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Top ten interactive dog toys

Or how to watch TV uninterrupted for 30 minutes!

I swear my left arm is longer than my right from spending at least an hour a night holding onto a pull-toy while trying to watch TV. Which is fine, I don't mind becoming freakishly asymmetrical but keeping track of the plot of whatever TV show I'm trying to watch takes the concentration of a chess master. What I need is for Rumble to entertain himself, for at least the length of one episode of my favorite show.

So what toys are available that will fit the brief? Rumble's favorite distraction is his treat-dispensing cube, which he pushes all over the house to release the kibble from inside. It works a treat, but boy is it noisy! There are many treat-dispensing solutions in our top ten here, plus some simpler and some more technical options. Rumble's Nina Ottosson Dog Casino puzzle, pictured above, kept him busy for a while when he was learning it; now he clears it of treats in about 4 minutes. We're going to need at least 26 more minutes of distraction time...

A typical evening of trying to watch TV while Rumble entertains himself.


Distraction-free TV time: 25 minutes

Starting simple, this brilliant little IdePet food dispensing ball is very popular, with thousands of ratings on Amazon, and will keep your pup busy for ages. It's made of non-toxic rubber - soft enough to make it really chewable but durable enough to stay intact for a long time. Many reviewers claim to have had it for months, with daily use.

You stuff kibble or other treats into the rubber teeth and your dog will chew and dig them out. Some people mix it up with bits of cheese and even wet food. Toys like this are great at exercising your dog's brain, as they figure out how to get the goodies out of the ball. And the rubber teeth will help clean their teeth and gums keeping their mouth healthy. For the money and how long these seem to last, this feeder ball is a bargain.

Check prices here


Distraction-free TV time: 15 minutes

Staying with rubber chewing toys, this Esonmus cactus-shaped toy does a similar job to the last one, but is far more focused on teeth cleaning. It has three rubber-toothed cactus branches around a central cavity, which can be stuffed with either dog toothpaste or food and will do a thorough cleaning job as they chew on it. A suction cup on the base sticks it to the floor and their paws hold onto the tapered base to keep it firmly in place as they go to work on it.

This doesn't offer the same level of mental stimulation as the ball, which is more of a puzzle to remove the treats, but the cactus is much better for chewers with the added benefit of its enhanced teeth-cleaning effect. Some dogs just can't be bothered trying to figure out puzzles, so this might be the better chew toy option.

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Distraction-free TV time: 20 minutes

The toy that keeps Rumble busy the most is his treat cube, but I can't find it on the internet, so I'm including this OurPets IQ Treat Ball version of the same idea. Unlike the previous chewy dispenser, this plastic ball holds your treat of choice and has to be pushed around to release the food through the hole. It's fun watching Rumble push his cube around, but this ball is lighter, hard plastic and might not hold up to the kind of frenzied attacks my dog puts his through, so I wouldn't recommend this for a strong, clumsy brute of a dog who might just treat it like a ball. But once they've figured out how it works, most dogs get endless pleasure out of dispensing treats from these toys. An internal disc can be adjusted to affect the rate at which food is released. You'll get at least 20 minutes of TV time, but to be honest watching them play with these is more entertaining.

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Distraction-free TV time: 25 minutes

For a more advanced method of dispensing treats and keeping your dog busy, this Arf Pets Treat Dispenser is great fun and with the added benefit of making your dog use her legs as well as her brain. You simply load kibble or other small treats into the device and your dog paws the separate remote button unit to release the food. Obviously, you'll have to teach them how to do it first before you can settle down to another episode of The Crown, but once learned, this will keep them active on their own for as long as the batteries or food lasts.

And the further you place the button from the dispenser the longer the game will last. you can place the remote button over 160ft away, indoors, or around 100ft outdoors. The button can be placed on the floor, pushed into the grass with the supplied peg, or stuck onto a wall or door with the suction cup. The button is lightweight and it might suffer at the paws of bigger, more boisterous dogs, so finding the best way of fixing it in place is important. A sound emits from the button as it releases the food, teaching your dog a pavlovian association with their reward. If your dog enjoys working for their treats, this is a great game to keep them busy and you free to channel surf.

Check prices here


Distraction-free TV time: 40 minutes

Moving on from food dispensing toys, this Pet Qwerks Babble Ball dispenses a cacophony of animal noises when played with. The risk here is whether you'll be driven to madness by the constant noise, making watching TV impossible.

