Dogs as well as humans need a certain amount of activity. But it’s important to find a balance of activity and inactivity, so the dog does not get stressed by under- or over activity. Walking is a great activity, but dogs also need mental stimulation. All dogs need to use their head in order to feel good, and some dogs have a greater need. If energetic dogs don’t get to channel their energy into an organized activity, they can create their own “fun”, which is not always appreciated by the owners.
Activation of your dog can be anything from tracking in the woods to hiding treats in a room. In the summer when the weather is good, the dogs normally get more stimulation. In the fall and winter it is often hard to vary the activities indoors and think of fun activities that are entertaining, simple and stimulating. Dogs as well as cats really need to use their brain, and they don’t get to do enough of that today. Their natural instinct is to hunt for food, but we mostly serve them their food in a bowl instead of letting them work for it in different ways. So many indoor cats and dogs are bored. They will be much happier and healthier if they get to use their brain. It can help prevent a lot of behavior problems such as chewing, barking, hyperactivity, obesity and more.
My mission has always been to get the message out to as many people as possible about the importance of mental stimulation. It´s something many dog owners may not have time for, or have difficulty coming up with ideas for, and they may not realize how important it is for the dog’s overall health. Many so-called “problem dogs” are actually just bored. If we give all dogs both mental and physical stimulation each day, it would significantly reduce the number of “problem” dogs and shelter dogs. My philosophy is that the dog has four legs and one head, and all five need activity in different ways – every day.
I am very proud to have created the category of mental puzzle games and toys for dogs worldwide, and happy that so many people have realized the important balance of mental stimulation and behavior problem.
When my two kids were born a year and a half apart in -89 and -90, I didn’t have time to activate my dogs the way they and I were used to. I had two Bouvier des Flandres that I used to train and compete with. My bad conscience made me start thinking about how to activate them in a simple, fun and varied way indoors, and since 1990 I have worked with development and design of dog puzzle games and toys that stimulate the dog mentally, or “brainteasers” for dogs. My puzzles are fun and creative, easy to play with indoors or outdoors, and are developed with the dog’s natural movements and instincts in mind.
The puzzle games, which most dogs love to play with, are designed for the dog to work with problem solving in different ways, finding hidden treats by lifting blocks, turning discs etc.
The purpose of these games is that the owner can activate the dog in an easy and fun way at home. While using the games, the dog and owner will get a chance to have more contact with each other and strengthen their relationship, and at the same time train everyday obedience in a fun way, such as: sit, stay and wait.
Wild animals get natural mental stimulation when hunting for food, which has inspired me when developing the games to match the dog’s natural movements and instincts. The dog has to work to get food or treats, not just have it served from a bowl.
Dogs have different drives to be susceptible to praise when teaching them different actions or movements, some are motivated by toys, treats, yourself, smells, hunting or movements. Eating is the primary driving force, since it’s important for survival, which is what I have based my products on. Then I have added other things like movement, hunting, object interest and touch, since the dog will get praise and pets when it works to find treats in the games. All of these components together mean that most dogs regardless of breed, size or age are interested in and can use the games.
However, dogs have different levels of intelligence just like us humans. I realized early on that my games must have different difficulty levels to suit as many dogs as possible. In addition, some dogs with a genetic disposition for fetching will find certain games easier than dogs that first have to learn how to fetch. All dogs enjoy a variety of activities and appreciate trying new things. The same goes for these games – some dogs are happy with games that are simple and easy, while others need increasingly difficult ones. It’s the same for us humans and crossword puzzles, some people are happy with simple ones, while others continue to challenge themselves with ones that are more and more difficult.
I recommend to start using the games with puppies, which is what I have done with my dogs. It’s important to start with games that are simple, play for a very short time, play together, be positive and give lots of praise. My dogs have learned words like wait, sit etc extremely fast because it’s fun, they get treats and we do something fun together.
These games are also excellent to use for dogs that are injured as well as senior dogs. I have a lot of experience with older dogs that were not able to go for walks due to worn-out hips and joints. Despite this, they were very alert because we played games together daily. I am convinced that their final years were enriched because of this. When my dogs have been injured I have placed the games on a chair, so they have to work with the nose and not with their injured paw. It can be challenging to keep an injured dog still for several weeks, but the games are a great activity that lets the dog get an outlet for its energy. They are also great for dogs that are underweight and don’t eat. Many dogs will eat more when the food is put in the games instead of a bowl.
Most games can be made more difficult by locking with blocks or pegs that the dog has to lift/turn up to find the hidden treats, and should be used when the dog understands how the game works, and that it should work its way to the treats and not bite the parts. It’s important not to use games that are too difficult in the beginning, and give the dog some time to understand how they work. Most dogs quickly understand that they have to work to get to the treats and that it pays to listen to directions from the owner. This communication between the dog and its owner is very rewarding and leads to a deeper understanding while having fun.
Activity games and toys that contain treats shall always be used together with the dog or under supervision.
My puzzle games and toys are made of toxin-free plastic. All plastic and composite puzzle are easy to clean with warm water and soup, which is great for dogs that drool, and can be used with both wet and dry food. This means that you can use the plastic games to make a “doggie ice cream puzzle”, by mixing meaty dog food or treats with water, pour some of the mixture in the compartments, then put the game in the freezer and let it set. This is perfect for hot days or when the dog needs extra activity. Note: only under supervision.
The Nina Ottosson puzzle games and toys can also be used by other animals, many cats love puzzle solving and can manage even the most difficult ones, and the puzzles have been tested and used by different animals at zoo, monkeys, parrots, different eagles, wildcats, snakes, lizards, lemurs, pigs, goats, and rabbits.
Nina Ottosson BIO:
Since 1990, Nina Ottosson’s award-winning puzzle toys and games have improved the lives of pets and pet parents all over the world. Named one of “45 People Who Changed The Dog World” by Dog Fancy Magazine (USA), Nina Ottosson has pioneered the development of Puzzle Games & Toys that utilize reward-based play patterns to keep pets stimulated.