At School For The Dogs, we don't hide the fact that we're obsessed with "work-to-eat" toys --toys that engage a dog's mind (and mouth) during mealtimes. Why feed a dog in a plain old bowl when you can help funnel their energy into an activity that can help them slow their eating (which benefits their digestion), make the joy of mealtime last longer, and help challenge their mind? The bowls in our house are for human use, only. Our dog has Cushing's Disease, a brain condition that causes rogue hormones to tell him he's hungry all the time. This has made him good at telling US he's hungry all the time. A no-brainer way to make for fewer food tantrums is to simply make his meal times last longer. More time and energy
One toy in particular has recently become a favorite of his, and mine: Meet, the Toppl.
I want to tell you all the cool stuff you can do with the Toppl, but first, I'd like to offer a very quick overview on "work-to-eat" toys.
Food toys generally fall into four groups. First, there are Kibble Balls. I also sometimes call them "Bang Around" toys. These are work-to-eat toys that a dog can nose around in order to get their food to fall out. They are usually best when used with dry food or dry treats. Examples of these include the Twist-n-Treat, and the Bob-A-Lot. Then there are what we dog nerds call Slow Food Bowls. I also like to call them Bowls With Stuff Going On In Them, which are usually plastic bowls (such as the Northmate Green Feeder or the Buster Mazes) that have little mazes or other tongue-obstacles in them. Third are are Puzzle Toys, which usually have little latches and drawers and pegs that must be manipulated in order to release yummy stuff, wet or dry. Two of the best toys in this category are the Casino, the Twister, both of which were developed by Swedish designer/dog-goddess, Nina Ottosson.
The fourth category of Toys You Can Stuff Stuff Into -- wet food or spreadable yummy stuff like spreadable cheese or nut butter, or baby food liverwurst or fish paste. At School For The Dogs we also call these "Kong style" toys because the Kong is the name of the toy that has dominated the entire work-to-eat-dog-toy category for the last four decades. Developed in the 1970s when a Colorado auto mechanic found his dog really liked chewing on a rubber suspension part from a VW bus, it supposedly got its name because it looked like an ear plug that'd fit King Kong.
I can't think of any other dog toy that has the kind of name-recognition enjoyed by the Kong.
But... I believe it may soon be unseated by a new toy in town.
Shaped like a cup, the Toppl is a super-versatile latex-free rubber toy made by the Oregon-based company West Paw Design. Kongs tend to get food lodged in the small end, but the Toppl's open design make it possible for a dog to get out all of the food that is smushed inside -- a good work-to-eat toy should provide a bit of a challenge, but shouldn't stump a dog entirely! Finger-like nubbins springing out from its bottom make it a bit more challenging. A hole in the side give a useful secondary way for a dog to tackle the problem.
Because they're dishwasher safe, super sturdy, and usable with both wet and dry foods, we have a lot of clients who are feeding a majority of their dogs meals in these colorful toys.
Here are four of our favorite ways to serve up a meal in Toppl.
1. Stuff Wet Food In It
Choose your favorite canned food, raw food, or lightly cooked food (hola, Evermore!), and pack it into the Toppl -- it comes in two sizes, so pick whichever you think will best fit your pup's maw. I've also had success smushing in moistened dehydrated foods, like Stella & Chewy's patties. You can even go the extra mile and stuff the hole with something extra delicious like cream cheese, like our trainer Sandra Griffith does when she feeds her dogs (see photo). For an extra challenge, serve frozen. If it's not mealtime, you can of course also just fill it with any combo of dog-friendly treats. I recently made a dog student one filled a layer of canned pumpkin topped with a mixture of peanut butter and blue berries. Delish!
2. Freeze Dry Food In It
If you're dog is a dry food eater, use some cream cheese or peanut butter to plug-up the hole on the side, and then freeze the empty Toppl. Once a nice seal has formed, set the Toppl in a wide cup or a bowl to keep it steady (and to contain and leakage), and fill it with dry food. Then pour in either water or broth, and freeze. Alternatively you can plug the whole with an appropriately-sized baby carrot, or with an actual cork -- just make sure to remove the latter before mealtime.
3. Put Two Together
The Toppl comes in two sizes, and they fit together neatly. Fill the big Toppl with dry food, and then push the small Toppl onto it until they stick together. The result is a toy your dog will bang and roll around the floor until the food come out of the two holes. The fact that it's rubber means that your neighbors won't hate you.
4. Make It A Bully Stick Holder
The hole in the side of the Toppl is the perfect size for a bully stick. After all, bully sticks were DESIGNED to go into holes, amirite? Inside, the little rubber stalagmites sprouting from the Toppl hold it place. Gilby Kriss, one of our best non-human friends, loves this usage of the Toppl, because its hard to hold your own bully stick when you don't have hands. I'm not sure if the people at West Paw thought of this usage for this toy in particular -- they make a toy called the Qwizl that is designed especially to hold a bully stick. Gilby, you should tell them about your invention!
You can make this adaptation a little more rewarding by stuffing food into the Toppl AND sticking in bully stick into the hole. Or, you can put a small and a large Toppl together and then stick the stick from one hole through the other. Amos demonstrates.