Three little batteries power the toy and it is activated by touch. In fact a dog breathing on it or walking close to it can set it off, and it goes into sleep mode when left alone. Playing a hundred sounds a day would mean it should last around 4-6 months before needing the batteries replaced. That's a lot of Netflix time.

There's also a new version called the Talking Series, which is a human voice that says things like "Hey, what are you doing?" and "Grrrrr!", which might be less maddening than a house full of zoo noises, but terrifying for any guests staying when they start hearing voices from under the bed!

Check it out here


Distraction-free TV time: 35 minutes

Another way of keeping dogs busy with food is to have them forage for it in a Snuffle Mat. A much quieter option with no batteries needed, this felt cloth mat is filled with small strips of material, like a flower's petals, which you stuff kibble or other treats into for your dog to sniff out and retrieve. The mat can be pulled up into a bowl shape, condensing the petals and making it harder to forage for the treats, increasing play time. A non-slip base stops it from moving about on the floor.

These are great for encouraging dogs to use their nose and develop their natural foraging abilities, providing mental and physical stimulation. If your dog's a wolfer, you can feed them their kibble meal in this to slow down eating and help their digestion, too. It's machine washable and should keep your pooch busy for at least an episode of your favorite show before needing refilling.

Check it out here


Distraction-free TV time: 15 minutes (once learned)

This is one for brainy Border Collies like Rumble and clever canines who can master the methods for getting to the treats. These Nina Ottosson puzzles come in different levels of difficulty and this is a level 3, which is advanced but not level 4 expert. The simplest, level 1 puzzle introduces your dog to solving a problem in one step, whereas this one requires your pup to combine two sequential steps to open the drawers containing the food. First they must remove the bones from the top to unlock the drawer, then they can pull the drawer open to get to the food.

Rumble has nailed opening the drawers, but we've yet to master removing the bones to unlock them, so he's done in about two minutes. You start with the easy step to get them used to it, then introduce the harder step. We've yet to work on that, but that's my fault for not having gotten round to teaching him. It's a great brain training exercise, but you've got to put the work in initially before you can sit back and relax while they play.

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Distraction-free TV time: 45 minutes

I reviewed the iFetch ball launcher in our Top Tech for Dogs post recently, but this Pet Prime Automatic Ball Launcher is more suitable for indoors being smaller and having the option of being powered by mains, as well as the battery power. These come in two sizes, Mini and Maxi, but both are best for small to medium size dogs. The balls are bespoke and are 2" and 2.5" in diameter, which is smaller than a regular tennis ball, and not recommended for large dogs.

You'll have to teach your pooch to drop the ball into the launcher, so it can be automatically fired out and you can get on with the all-important box-set viewing, but once they've figured it out they'll be busy for a while. Like all ball launchers, they will start to fail or lose performance if the balls become too chewed or are soaked in slobber. Just buy more balls, at the right size, as there's no way around this inevitable issue.

You can set it to fire at 10ft, 20ft and 30ft, although performance is relative to the state of the ball, but this is ideal for keeping ball-obsessed dogs busy for hours, although a ball attendant may be called on intermittently, to clean drool out of the unit or retrieve balls from shelves, bookcases or Grandma's hair.

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Distraction-free TV time: 30 minutes

This is a nice simple pull toy, but without the need for a human on one end. The Ale Pomo Bungee Tug Toy is simply a standard rope pull toy attached to a nylon strap that features an elasticated bungee section. You loop the strap around a tree branch or ceiling beam and your dog pulls on it, enjoying the stretching and retracting of the bungee. But the best part is when they let go and it springs away, sending them chasing after it for more of the same. Simple and effective, if your dog is into tug of war games. Admittedly, you could easily fashion one of these using a strap or even a bit of rope, but it's the bungee section that makes this fun.

Check it out here


Distraction-free TV time: 60 minutes

And lastly, when all else has failed, they're back at your feet begging for attention, and you've still got the climax of the season finale to watch, time to reach for the emergency pack of Kipritii Chew Toys! With 15 durable chew toys, including some from this list, this is a bargain pack of entertainment for the most aggressive of chewers that should keep them busy for a while. You get 9 different cotton rope toys, 2 IQ treat dispensing balls, 1 rubber teeth-cleaning toy, a plush squeaky banana toy, a squeaky rubber bone and a rope-edged frisbee. I should have included this in my post on the best gifts for dog lovers.

Rumble loves rope toys and this pack would keep him busy for about ten minutes, before he starts bringing each one to me to play with him. But this is undeniably good value for a toy box worth of entertainment, and I can still watch TV while playing tug of war with one arm. The longer, left arm of course. The short right one is for the remote.

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