Most folks think that entertaining dogs is easy and sometimes it can be.
But if you’re the proud pet parent of a dog that has zero interest in toys, then it’s not so simple.
So how do you entertain a dog that doesn’t like toys?
You’ll need to look at things from the bigger perspective of mental and physical stimulation to keep your dog active and entertained instead of focusing on toys. This can mean things like swimming, scent games, and food puzzles but the options are almost endless.
My close friend actually had this exact problem with her chihuahua/pomeranian mix named Foxie. Foxie would look at you like an idiot if you threw a ball and had absolutely no interest in any chew toy.
She also hated when I jumped around to try and get her excited about a play session…and that usually works!
It was clear that Foxie didn’t like any of my usual tricks, so the first thing to do was figure out what she actually liked. But before we get into that, let’s clarify one important aspect.
What Are The Point Of Dog Toys In The First Place?
I know the point of dog toys seems obvious but stay with me here.
Yes, toys are meant to entertain our dogs but what is “entertainment” really?
For our dogs, it’s mental and physical stimulation and we need to keep that idea in mind as we look at all the non-toy options available to us. Toys are really just ways to wear our dogs out both mentally and physically.
When you think of it like that, you can immediately start to come up with hundreds of ideas for what could replace toys!
What Does Your Dog Like To Do?
Back to Foxie and my friend, the first thing I needed to figure out was what she actually liked.
Of course, this isn’t all about Foxie and every dog is going to be different. Still, the starting point is the same and the first question you have to ask is what does your dog enjoy?
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Does your dog like to sniff and spend most of your walks with their nose to the ground?
- Does your dog spend walks with their heads up constantly looking for squirrels or other critters?
- Does your pup love meeting and playing with new dogs?
- Does your dog like the water?
- Does your dog like to run, jump and climb?
- Is your dog food motivated?
You’ve probably answered yes to a few of these which means you’re on the right track to keeping your dog happy without toys!
You’ll find a quick list of ideas for each thing that dogs like to do. Just figure out what questions you answered yes to and scroll down (or use the table of contents above) to find the right section for your dog!
Entertaining Dogs That Love To Sniff
Some dogs are simply born to sniff. Breeds like basset hounds, beagles, and other hounds are literally scenthounds.
But there are also plenty of dogs that love a good sniffing session even without a single drop of hound blood in them- including Foxie the little chihuahua-pomeranian mix. When it was time to walk, that meant it was time to sniff and Foxie would spend most of the trip with her nose to the ground.
So let’s look at what will work well for dogs that love to sniff, including little Foxie.
Consider A Snuffle Mat
A snuffle mat is a super simple game for dogs that focuses on sniffing out treats.
Okay, some folks might call it a “toy” but it’s pretty far from your traditional squeaker toy so I think it’s fair to categorize this as a toy-game hybrid more than anything else.
All you’ve got to do is add treats to the various layers, pockets, nooks, and crannies of the snuffle mat and let your dog track them down. There are varying levels of difficulty in terms of snuffle mats and not only are they great for dogs that love to sniff but they’re also one of my favorite options for dogs that love to dig.
If you’re new to the world of snuffle mats, I suggest checking out the budget-friendly option from AWOOF which you can see on Amazon by clicking here. It’s got a ton of options for making hiding treats difficult or easy depending on your dog’s skill level or how long you want to keep them entertained.
Make Your Own Scent Game
But you don’t even need to get a snuffle mat to play scent games with your dog. In other words, not only do you not need toys but you don’t need to buy anything unless you want to.
You can add scents throughout the house, along with a treat or two as a reward, to keep your dog entertained. These could be calming scents like lavender, more unusual smells like coffee grounds and if you really want to make things interesting then consider scents used by hunters to attract game- that means things like deer urine and other “potent” scents.
But just make sure you’re safe with whatever you use and stay away from anything that could be harmful to your dog. The ASPCA has a very useful directory of toxic products that you can refer to so you can make sure that whatever you use for scent games is safe.
You can simply add scents to different parts of the house or take the game outside and add new scents to certain spots on your walk. It doesn’t have to be anything formal and your dog will appreciate the chance to take in all the new smells.
But if you want to make the process a little more interactive, and mentally stimulating, consider scent training with your dog! This video does a great job explaining how to do it:
Entertaining Dogs With Higher Prey Drive
If your dog is constantly looking around the neighborhood for small critters then they may have a high prey drive.
Usually, these dogs are happy to play with toys but if your prey-focused pup isn’t showing any interest it could be that the toys just aren’t interactive enough for them. When dogs are given a toy without anyone to help move it around, it’s essentially “dead” prey.
That’s just not very interesting or entertaining for a dog that wants to hunt live prey. Squeaky toys can often make a big difference but even that’s not enough for some dogs. What’s missing is the interactive element that turns the prey from “dead” to moving more similar to the squirrels in the park.
