Toys for smart dogs and clever cats | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Toys for smart dogs and clever cats

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

It’s scientifically proven that pets require mental stimulation to stay healthy, just like people do. Given that and the growing need to address backyard boredom, pets home alone and pet obesity, a variety of brain teaser toys and interactive games has evolved. Young or old, canine, feline, avian, equine and other pets all benefit from thinking out solutions to get rewards. Some of the challenge toys may help with destructive “separation anxiety” behavior. Food as a game can become more appealing to the underweight, require more energy to get for the overweight and slow down the meal gulpers.

One of the most innovative and popular lines of smart pet toys comes from Scandinavia. Nina Ottosson, an active canine trainer and competitor, realized she was not spending enough time with her dogs after her children were born. She designed a range of durable interactive games to stimulate a dog’s brain while reinforcing a relationship with people. Each toy has a unique mechanism that requires mental as well as physical dexterity to work through to reveal hidden food rewards. The toys can be set to differing levels of complexity. Ottosson believes “It would significantly reduce the number of ‘problem dogs’ if everyone understood how important it is for the dog to use both its head as well as its legs. My philosophy is that the dog has four legs and one head, and all five need activity in different ways – dogs need a mix of physical and mental activity.” 

Almost all the Ottosson games can be used by dogs of all sizes and also by cats, parrots, rabbits, ferrets, mini pigs, monkeys, lemurs, iguanas, wildcats and other animals. They require problem-solving in different ways, to lift blocks, turn discs, push blocks, put blocks inside something, pull them out of something. While the games are being used, the pet and the owner have more contact with each other and strengthen their relationship. At the same time, there is positive learning opportunity for obedience commands like “sit,” “lie down,” “stay” and “wait.”

The games have proven good for stimulation of injured and senior dogs. Older dogs unable to go for walks due to worn-out hips and joints can stay alert by playing games. Ottosson explains, “When my dogs have been injured, I have placed the games on a chair or in my lap, so they have to work with the nose and not with their injured paw. It can be very challenging to keep an injured dog still for several weeks, but the games are a great activity that lets the dog get an outlet for all its energy.”

Other brands of smart toys are available on the internet and in pet stores. Minnesota based “Dog Prodigy” states that the company goal is to make life livable and enjoyable for owners of highly active and intelligent dogs as well as cats by providing information and products that can help reduce boredom and excess energy. Smart toys include the IQ Treat Ball, a treat-dispensing toy; the Tough Turtle, which holds three smaller turtles; and the Linkables toy, set for mix-and-match of parts to create an ever-changing challenge combination. Canine Genius toys also connect together to create a variety of puzzles that stimulate curiosity and appeal to natural desires to hunt and problem solve. Kyjen smart toys include Hide a Squirrel Extreme, the Ball in Ball, the Moon Rover Rescue, the Tennis Slider, The Mystery Tree and The Cagey Cube.

Homemade or store-bought, the most significant feature of any toy or game is to bring pet and guardian together for mutual fun and love.

– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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