Tips & Tricks

How to Avoid Common Enrichment Toy Mistakes

close up beautiful dachshund dog with chewing toy

We all want our furry best friends to have the best life possible, right? And a big part of that is keeping them happy and stimulated. Toys are a great way to do this, but just giving them a pile of squeaky things and hoping for the best isn’t always enough.

To truly enrich their lives, we need to pick the right toys and show them how to use them. So, in this blog post, we’ll explore some common enrichment toy mistakes and how to avoid them.

RELATED: Dog Enrichment 101: Benefits, Games & Toys

1. Setting Clear Goals

Before we even start shopping for toys, it’s essential to have a clear goal in mind. What do we want our pets to gain from these toys? Are we looking to provide mental stimulation, physical exercise, or a way for them to channel their natural behaviors in a safe and appropriate manner?

For example, if your dog seems obsessed with digging in the yard, a digging box or snuffle mat could be a lifesaver! These give them a place to dig and sniff to their heart’s content without destroying your garden.

cute mixed breed dog playing with washable snuffle rug hiding dried treats nose work intelle

On the other hand, if your playful kitty needs a burst of energy, a feathery wand toy or a towering cat jungle gym might be the perfect fit.

Here’s the thing: without a plan, you might end up with toys that just gather dust. So, spend a little time watching your pet and see what they crave. Then, you can pick out toys that keep them happy and engaged!

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2. Teaching Toy Interaction

One of the most common mistakes pet parents make is assuming that their pets will instinctively know how to use the toys they’ve been given. This is not always the case, especially for pets that have had limited exposure to toys or those that have been rescued from less-than-ideal environments.

Just because we know that a flirt pole, a ball, or a rope toy is meant for play doesn’t mean our pets will immediately recognize them as such. We need to teach them how to interact with these toys in a way that is both safe and enjoyable for them.

dog park nature with owner

For example, if you want to introduce your dog to a new puzzle toy, start by letting them sniff and investigate the toy while it’s stationary. Then, fill the puzzle toy with some of their favorite yummy snacks. Begin with easy-to-access treats at first, like kibble or small pieces of broken-up treats. This initial success will give them a sense of accomplishment and build their confidence in tackling the toy.

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If your pet seems a bit confused about the whole puzzle situation, don’t hesitate to gently nudge the toy or show them how a treat might fall out. You can even tap or roll it around a bit to pique their interest and get those problem-solving gears turning.

Remember, every pet is different, and some may require more patience and guidance than others. Don’t be afraid to break the process down into smaller steps and use positive reinforcement to encourage the desired behavior.

view adorable chihuahua dog getting some treats home

3. Respecting Play Preferences

As humans, we often have preconceived notions about how our pets should play with their toys. We might expect our dogs to fetch a ball or our cats to bat around a catnip-filled mouse. However, it’s important to remember that our pets have their own unique personalities and preferences.

border collie dog training with owner

If your dog seems more interested in digging at a ball than fetching it, or your cat prefers to shred a cardboard box over playing with a store-bought toy, that’s perfectly fine! The key is to observe their natural tendencies and provide them with toys that cater to their preferred play styles.

RELATED: 8 Signs Your Dog Needs More Mental Stimulation & Enrichment

4. Appropriate Difficulty Levels

Another common mistake is introducing toys that are too advanced or complex for our pets’ current skill levels. Just like humans, pets need to start with simpler toys and gradually work their way up to more challenging ones.

For example, if you’re trying to introduce your dog to a mind toy for the first time, it might be best to start with a basic design that only requires them to roll, slide, or lift a few pieces. Once they’ve mastered that, you can move on to more intricate puzzles that require them to use their paws and snouts in different ways.

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Starting with toys that are too challenging can result in frustration and a loss of interest, which can ultimately defeat the purpose of providing enrichment. Always be mindful of your pet’s current abilities and adjust the difficulty level accordingly.

5. Destructive Play: A Different Perspective

One of the most common complaints among pet owners is that their pets tend to destroy their toys. While this can be frustrating, it’s important to understand that this behavior is often a natural and healthy way for pets to play and explore.

cute dog playing with toilet paper high angle

Instead of scolding your pet for destroying a toy, try to reframe your perspective. For many pets, the process of tearing apart a toy is just as enjoyable, if not more so, than playing with it intact. This behavior can provide mental and physical stimulation, as well as a sense of accomplishment for your pet.

If you’re concerned about the cost of constantly replacing toys, consider providing your pet with safe, affordable alternatives like cardboard boxes, paper bags, or even old t-shirts that they can safely tear apart.

full shot women dog inside

6. Offering a Variety

Finally, it’s important to provide our pets with various toys that cater to different play styles and behaviors. Just like humans, pets can get bored with the same toys over time, and offering them a rotating selection can help keep their minds and bodies engaged.

loobani pet dog puzzle toys collection

Consider incorporating toys that encourage different types of play, such as:

– Interactive toys that require your involvement (e.g., frisbee toys, tug-of-war ropes, or even lick mats for a tasty and mentally stimulating challenge.)

– Puzzle feeders or snuffle mats. These mimic natural foraging behavior, keeping them occupied and mentally stimulated as they work to unearth hidden treats.

– Chew toys for dental health and stress management

– Toys that promote physical activity (e.g., cat towers, tunnels, agility obstacles)

welsh corgi dog performing show competition

Final Words

Remember, enrichment is an ongoing process, and it’s essential to remain patient, observant, and adaptable. With time and effort, you’ll find the perfect combination of toys and activities that not only keep your pet entertained but also strengthen the bond between you and your furry companion.

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About Zelda D.Nelson

As a lifelong dog lover and proud mom to two energetic rescue pups, I know firsthand how important puzzle toys are for providing dogs with much-needed mental and physical stimulation. After over a decade of experience raising well-adjusted, happy dogs, I joined the Loobani Pet team to help other pet parents discover the joy and benefits of dog puzzles. Through my work at Loobani Pet, I've become an expert on the ins and outs of various interactive dog toys. My goal is to simplify the selection process so you can easily pinpoint the perfect puzzles to match your pup's needs and lifestyle. Whether you need a toy to challenge your brainy breed, keep your power chewer occupied, or simply provide some rainy day fun, I've got you covered.