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Have you ever been walking around your house, minding your human business, when your dog lets out a huge, dramatic AF sigh? Seriously, these dogs are exasperating — as if they have to go to a job and pay bills and remember dentist appointments!
But before you spend 20 minutes lecturing your dog on being grateful for their pampered lifestyle, keep in mind that dogs do, in fact, get stressed. Although they don’t often communicate this emotion through sighing (most of the time they are literally just breathing), stress in dogs can manifest in pacing, panting, and whining.
We asked both animal behaviorists and human psychologists how you can deal with leaving your dog home alone.
Longterm stress can also result in destructive or dangerous behaviors and affect both your pup’s and your own quality of life. Stress in dogs can be triggered by pain, separation anxiety, boredom, and more. Most importantly our dogs’ stress should be taken seriously — even if they are an unemployed mooch of a pooch.
After taking the necessary steps to address the root cause of your dog’s anxiety, a great way to help your dog channel their stress is through toys that engage stress relieving behaviors like licking, chewing, and mental enrichment. No matter the toy you select to help relax your pup, each one should follow a very simple rule.
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“All of these toys should allow your dog to ‘win,’” says trainer, pet lifestyle expert, and The Wildest Expert Collective member Nicole Ellis. Ellis goes on to say that stress toys should be de-stressing — not distressing. “It is important to ensure dogs don’t get frustrated or stressed with toys. The goal is to have them win and stay engaged.” With that in mind, here are The Wildest’s picks for the best toys for chillaxing to the max.
Btw, our editors (and their pets) picked out these products. They’re always in stock at the time we publish, but there’s a chance they’ll sell out. If you do buy through our links, we may earn a commission. (We’ve got a lot of toys to buy over here, you know?)
Got a dog who needs a more energetic outlet for releasing their demons? This unique toy is for the burrowers who enjoy a quick dig before their snack. With the iDig, dog parents can hide toys and treats under the toy’s flap, and pups can dig their way to their prize.
“The iDig is one of my dog’s favorite toys; it provides mental enrichment [from] finding the toys and treats mixed with the physical element of digging (which is a natural innate desire of dogs),” Ellis says. “I find mine often goes to sleep in the iDig once he’s done. It’s our go-to when he needs to get some anxious energy out.”
You can never go wrong with a classic! This lick mat is a great choice for directing your fretful dog’s attention toward something fun! A largely unchallenging toy, this mat is perfect for high-stress situations, when your dog is more likely to be distracted.
This frozen treat toy might as well be an icy piña colada for our frazzled fur babies. Fill and freeze The Pupsicle with your pup’s favorite treat mixture and watch your dog’s brow unfurrow. In addition, this treat is perfect for dogs struggling with separation anxiety; it can last up to 40 minutes.
A lot of dogs are tough chewers on their best days, and an anxious day is only going to increase that urge to chomp. To help your chew boo relax, we recommend this treat-holding toy by Qwizl, specifically designed for aggressive chewers. This toy can be paired with anything from bully sticks to spreadable treats to make a fun, challenging game out of snack time.
If crate training is bringing your dog down, consider this training-aid toy from Diggs. Specifically designed to create a positive association between your pup and the crate, this toy utilizes a pretty simple design. Step one: cover toy in lickable treat (peanut butter, honey, etc). Step two: attach toy to crate. Step three: have your dog lick the treat inside the crate and let the de-stressing ensue.
“I love seeing dogs that are anxious in the crate go from licking the Groov toy for a few sessions to relaxing in the crate on their own. [Then, they have] their own safe spot in the home when they need some quiet time to decompress,” Ellis adds.
Snuffle mats are ubiquitous as the go-to enrichment toy, but did you know this type of toy can help your pup reach some serious zen? We especially like this one by Injoya that combines snuffling with licking — two behaviors proven to relax our pups. Or, if you are a family that’s more into dairy than peanut butter, try Injoya’s pizza snuffle mat.
A puzzle for your puzzled pet, perhaps? This Amazon favorite is great for times of boredom and stress (fun fact: Boredom can even cause stress in a dog!) Just make sure you know your dog’s, how shall we say, intellectual-interest level before setting this down in front of them. A dog not interested in more academic pursuits might find this puzzle too challenging to be fun. However, a dog who feels stressed by a lack of stimulation (looking at you, working and herding dogs), will gravitate to this puzzle toy.
All pup parents know the golden rule: Kong is king. All hail Kong! Kong toys have long been the godsend for dog parents dealing with separation anxiety, boredom, and the simple desire to watch Netflix and take a bubble bath in peace. As much as the Kong is a solve for those issues, it’s even better for de-stressing your pup. A perfect combination of treat and puzzle, the Kong is a stress toy that all dogs can enjoy — especially as they come in different sizes and rubber types to best fit your dog’s needs.
Ellis wholeheartedly believes in the power of the Kong: “Most dogs go back to the Kong multiple times throughout the day, which I love. The shape of the Kong gives the [dog the] ability to hold the Kong and just lick it and allows them to settle in a spot, while the fun shape can allow them to roll it and chase it. [This helps] them explore new areas that may be causing stress and anxiety.”
If you have tried all the treat toys and puzzles under the sun, and your pup still can’t find their center, consider going a different route with the Snuggle Puppy. The Snuggle Puppy uses low heat and a heartbeat function to mimic a companion for your anxious dog. Many users rave about this toy being a game changer separation anxiety and crate training, which can be some of the most stressful situations for pups.