In this part of the Dog-Games Website, we will be looking at the different types of toys that are available to use as motivators for dogs. Not all these objects are shop bought "toys" (although you are welcome to visit our web shop which stocks a wide variety of different motivators). Many of our suggestions are homemade or everyday articles that dogs can get pleasure from playing or using in training situations. Try not to be constrained by what most people regard as toys - use your imagination and whatever you have available both on you and nearby. After all, that is what dogs do - they pick up an object (eg. Prey, objects in their environment, etc) and use these as "toys" to play with. See also Playtime for your Dog for further ideas.


ORANGE coded toys are best kept by the owner and used to interact with the dog for training purposes.

GREEN coded toys are suitable for mentally stimulating and rewarding the dog without the owner needing to interact or be present.


BALLS - Experiment with -

  • different sizes (never allow a dog to play with balls that are small enough to swallow or become lodged in the back of the dog's throat - it may trip and choke as it runs with the ball)
  • textures (smooth, soft & squashy, different stages & progressions of hardness)
  • different types of materials (eg leather, rabbit skin, rope, wood, metal etc)
  • noisy & silent ones
  • hollow & hard
  • weights - many dogs do not like to carry too heavy a toy in their mouths
  • single coloured, patterned, multi-coloured, dark colours, bright colours
  • knobbly shapes so that they bounce erratically (Kongs can also be used in this context)
  • spiky ones that feel unusual in the dog's mouth and massage the teeth, gums and tongue (e.g. Luna Balls and knotted rope toys)
  • on ropes so that they can be thrown further, and tossed, shaken and tugged on by the dog as well.
  • Beware of playing with footballs with your dog - Dogs cannot differentiate between their football and those kicked by the local football team or children (see Environmental Photo)!

HEALTH WARNING - Tennis Balls are bad for Teeth!

The yellow (or coloured) surface on a tennis ball has an abrasive surface to allow the ball when hit (in tennis) to grip the playing surface (whether grass, clay or board) and bounce.
If your dog loves to play with tennis balls we recommend that you change over to the Fantastic Foam Balls or the Fantastic Foam Balls on a Rope instead.


Ball flingers/throwers - warning


There are a variety of different floating balls, gundog dummies, floating Kongs on ropes, and other toys specifically designed to float on water for dogs to swim or paddle out to retrieve. Make sure that the area of water you are letting your dog swim in is safe - beware of hidden currents, weeds, ice and steep sided banks. It is a good idea to introduce young dogs to very shallow ponds or puddles so that they can build up their confidence of splashing around in the water to get the toy without going out of their depth. They are then far more likely to become keen swimmers as they grow older as they have built up strong happy associations with water and chasing the toy.


Life rewards explains in detail how dogs enjoy exercising their different senses. One of their keenest is their sense of smell, and this is usually the last of the senses to deteriorate as the dog grows older. Therefore, any games of hunt the food, toy or person will be greatly enjoyed from the tiniest puppy to the very old dog, and exercise their senses and brains - see Mind Games. Experiment on what sort of environments your dog likes to search for things. Some dogs enjoy indoor search games such as under rugs, cushions, blankets, furniture, curtains, newspapers, different rooms etc, while others prefer using their noses outdoors away from the strong scents of humans, cleaning products etc. Try short grass, long grass, different wind directions and weather conditions, woods, ploughed fields, snow, gravel, fallen leaves etc. There is an excellent book by Anne Lill Kvam - The Kingdom of Scent - that explains in detail some wonderful games you can play with your dog using its sense of smell. Also we recommend you reading our section on Digging.


Once again, not everyone can bear the noise and volume of these motivators! However, dogs get a great deal of pleasure making these toys work, as they are able to mimic the biting movements of killing prey and the sound is similar to an animal squealing as it dies. Earth dogs such as terriers are particularly keen on these types of toys as they have been bred to kill vermin, which sound very similar. We stock a variety of different squeaky motivators in our web shop and the Mini Retrieve Toys are particularly suitable for small dogs.


