Raise your hand (or paw) if you’re feeling stressed as hell. Yep, us too. Let’s be honest: The past several months have been hard on all of us. And eventually, our dogs will face a stressful transition as we return to the office and they have to get used to spending part of their day without us again. To help you both get by, consider looking into toys for anxious dogs—as well as ones for us stressed-out humans!
Going from spending all day with their favorite people—and maxing out on all the cuddles, treats, walks and playtime—to hours spent by themselves can be a stressful transition for canines.
“[It’s] the sudden shift from pet parents being home to give those furry family members love, attention and affection all day, to a lonely day at home with no gradual process of the shift happening,” says Hannah Cartwright, head trainer at Pet Lodge Dog Training in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “With such a sudden shift in the routine, dogs may become frazzled over what’s going on.”
If you’re not sure if your dog is stressed, look for these typical signs of stress in pets, as well as symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs.
Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko, MSW, LCSW, clinical psychotherapist and owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida, says the situation can be stressful for pet parents, too, as they worry about their dogs back at home.
“A loving pet parent will be sad if they know their animal is unhappy or lonely,” says Hoskins-Tomko. “They don’t want their dog to feel betrayed or abandoned or any less loved.”
To help alleviate some of the stress you and your dog may experience, we spoke with the experts to get their recommendations for the best toys for anxious dogs. And we didn’t forget about you! We even included some stress toys that might help you, too.
Help Stressed Pups with These Toys for Anxious Dogs
Along with these other anxiety-relieving tips, giving dogs a distraction can be helpful to weariful pups. Try these toys for anxious dogs, and be sure to speak to your vet if you have any concerns.
Twister Puzzle Game
“If your dog has free roam of the house while you’re away, consider using puzzle toys to keep their brain focused on rewarding and healthy problem solving skills,” says Nicole Johnstone, trainer and founder of Kinectic Canine LLC, a dog training and boarding facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Twister Puzzle Game Dog Toy has varying levels of difficulty, so your pup will really have to put on their thinking cap to get those yummy treats. You can fill the puzzle’s compartments with kibble or training treats, like Zuke’s Mini Naturals Chicken Recipe Training Dog Treats, to make the game really worth their while.
Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy
For the pup that just needs a good snuggle to feel calm, try the Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Dog Toy.
“This is an awesome toy that promotes comfort and companionship. It [has] heat packs to create a slight warmth similar to body heat, as well as a simulated heartbeat!” Cartwright explains. “This toy is easy to clean, safe and overall a great option—especially for puppies!”
Nylabone Power Chew Wishbone
To better your chances of keeping your dog occupied all day, look for toys made out of tough material like this bison-flavored Nylabone Power Chew Wishbone made of powerful nylon. And after a good chew session or two, your pup is likely to take a nap. As an added bonus, the toy is textured with raised bristles to help clean teeth and encourage fresh breath. (Think of how much better those dog kisses will be when you get home!)
KONG Classic Dog Toy
Of course, you can never go wrong with a KONG! The KONG Classic Dog Toy comes in several sizes to keep dogs large and small busy and focused. Johnstone suggests filling it with this sprayable, peanut butter-flavored KONG Stuff’N Easy Treat, adding in some kibble or treats and then freezing it overnight. They’ll need to work a bit harder to get the reward, but it’s a healthy, positive activity for an anxious or lonely pup.
Don’t Forget About Your Stress-less, Self-care Sesh
To deal with some of the anxiety you may be feeling about leaving your dog—or anything else that you’ve been fretting over—consider snagging a stress toy for yourself, too. Here are our favorites.
Mini Zen Garden Kit
“A popular desktop toy is a miniature Japanese Zen garden, consisting of a small sandbox with a rake. It can add tranquility to your hectic day,” says Hoskins-Tomko. “People find the back and forth movement [of raking the sand] rhythmical and soothing.”
Check out this Mini Zen Garden Kit from World Market, which comes with sand, rocks, a mini rake, and—bonus!—a book about Zen gardening.
Mini Metal Puzzle Collection
Metal puzzles may look small, but they’re big in terms of challenges. This Mini Metal Puzzle Collection from Art of Play comes with 10 miniature brain busters that can help temporarily take your mind off being away from your fur baby and give your anxious hands something to do.
“These brain teasers could take a while, so [be] careful not to get lost in la la land !” Hoskins-Tomko warns. “Set a timer on your phone if you have to, so you’re alerted as to when you need to snap back into work mode.”
Fish Ring Toss Water Game
Sure, it may look like a kids’ game, but this ring toss game is great for helping grown-ups beat stress by presenting a mental and hand-eye challenge. And the best part is it’s small enough to fit in your pocket or purse—and it’s inexpensive! You can get a dozen Fish Ring Toss Water Games for under $10. So share a few with your pet parent coworkers!
Rainbow Pom Pom Caterpillar
Similar to a stress ball, this colorful, squishy Rainbow Pom Pom Caterpillar is a great sensory toy to help alleviate stress and anxiety, Hoskins-Tomko says.
“The texture of the rubber and the setae (bristle-like hairs) feel good in our hands,” she explains.
Remember that taking preparations can help both you and your dog stress less as you return to work. And remember, if you ever need a quick pick-me-up, just close your eyes and imagine how excited they’ll be when you walk through the door. Those kisses and cuddles can be the best stress-relief of all!