July 1, 2014

Interactive toys are becoming increasingly more popular as busy owners want to keep their dogs stimulated. A number of lifestyle trends are driving the success of this category, including long work hours when the dog is left alone, less exercise and activity, and the increasing importance of dogs in the family.

“Pet people are increasingly concerned to ensure that their animals have as natural and interesting life as possible,” said Dr. Roger Mugford, founder of The Company of Animals.

Nina Ottosson, one of the pioneers in the brain teaser category, explained, “Today’s dog owners have become more aware that there is a connection between mental activation, mental health and ‘problem dogs.’”

“With the rise of couch potato pets and busy owners, pets need an outlet for their excess energy or deterrent from sleeping the day away,” said Natalie Gomez, public relations and integrated marketing manager at P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle and You.

Exercising a dog’s brain is just as important as exercising their body, she said.

Stimulating Toys

Enrichment toys provide the mental stimulation that pets need, especially when their owners have a busy schedule and may be out of the home for extended periods of time.

“I think consumers, especially ones that work all day and have to leave the dog alone at home for long periods of time, will be willing to pay more for that specialty dog toy,” said Stephen Briggs, Jr., marketing manager for ALLIE’s in Rhode Island. “We’ve noticed that customers are looking for more toys and products that help with their dog’s mental stimulation and keeps them occupied for long periods of time.”

Briggs recommends brain teaser products like KONG extreme, West Paw Design Zogoflex toys and Extreme Goodie Bone lines.

“The KONG Extreme, and the Spot Seek-a-treat, among other products are popular because these toys give the added benefit of mental stimulation,” he said. “By giving a dog a toy that they have to work to earn their treat, it gives them something to achieve and they are rewarded for it.”

Another durable brain teaser is the Tippin’ Treats from CHOMPER.

“The egg-shaped toy is designed to hold treats or kibble, which are released from a small opening as dogs push Tippin’ Treat around the floor,” said Menno Kloppers, president of CHOMPER. “The design is durable, safe and interactive.”

Many brain teaser toys can double as a slow feeder to increase interaction.

For instance, the P.L.A.Y. Wobble Ball Toy is a treat-dispensing toy that can be stuffed with kibble.

“It is uniquely shaped to roll around unpredictably and comes with three cloud-shaped openings for easy insertion and removal of treats,” said Gomez. “This toy rewards your dog for their persistence and intelligence, while teaching valuable problem-solving skills.”

Ottosson said that her DogTornado, DogBrick, DogPyramid and Dog Treat Maze are best-sellers. The Company of Animals launched the Nina Ottosson range in America about five years ago. According to Mugford, the best-sellers are popular because they “can be enjoyed by a wide range of dog sizes and their complexity can be enhanced by, for instance, adding visual or color cues.”

Other interactive toys are crafted specifically for small dogs. This year, Kyjen announced the addition of the Slo-Bowl Mini to the brand’s Dog Games line.

Selling Them On It

At ALLIE’S, Briggs said that brain teasers are a specialty item. To make the sale, he works with customers to find the right fit by asking and answering questions about their dog’s behavior, like anxiety and boredom.

“Other questions we get asked on a consistent basis are whether or not the toys are made in the USA and if they are eco-friendly,” he said. “So to advise our customers in the best possible manner, the factors we look at are safety, safety, durability, mental stimulation, USA-made and eco-friendly.”

Kloppers agreed with that sales tactic.

“Retailers should get to know their customers in terms of the size and breed of the dog, as well as the specific purpose of the toy, toss, tug, treat dispensing, soft and cuddly, and then they can determine suitable toy options to ensure satisfaction,” he said.

This category has great selling potential.

“We expect brain teasers and enrichment toys for pets to continue to grow in popularity,” said Gomez, adding the company expects to add several more products to its toy collection.

Ottosson agreed.

“I believe that the demand for high-quality products will increase, since these products are being used with food and treats and subjected to rough treatment by dogs’ teeth, paws and saliva,” said Ottosson. “Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of the environment and the health of their pets, and are looking for safe, nontoxic and environmentally friendly products.

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