One of the most popular types of toys used in Dog-Games , as the dog is able to focus on the end being dragged along the ground as the dog returns to its handler over the jumps. Short tugger types are not so effective as the dog looks upwards at the hand and is not able to see the jump, nor the passing dog if working at Gold level of the Games.

Tugger toys are used to fulfill the dog's instincts to chase a moving object, to pounce and "kill", and then to grip and tug against the weight of the handler at the other end. The Dog-Games Shop stocks many different designs of these toys.


Cereal and food packets/boxes make ideal toys for dogs. As well as having strong residual scents of the foods that were stored in them, toys or food treats can be hidden inside them, and then placed inside another box, or boxes, like the may layers of a Russian doll. Dogs love to paw, rip and chew the different layers, enjoying all the different smells as they try to find the elusive treat or toy. Empty wine boxes also make ideal containers to hide treats or toys in (and it is a great excuse to drink all the wine "for the sake of the dog"!) These type of toys give a whole new meaning to the word "recycling"!


These include such objects as -

  • paddling pools or buckets of water for the dog to play in (with or without floating toys, apples etc)
  • agility or children's tunnels to run into and perhaps find hidden treats inside
  • sandpits or areas of the garden where the dog is allowed to dig and find food treats, raw (not cooked) meaty bones, or toys that you have previously buried.

Many dogs love the texture and noise of an empty plastic water bottle (never leave the top on as the dog may choke or swallow it) and will happily spend ages trying to extract an elusive dog biscuit or food treat from inside it. Be warned it can get quite noisy but the dogs seem to really enjoy themselves! I know of some retriever type dogs who feel it is their life's mission to find and take home every plastic bottle they ever find whilst out walking with their owner.... See also our Bottle Buddy toy for a variation on this theme.


Most pet dogs rarely have the opportunity to kill or dismember prey, yet their strong instinctive drives are still deep within their character. This is why some dogs enjoy chewing and ripping apart soft toys, fabric, leather and rope. Therefore, don't be too angry if your dog "trashes" the soft doggy toy you just bought for him - he really did enjoy it! It might be an idea to make simple soft toys that cost very little to make (such as stuffing an old pair of tights; knitting a simple tube and stuffing it with old rags or toy stuffing; sewing up oddments of fake fur etc) so that their "demise" isn't so frustrating - you can also reuse the stuffing in the next toy you make! Remember to remove any plastic eyes, noses or ribbons from the soft toys you buy from charity shops, before you give them to your dog.


Dogs get a great deal of pleasure from the different sensations they can experience in their mouths. Some breeds (in particular retrieving dogs) have been bred to be "mouthy" dogs and are happiest either carrying something in their mouths or chewing or savoring the different textures it can find in its environment. These dogs enjoy playing with materials with different textures, and find Raggits and Grabbits and other toys from our web shop very appealing (even more so if foods such as peanut butter, pate, or cheese spread have been smeared on them!).


These particular toys have been an absolute godsend to many dogs and owners as they have been designed to mentally and physically stimulate the dog as it tries to extract the food treats hidden inside the toy. They need no interaction from humans and are therefore very suitable to give dogs which are to be left alone, need to be encouraged to relax and settle, or suffer from separation anxiety. There are various styles and makes on the market, with new designs and ideas being launched every year - some are very popular with dogs while others are not. Let us concentrate on some of the more successful designs.


Kongs & other licking toys - These unusually shaped hollow rubber toys come in a variety of different styles, indestructibility, and size. They are best stuffed with a mixture of different foods and textures (pate, cheese, meat scraps, small dog biscuits, peanut butter, gravy & plate scraps, etc) and can be frozen in advance and then either thawed or given frozen, or given "fresh" from the fridge. The dog will spend ages trying to lick the food from the hole at the base of the kong, and will bite, drop and roll it in an attempt to reach the elusive bits at the top.


