will distract them, especially if they are treat motivated,” says Hisamune.
Pets may experience separation anxiety, and are instead motivated by a comforting presence. Just as humans like having stuffed animals or their own pets to cuddle with, dogs can relax alongside a plush toy.
Multipet’s Aromadog line of toys can help pets struggling with anxiety induced by being left alone, traveling or going to the vet. Every time the toy squeaks, an essential oil scent, such as lavender, is released, thus helping a dog calm down during a moment of anxiety.
“[Interactive or puzzle toys can] provide a distraction and point of focus for anxious dogs to help them relax with an activity they enjoy,” says Benson.
Energize the Elderly
Keeping the mind busy and alert by thinking, problem solving and reacting are ways to keep dogs engaged as they become seniors.
“When a dog is getting older, it’s important to help them maintain their mental capacity as well as their physical health,” says Hamill.
Hisamune adds that, “just like humans, dogs need to keep their minds and bodies active to keep sharp in their old age.”
Since elderly dogs naturally lose capability as they age, having a puzzle toy available encourages dogs to move and doesn’t require as much physical demand as running or walking.
“Elderly dogs benefit from puzzle toys as they are a mental and physical outlet when mobility is restricted,” said Benson.
“Puzzle games allow for short, focused play sessions that encourage older dogs to use their brains and stay sharp without having to overexert their bodies physically,” says Hamill.
The numerous benefits of having puzzles and interactive toys can easily be conveyed to customers, especially when retailers are prepped with the right information.
“I would recommend that retailers call out the interactive benefits of these toys and focus on teaching safe interactive play with the dog and owner,” says Pasco. In regards to safe interactive play, Pasco highlights that interactive play needs to be supervised and toys should not be eaten.
“Displaying and demoing interactive toys prominently in the store is a great way to sell these products—especially around the holidays or cold winter months when outdoor activity is limited,” says Hamill.
One thing to keep in mind is that no pet is the same. Some pets may be more drawn to toys based on fetch, while others may be more interested in pull-and-tugs or a scent-based product. To understand what a customer is looking for, ask about the kind of behavior pets are experiencing at home and if they’re looking for a solution.
“We recommend retailers stock puzzle toys that function in several different ways to accommodate the various play styles of dogs,” says Benson.
“For puzzle and interactive toys, it is always good to have a sample out that the dogs can test,” says Hisamune. “Every dog is different, so you need to find what works for them.”
Providing a visual of the product in action can help drive home the benefits and functions to customers. P.L.A.Y. created a video that shows their Wobble Ball 2.0 to show customers how it functions. Hisamune mentions that at trade shows, customers can easily be drawn in by a products’ design, but may not be able to visualize how it works on their own.
“Having the video to show them all the features and watch dogs actually playing with it help the customer to make the decision to buy it,” explains Hisamune. “These videos also help when a retailer is short staffed and cannot have someone on the floor always nearby to educate the customer.”
At the end of the day, at any stage of life stage, a puzzle or interactive toy can benefit a dog’s body and mind.
“Educating customers on the benefits of these kinds of toys is so important,” says Hamill. “Interactive toys are great training aids for puppies, great products to keep older dogs active and positive outlets for anxious or destructive behavior.” PB