There is some debate as to whether Toy Enrichment is a category on its own, but with such an array of toys available on the market today, I thought it was worth diving into further. If you’ve been to any pet stores lately, you know the variety in toys is mindblowing, but we have to remember that is because our pets are individuals. Toy companies have to be creative coming up with toys that will appeal to many personalities and instincts.
Toy enrichment becomes enjoyable because of what they get from interacting with it. For some, the sound of the squeak is enough to keep them entertained. For others, the act of chewing is what makes it enjoyable. And for others still, it is the sheer pleasure of killing that toy and ripping it into as many pieces as possible. While we prefer our pets keep their toys intact, having that shredding outlet available can be the difference between them ripping the stuffing out of a toy or chewing the couch apart every opportunity they get.
I often hear people say ‘my pet doesn’t like toys.’ While this may be true for some, it is more likely you just haven’t found the right toy, or how to play with it in a way that your pet enjoys. Not all pets will find it valuable or stimulating to play alone with a stuffed bunny. But, throwing a ball or using a flirt pole can be a constructive way to get a herding breed’s chase instincts channelled through play. These safe and controlled outlets can keep your dog from looking for alternative entertainment, such as chasing cats and cars. Burrowing toys can be fun for terriers by satisfying the genetic urge of going into a hole to get the rodent rather than barking at every sound they ‘might’ hear. Wind-up toys or toys that move can also be a great way to meet the needs of cats or dogs that like to hunt and stalk.
The one thing I want to be clear on is the fact that having a basket overflowing with toys is not what I mean by toy enrichment. Your pet may go for their favourite toy now and again, but for the most part, the box probably remains largely untouched. A way to keep toys interesting is by rotating them. Instead of giving your pet access to all its toys all the time, give him two or three, and rotate them every three days or so. While the toys are tucked away, you can make them seem new or even more exciting by changing the scent a little. Washing, spraying the toys with pet cologne, or storing the toys with other safe scents will act as sensory and toy enrichment the next time he gets the toy.
At one time or another, I’m sure we have all purchased a toy that our pet was happy with for the first few minutes, then lost interest with and never played with again. This can sometimes be random, but often it was because we selected a toy we liked, without thoughtfully considering what exactly about it our pet would enjoy. Like anything with your pet, take some time and observe the items they are naturally drawn to and get items with similar traits in the future. Another fun thing to do is let your pet pick their own toy! While you are out doing some social enrichment, you can swing by the pet store and let them decide what they are drawn to!
Enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Simply get to know your pet and draw on the activities they enjoy to activate those pleasure centers!