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There are two main reasons a consumer may invest in treat-dispensing toys or slow-feed bowls. Typically, they are trying to slow their dog’s eating pattern or increase mental stimulation. Slow-feed bowls have been used for years to slow down overeager eaters, combat bloat and minimize the amount of air a dog gulps when eating quickly. Recently a trend toward enrichment-based feeding has become more prevalent. While slow-feed bowls are a quick and easy way to provide your dog their daily ration of food, more complex treat dispensing toys are being found on retail shelves.

Different from traditional slow-feed bowls, treat-dispensing toys encourage mental and physical activity in order to get the food to release. Dependent on the toy, the dog must paw, chew or chase the toy for food to be released. This mimics a dog’s foraging behavior, which would typically find them traveling, hunting and sniffing to locate their food. Gnawing, licking and chewing behaviors are not often observed when dogs inhale their kibble from a bowl. By using a toy, we can increase the physical exercise our dogs enjoy during mealtime and provide a natural outlet for their instincts.

Why do we care about how our dogs ingest their food? Some studies have shown that the act of licking increases endorphins in the dog’s brain that can calm the dog. This anxiety-reducing behavior can help eliminate other problem behaviors like excessive barking and boredom chewing. Licking and chewing also produce increased amounts of saliva. While a dog’s saliva doesn’t include enzymes, the saliva contributes to overall dental health and digestion.

Feeding times can become a bonding ritual for owners. Many professional dog trainers encourage pet owners to use their dog’s daily food ration in training games. Not only does this help the dog build a bond with their owners, but it also helps teach and maintain obedience behaviors. When lengthy training sessions around dinnertime aren’t an option, treat-dispensing toys can add many benefits.

Treat-dispensing toys are great boredom busters. Kenna Fitzgerald-Hull, social media and community manager at Planet Dog, shares, “…toys keep dogs engaged, busy and out of trouble. They satisfy your dog’s instinct to hunt and play providing the valuable mental exercise and rewards they love.”

“[Engaging with] stimulating toys means that it will take longer for canines to get bored when they have to work to get to their treat, tiring them out and using up energy,” noted Amy Schumann, public relations lead for West Paw.

The grandfather of food-puzzle toys is the KONG Classic, originally designed in the 1970s, when founder Joe Markham’s dog Fritz kept bringing him an old VW suspension part. Since then, KONG has expanded its line to include many treat-dispensing toys made from their classic rubber as well as other variations including their new bamboo feeder line or the Rewards Ball and Rewards Shell. These toys allow you to provide a full ration of dog food, in an enriching puzzle that encourages natural foraging behavior.

Treat-dispensing toys don’t have to be limited to just your dog’s daily diet. West Paw’s Qwizl toy “extends the life of expensive dog treats, such as bully sticks, while keeping dogs busy,” says Schumann.

Pet retailers love when pet owners return for increasingly difficult food-puzzle toys. When making a recommendation for your customers, consider what the owner is trying to accomplish with their dog.

Is the owner trying to curb problem behaviors like chewing?

  • Consider a toy like the KONG Classic paired with the new KONG Marathon treats.
  • West Paw Tux are durable enough for power chewers and satisfy that need to chew.

Have a dog that needs more physical activity?

  • The KONG Wobbler requires pawing and rolling of the toy to dislodge treats.
  • The Planet Dog Snoop is a quieter alternative that moves and bounces erratically.

Need a way to up the challenge level?

  • The West Paw Topl comes in two sizes that can be connected to make the puzzle more difficult.
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