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These days, our lives are more in flux than ever. Especially due to the pandemic, we’ve had changes to daily routines, work schedules, and even home life. You’re not the only one who feels overwhelmed by these shifts—your dog does, too. Toys are great tools to help ease your pup back into a routine—and help minimize separation anxiety. After all, your dog has gotten used to your company and attention, but as things continue to shift, your attention and presence may be elsewhere at times and for longer periods. That can be jarring to your pet. The best dog toys for separation anxiety are those that keep their senses engaged and don’t depend on you for interaction.
Start off with a new toy by giving it to your dog in the next room and build up from there. Always supervise play in the beginning when introducing a new toy in order to ensure that it’s safe for your dog—no toy is totally dog-proof.
The Best Puzzle Dog Toys for Separation Anxiety
We’ve broken out our picks for the best dog toys for separation anxiety into a few different categories, including puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and tech toys, so you can find what works best for your dog—they won’t even notice you’re gone!
When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a Kong. Durable for hours of licks and chews, stuff it with treats, or even freeze it with some peanut butter for an extra yummy challenge. It will keep your doggo busy, whether in their crate or just enjoying some solo playtime.
Verified review: “I use my Kongs (yes, I have multiple) constantly, not just to give my dog Buster something to do at home alone but to make him use his doggy brain to eat his meals. This thing can be frozen and put in the dishwasher, plus it bounces and floats. Buster loves it.”
Trapping treats inside the ridges, this toy invites your pup to sink their teeth into a challenge, making it a great dog toy for separation anxiety. And if that gets too easy, you can up the degree of difficulty by connecting two different sizes of the toy together, keeping your dog very occupied.
This toy’s all about concentration, so your dog might not even notice you’ve headed out for groceries. The flippable treat canisters come with two sets of lids with different sized holes so you can vary the degree of difficulty. Balance and precision are key, so this is the right fit for a dog who’s no stranger to puzzle toys.
Verified review: “This toy is a little more challenging and is designed for the intermediate canine gamer. It has three rotating beakers that can be filled with treats. Each beaker can be covered with two included sets of lids which can be mixed or matched to make it easier or harder.” (For more about this toy, see our Puzzle Toy Roundup review video.)
Available in four different sizes, this plush hide-and-seek toy is full of fun. Your doggo can retrieve each of the squeaky squirrels nestled inside the soft tree trunk, one at a time. There’s even enough space in the trunk to hide some treats for longer play. Note that this toy is not advisable for destructive chewers.
Verified review: “This toy is like three toys in one. After my dog has pulled out all the squirrels, he likes to snuggle up with the soft trunk or toss the squeaky rodents around. It’s one of the few toys he plays with daily.”
Take this puzzle toy for a spin—literally! From dog game creator Nina Ottosson, this toy has multiple rotating layers to explore—conceal treats in the slots. Does your dog need more of a challenge? Place the bone-shaped covers over the slots so your dog has dig out those hidden treats, along with spinning the layers. Separation anxiety? What separation anxiety?
The Best Mat Dog Toys for Separation Anxiety
It may not look like much, but this simple mat is actually a pretty great dog toy for separation anxiety. It engages your doggy’s nosework as they hunt for treats embedded amongst the fabric tufts. For more about snuffle mats, check out our article on the classic snuffle mat here.
Having different ways to serve up treats is great for keeping your dog too busy to notice you’re not home. Hyper Pet makes a variety of textured mats: the Buddy is ridged in a maze-like pattern to keep pups occupied finding all the nooks, while the Soother’s nubs are designed to help keep your doggy calm while they lick.
Both mats also are good for teeth and gums. Spread a delicious dog-friendly treat over the mat and freeze for a tasty distraction. For more about this particular lick mat and how it faired with our tester’s dogs, see our article, Lick Mats for Dogs: Our Dog-Tested Review.
This is another solid option when it comes to soft textured mats. Sprinkle some kibble in the fabric strips on your way out (you can break some into smaller pieces for more foraging variety) and your dog will happily snuffle around for those crunchies. Nosework mats are great for engaging dogs mentally and physically and lets them play at being a dog foraging in the wild.
This activity mat can be laid out flat, or shaped into a bowl for deeper digging. Your dog will enjoy sniffing through strips of grassy green fabric to find the treats and kibble that you’ve hidden for them inside. A non-slip bottom helps keep this mat from sliding on hard surfaces—throw it in the machine to wash it for the next round of foraging.
If at first you don’t succeed, dig, dig, dig again. Digging is kind of the point of this mat which has pockets and flaps of fabric in which you can bury snacks and toys. Your diligent doggo won’t know the meaning of “separation anxiety” with this toy.
How did Shirley the Pug and Olive the little Boston Terrier do with this toy? See our article, iDig Digging Toy: Is It Worth the Money? for their video review.
The Best Tech Dog Toys for Separation Anxiety
Missing your pup? Check in on them with Furbo’s live-stream dog camera that also allows you to say hello to them during the day. The best part? A built-in mechanism will “toss” treats to your furry friend via the free app, so even if you are separated, your dog can be less anxious knowing they’re on your mind with this tech toy.
Verified review: “The Furbo is the ultimate ‘didn’t know I needed it until I got it’ pet tech. This treat-shooting pet spy-gear has easy set-up and a user-friendly app. You can shoot treats at your pet, talk to them through the microphone, and sneak a peek at them while you’re away via the built-in camera.
I love it because (1) I now have confirmation that my dog seems pretty content when I’m not around. (2) It sends me a push notification whenever he’s barking so I can turn on the camera and see what’s up. (Spoiler alert: It’s always the mailman.) and (3) I can remind him any time, from anywhere, that I love him. That’s definitely the best part.”
Not all toys have to be super fancy. Sometimes the simplest things bring the most comfort. Made with puppies in mind, this is a good dog toy for separation anxiety, especially for gently testing the waters with your new, young friend. The stuffed pup provides company and even comes with a heat pack to help with calming. An inserted, battery-operated heart creates a pulsing heartbeat to help soothe your pup. Bonus: Batteries are included.
Tell them what a sweet puppy they are—even when you’re not there. This interactive ball makes 20 different sounds, including phrases to keep your dog curious and interested. The ball activates when touched and turns off when not in use, so it doesn’t waste batteries.
Motion-activated to encourage hours of play, this adorable owl friend is sure to pique your furry friend’s curiosity as it wiggles, barks, and makes noises all on its own. There’s also a crab and hedgehog version if you want to build a menagerie of friends to keep your dog company.
Bluetooth-enabled, this hands-free chew toy is recommended for medium- and large-breed dogs and has two modes: autoplay and drive. For autoplay, the bone roams around at different speeds, responding to your dog’s touch. For drive, this techy toy can be controlled via app. Have your dog play with this toy in a separate room from where you can control it to begin easing back into periods of separation.
Featured image by Alexandr Ivanov/Pixabay
Nia Martin grew up with cats, dogs, horses, and a goldfish that lived for eight years. Based in Seattle, her writing and photography have appeared in Seattle magazine, The Seattle Times, The Fold, Cascadia Magazine, and Bitterroot Magazine, among others. When not working, you can find her petting dogs and visiting her family’s charismatic tabby, William of Orange.
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