Awhile ago, study results were released proving that dogs like interactive toys best. This study probably doesn’t highlight anything that should surprise you. Dogs like to interact with some toys, whether or not a human is involved. A toy that a dog cannot interact with with is boring. That same toy becomes interesting if a human gets involved. Yes, this is probably common sense for most! Something that is interesting… is interesting! You don’t need to be a dog to know that.

So, a toy needs to be interactive, either on it’s own (the dog interacting directly with the toy), or as a conduit between a dog and his human. Lets consider some different types of interactive toys in these categories, and what makes them interesting to a dog. Then lets consider whether it’s better for a toy to be interactive on its own, or not!

Dog interacting with a toy on his own

  • A soft plush toy: These toys engage a dog because they can be chewed or otherwise manipulated. They also have textures that change as they are being chewed upon or torn up, such as a fluffy center that can be pulled apart into a million pieces. Obviously these toys aren’t always safe without supervision, especially if your dog tends to eat the pieces torn apart. Blankets and pillows may inadvertently enter this category.
  • A food game: Interactive dog toys might include stuffed and frozen Kongs, puzzles where food is hidden for the dog to find, and other creative “toys” are made interactive by food and can also be used as a tool to slow down your dog from eating a meal too quickly. Some of these might not work too well if you feed raw, and many of these toys don’t work well for power chewers. Personally, I’ve wasted a lot of money on these!
  • Chew toys: Toys such as Nylabones can be interactive for the dog who likes to chew. This is also why your dog might love to chew on socks or blankets: the texture, shape, and chewability makes these items interesting since they’re “interactive”! When it comes to things you might let your dog chew, be cautious however of pieces that can fall off, or toys that are too hard and can crack and damage teeth. Some of these toys have made a lot of money for veterinarians over the years.
  • Something that tosses/moves a toy: New, inventive products are emerging that replace the human throwing arm with a mechanical device (of varying levels of success).
  • A very large ball: Your dog might be interested in rolling a ball around on his own, as he can make it interactive by bouncing it off walls or furniture or down a set of stairs.
Chewing an appropriate toy (kinda)... but he often perfers blankets. Much more interactive and rewarding than this tough tug toy!

Chewing an appropriate toy (kinda)… but he often perfers blankets. Much more interactive and rewarding than this tough tug toy!

Dog interacting with a toy and a human

This is pretty straight forward: Balls, discs, sticks, tug toys, and more are interactive primarily when a human gets involved. In other words, these types of toys are usually boring to a dog on its own – limited texture, typically stationary – unless a human makes them engaging and interactive. There are rare occasions when a dog, usually one quite toy obsessed, will figure out a way to make such a toy interactive. He might drop a ball down a flight of stairs then run to chase it, or balance a ball between his two paws and hold it in the air. Here are a few examples of how a human is needed to make a toy interactive:

Catching a disc ranks #1 in Mort's world.

Catching a disc ranks #1 in Mort’s world.

* Flirt pole: Think of a giant cat toy, but for dogs. Some kind of toy is on the end of a stick, and a human will whirl it around and trigger a dog’s natural prey drive. The dog chases the toy on the end of a stick, and the human can occassionally reward the dog by letting him catch it. This could possibly be modified so it was interactive without a human, too. Might not be quite as fun though!

Flirt pole (imagine the end of the rope was tied to a pole) – photo by a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/nitros/”>nitros on Flickr.

* Volley dog: A very lightweight ball can be rolled around by a dog (above, on his own), or much more fun is when a human tosses it in the air for the dog to volley it off of his nose back into the air. Yeah, I just wanted to add this crazy game because Mort looks and acts pretty insane when he does this.
* Chuck-it and disc alternatives: Most of you have probably seen the “chuck it” (or alternative brands) of a long pole you can scoop a tennis ball into and use it to throw the ball farther. There are even disc-based versions of this device.
* Lure course: A toy or other object (sometimes a plastic bag) is tied to a string, and pulled along a course while the dog chases after it. The human controls the speed an interaction of the lured object to make it most engaging for the dog. Traditionally used to test sighthounds (think of this being pulled around a race track), it is now a fun activity for dogs of any breed. Many dogs sort out how to “play” this game instantly, as their natural prey drive kicks in and they chase after the plastic bag immediately. For other dogs, even those with prey drive, they’ll wonder why any dog would want to chase after a bag instead of a squirrel.

An aussie chasing a toy on a lure.

Alright, this list could go on-and-on. What are your favorite toys that are made for interacting directly with your dog? My dogs aren’t huge tuggers – any favorite tug toys?

So what’s better? The bottom line for interactive dog toys

Interactive dog toys (such as food games or mechanical devices) can be a great addition to your dogs day, but do strive to interact with your dog and a toy as much as possible for the following reasons:
* You develop a better relationship with your dog.
* Your dog looks to you and learns how to best interact with toys.
* You can use the toy drive to train your dog, and use the toys as training tools when necessary or desired.
* You supervise and “control” the activity, and can stop trouble before it occurs (such as your dog creating interactivity by chewing apart and consuming a toy!)

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Great points. We have a set of three interlocking rubber rings, that never gets played with unless there is a human on one end of it. I love playing with toys with my dogs, mostly tugging the rings and the rare rope toy, and kicking their Jolly Balls. My dogs don’t quite understand “fetch”

  • Awesome suggestions for my dog to try. She loves fetch but don’t quite understand to hand over the toy back to me lol. My dog is also in love with the kong toy and loves tug of war. I think my dog will love the “Flirt Pole”, I will have to try that one out.