That’s where the flirt poles come into the picture. These are one of my favorite toys for exercising pit bulls since they usually have plenty of prey drive but they can work for any other breed too. Flirt poles are basically big cat toys for dogs and while they are toys they’re much different from your traditional options. You can check out my favorite flirt pole from Outward Hound and get a better idea of how they work here.
Entertaining Dogs That Love Meeting Other Dogs
Okay, this one is pretty simple: just take your dog to the dog park!
But I know it’s not always that simple.
First off, there’s the time issue and not all dog parks are close. Then there’s the issue of what other dogs are actually going to be there.
Back to Foxie our toy-hating chihuahua, she loves meeting dogs but a Great Dane probably isn’t the best playmate for her. That means you could make the trip to the dog park only to find a giant party of huge pups. Of course, big dogs like Rottweilers and chihuahuas can get along but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best match.
As you would probably guess, there’s an app to solve this problem.
I haven’t personally used it, but BarkHappy is an app that allows you to create a profile for your dog and connect with other dogs. That means pups of any size and temperament could find the perfect friend for their specific playstyle.
Apps like BarkHappy or just exchanging numbers at the dog park can help you go beyond the dog park and keep your dog entertained with scheduled playdates.
Then there’s the classic option of doggy daycare. These can be a little expensive but not only will they allow your dog to get a full day of playing with canine companions you can also rest easy knowing that they’re taken care of throughout the day.
Many doggy daycare facilities also have cameras that allow you to watch your dog throughout the day so you know they’re in good hands!
Entertaining Dogs That Love The Water
Your dog doesn’t have to be bred for the water to love a good swim! We’ve looked at several breeds like boxers that may not be natural swimmers but they still love it!
The most obvious choice is to find a dog-friendly pool or other body of water but that’s not always exactly straightforward. Similar to dog parks, this can also take quite a bit of time as well.
That’s where a simple kiddy pool can help!
There are dozens of options for dogs and a regular kiddy pool is always a good choice. Smaller dogs may even be able to swim around depending on their size. Bigger dogs will be happy to lounge in the water as well but may enjoy something like this sprinkler pool combo on Amazon.
Some dogs will go nuts for the water spurts on that pool while others will prefer just to relax in the water. You know your dog best along with what they’ll enjoy the most.
Entertaining Dogs That Love To Run, Climb, And Jump
Most dogs enjoy running, jumping, and climbing but some more than others. Many of the things we’ve already talked about will work great for these dogs as well- going to the dog park, swimming, or running around outside smelling stuff all fit the bill for these dogs.
But if you really want to take things up a level, you can teach your dog to do some basic agility training. Any dog can learn agility and even the bulky Rottweiler has had some success at the professional level of agility training. But your dog doesn’t need to be a professional, they just need to jump over a broomstick or run through a tunnel!
Not only will this give your dog plenty of mental stimulation but it will wear them out physically too!
Don’t assume that you’ve got to set up a full course for this to work! While you can work up to something like that, you can start inside on a rainy day.
Check out this video for the basics of at-home agility training:
In addition to jumping, running through agility tunnels can be a great form of entertainment for dogs and you can pick up professional-grade tunnels, along with everything else you need, on Amazon. Check out this full set that’s also pretty easy on the budget by clicking here.
Tunnels and tubes are also a great option because they’re very easy. Breeds like dachshunds shouldn’t be jumping over just about anything but they can still enjoy exploring a tube!
Entertaining Dogs That Love Food
What dog doesn’t love food, treats, and snacks?
Food has already been an important part of most non-toy entertainment options since you’ll need treats to train your dog for just about any type of game.
But you can also make eating a form of entertainment all on its own with the use of food puzzles. The simplest way to do this today is to just hide your dog’s next meal through the house. You don’t have to hide all of it, at least at first, but making them work to eat is a great way to keep them entertained, mentally stimulated, and healthy.
You can also use food puzzles to make it even more challenging or extend the time it takes for your dog to eat. If your dog eats wet food, or you want to introduce a soft treat, I recommend Licki Pads. These simple food puzzles require dogs to vigorously lick through all the nooks and crannies so they can reach every speck of food. They’re also very easy on the budget and you can check them out on Amazon by clicking here.
When it comes to dry treats, you’ve got even more options, and these simple toys from Outward Hound are usually a good place to start.
The great thing about food puzzles is that you can work them into your daily routine. They’re also one of the rare ways to entertain dogs that don’t like toys that don’t require your complete interaction which can be great when dogs are left alone.
It can be hard to entertain dogs that don’t like toys.
You might be jealous of your friend’s dogs who just have to throw an old chew toy to keep their pup entertained. But your dog’s pickiness around playtime doesn’t have to be a bad thing and hopefully, you’ll find that keeping your dog entertained is also entertaining for you!
Teaching your dog scent games, basic agility, or how to solve a food puzzle is fun not only for your dog but everyone in the house as well!
What do you think? What do you think will work best for your dog?