Problem Solving toys - These hard-wearing rubber or plastic toys are hollow and either have a series of tunnels, mazes, or holes in them for the treats to drop out of. The dog learns to push, turn and move the toys in order to allow the treats to randomly fall from the toy. They come in a variety of different levels of difficulty and this should be taken into account when buying these sorts of toys. If it is too difficult for the dog to do it may loose confidence in the pastime and decide not to play with any problem solving toys it is given in the future. After all, you would not give a toddler a complicated technical manual to read, would you?



This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


Dog-Games Copyright 2004 - 2015 All Rights Reserved


The best type of mental activity for a dog is one where the brain is working on solving a problem which it has chosen to do by itself (especially activities where it is also using its amazing sense of smell such as those in Mind Games; Mental Stimulation toys such as those shown in our Shop; or using the dog's sense of taste by giving it a Kong).


However, it is very important to choose the correct level of difficulty of activity toy for your dog, so that it feels that it has "worked" for the treats inside it without becoming frustrated or loosing confidence in its ability.


"Easy" activity toys either have large holes so that the treats fall out very easily (particularly if the treats are small), or there are no chambers or spaces inside the toy which prevent the treats from moving around to the hole. If your dog has never been given a toy with treats inside it before, it is important that it starts off with an "Easy" level of difficulty so that it is able to get the treats quickly and builds up confidence in what it is doing. For some dogs this level is sufficient to keep them amused and fulfilled for long periods of time, and they do not need to given more taxing levels of difficulty. Other dogs may become bored or stressed using such simple toys and may require higher levels of difficulty to keep them amused and calm.


Activity toys with "Moderate" levels of difficulty either have smaller holes for the treats to come out of, or are irregular in shape so that the treats get "stuck" in the hollows inside. The dog will either have to pick up and shake the toy, or tip it at a certain angle to allow the treat to go through the hole.*


Toys with a "Hard" level of difficulty have hidden chambers inside them which trap the treats and cause them to be jammed inside; they may also have very small holes so that the treats do not come out very easily. This level of difficulty is suitable for dogs that enjoy stretching their minds, solving problems, and are creative with how they use their paws and how they hold the toy in their mouth. It takes a lot of time and effort to get even one treat out of these toys and the dogs will be kept busy for a very long time! *



* These levels of difficulty are not suitable for -

  • Inexperienced dogs who have not built up the confidence or experience with the "Easy" activity toys.
  • Those with high levels of excitement or stress and/or low levels of concentration.


Another way of changing the level of difficulty of any of the activity toys is by choosing the size of the treats that are used. It is far easier for a dog to get small treats out of these toys than it is when larger treat shapes are used.



It is very important to choose the right sort of Activity Toy (or Mental Stimulation toy) for your dog. Sadly too many dog owners buy the wrong type and wonder why their dog gets over excited and frustrated when they have been chasing the toy for some time (see Causes of Stress for further information). This can lead to the dog having behavioural and/or physical problems and an inability to rest or concentrate for many hours after using the toy.


Certain breeds of dog can become over stimulated by seeing too much movement (eg. herding breeds, sight hounds and terriers). Some of these dogs can be easily over excited and "driven" to chasing moving objects - either those thrown by their owners, movement in their environment, or things that they can move themselves and chase after. These dogs can become addicted to the rush of adrenaline that they feel from watching and running after objects and they get withdrawal symptoms when their adrenaline levels start to fall (similar to humans becoming addicted to cigarettes and having cravings to repeat the chemical reactions in their brain when they smoke).


To prevent this, try to choose an activity toy that does not move very much when the dog either drops it or pushes it with its paw or nose (eg. those marked "Moderate" and "Almost none" in our web shop). These low movement type of activity toys are also suitable for dogs that are in confined spaces (eg. in the car, indoor kennel or cage) where there is very little room to push the toy around.

Activity toys marked "High" in our web shop (such as the Treat Ball) are suitable for dogs that do not have a strong "addictive" chase instinct and enjoy the added stimulus of making the object move as well as eating the treat. Dogs need quite a lot of space in order to push them around the floor so try to choose a place where there is not a lot of furniture so that the toy does not get wedged behind something, or get trapped underneath.


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


Dog-Games Copyright 2004 - 2015 All Rights Reserved