Toy review: BusterMat

View this post on Instagram

20min later… All done!

A post shared by Busy Doggies Nell & Grace (@busy_doggies) on

View this post on Instagram

Ready for a session of #bustermat 😁

A post shared by Busy Doggies Nell & Grace (@busy_doggies) on

View this post on Instagram

Mummy this is really hard, can you help?

A post shared by Busy Doggies Nell & Grace (@busy_doggies) on

View this post on Instagram

Mummy made me a buster mat game 😁

A post shared by Busy Doggies Nell & Grace (@busy_doggies) on

View this post on Instagram

Mummy made me a buster mat game 😁

A post shared by Busy Doggies Nell & Grace (@busy_doggies) on

Toy test: snufflestack

It’s taken me a while to post this but better later than never! Another snuffle toy we bought at the Animal Event was this “snufflestack” (my name for it, because it didn’t have one). Basically, it’s a pile of double layered fleece squares with a hole in the middle, stacked up in a fleece rope.

There are lots of ways to use this depending on your dog’s experience and drive – the recommendation is to allow your dog to familiarise themselves with it first by laying it flat on the floor and placing some treats in between.

However, I know my intense hunting drive dogs will just dive straight in to get the food so they don’t need that stage – in the video below you can see Nell starts straight from the tight stack.

This is the second time she is playing with it, and because the first time she pretty much pulled all the squares out of the rope, I decided to tie it quite tightly this time. I should note that Nell has a lot of experience with snuffle toys and is a very nose driven dog which means she quickly figures out toys like these – sometimes too quickly for my liking!

I also tried this with Grace and it was definitely more difficult for her, and thanks to her slightly gentler sniffing style I suspect this toy will have a longer life if she plays with it instead of Nell…

All in all, this is a nice little addition to our toy box!

Toy tip: Starmark Tetraflex as a mealtime toy

Today breakfast was served from Starmark Treat Dispensing Tetraflex – one of my absolute favourite mealtime puzzles.

It’s soft plastic so no noise on hard floors; the size and shape allow dogs to pick it up and most importantly, unlike many other treat balls, it has a little funnel inside the opening which reduces the likelihood of treats falling out which means the game lasts longer than with a simple treat ball.

It’s also relatively durable but I’d supervise heavy chewers as they will be able to shred it.

I’ve had this ball for years and it’s simply one of the best toys we have. Because the design of the ball means it is statistically difficult for the treats to fall out, this toy remains difficult however many times the dog plays with it – you could feed every meal from it.

The added bonus is that by playing with this ball, dogs also improve their proprioception (body awareness) because they learn to handle the ball with their paws and nose.

Toy tip: frozen Kong Quests for lowering arousal levels

I often give the dogs a chewing or licking activity after an active walk that has raised their arousal levels, like a beach trip is guaranteed to do.

Nell took 20min to finish her Kong Quest Star Pods and Grace 80mins her Kong Quest Foragers Flower because it contains more food and Grace is younger. These were filled with Ziwipeak canned food, apple chunks, frozen raspberries and some dabs of yoghurt or peanut butter – the fruit fills up space without adding calories and especially the apple chunks are tricky to fish out.

Highly recommended if your dog finishes a regular Kong very quickly!

These, and other toys suitable for freezing food are reviewed in this post.

Balance training in nature: sniff game on a tree trunk

I try to make use of the natural environment to get the dogs to practice things like body awareness and balance, and although Grace does her own practice on the edge of our sofa, it never hurts to do some deliberately.

Here I’ve sprinkled some treats on top of a wide, mossy trunk which means she needs to sniff and balance at the same time.

I also go back to sprinkle more after she has sniffed it to encourage her to keep checking locations she’s already sniffed – this helps when we do formal detection training as she is learning to be thorough and that it pays off to double check.

Veggie taster board

I came across this silicone muffin mold in the cupboard this morning and I thought I would finally try doing a taster board for the dogs.

A taster board is a basic form of mental enrichment where you put various foods on a plate/tray/muffin tin in front of your dog and observe what they do – sniff, eat, ignore etc. For the dog, it introduces different food stuffs and encourages them to explore while the human can observe if some foods are higher value than others (useful to know for training, for example).

I have a fairly good idea of what my dogs value and I regularly encourage them to eat fruit and veg by giving them stuff as I’m prepping food. I know it isn’t most people’s preference to have dogs hang around in the kitchen but it doesn’t usually bother me, and it makes everything I hand them there more valuable which has encouraged Nell to eat things like lettuce and cabbage, and it’s easier to get her to eat medication when she assumes things I throw her in the kitchen are most likely to be valuable.

In any case, I had some time today so I chopped up some veggies for them – I decided to stick to vegetables only because it’s an absolute no-brainer that if I include cheese or ham, they’ll go first and I learn nothing new. So, my board had carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, courgette, apple and pepper (in the same order for both dogs). All except pepper are much loved by Nell – so much so that she runs into the kitchen when she hears me chopping!

I was interested in finding out if there was any order of preference, and whether Grace would be keen on them without watching Nell eat them too.

The results?

  1. Both dogs ate everything – Nell ate a bite of cucumber and carrot first, then sampled pretty much one of everything in true tapas style
  2. Grace worked a bit more methodically but that might be because she is smaller and therefore naturally ate the ones closest to her first
  3. Both dogs ate pepper last, which might be because it was in the furthest corner from them, or because they’re less familiar with it

All in all, I learned that my dogs really like veggies – both cleaned up the board at decent speed and I had to shoo Nell away for Grace’s turn because she wanted to eat another board… The most interesting thing was to notice they both chose a different veg for each mouthful – a bit like humans would vary the taste experience in their mouths over a meal.

I doubt I’ll use any of these as treats outside because of obvious mess reasons, but it was fun and I’ll probably play this another time with another board of super high value treats like cheese!

Reset with sleep and slow games

Today is a low-key home day with lots of sleep to “reset” the dogs after a busy weekend. Our weekends are often filled with beach visits, trips to the garden centre and generally lots of activity for the dogs – in short, a ton of stressors because even a highly exciting trip to the beach winds up the adrenaline system for these two crazies.

Usually I let them potter a lot in the garden but today they are both obsessed with eating the (organic) plant fertiliser we put down yesterday, so I’m keeping them in more than usual which means toys and games.

They’ve already done a treasure hunt indoors (treats hidden everywhere), and in the morning we played with the Trixie game (below) which took both dogs all of 30sec to solve.

This is one reason why I rarely buy these more complex games – too often they are one-trick ponies that don’t entertain for very long, and also they require my attention. I love playing with my dogs, but sometimes I need to focus on other things and then independent games are just what I need.

So, today I have a selection of toys they can work on by themselves – different shapes mean different puzzles, and more thinking!

This pile meant 20min of entertainment with one filling – in the time it’s taken me to write this, they are already done so I need to go and collect the toys for a refill…