black & white dog with stuffed inchworm toyFearful dogs’ brains have become very good at feeling afraid, startled, anxious and I’d guess that if a person exhibited the same symptoms as many of these dogs do they’ve be considered depressed. To help fearful dogs start having a better outlook on life we have to find ways to provide them with either things or opportunities that make them feel good. The easiest solution should be obvious, it’s the one many of us come up with, we settle down with a pint of our favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Forget about feeling guilty afterwards, I don’t think I’ve met a dog who has said, “Gosh I shouldn’t have eaten all that.” Heck even after puking it up most will eat it again.

There are a variety of good options as far as chews and bones go, and if you buy them english bulldog playing with treats in a muffin tinin bulk, can store them in the freezer and save some money. By far the least expensive and versatile is to buy a few food dispensing toys, like the Kong. If properly cared for- not exposed to the weather, removed and cleaned before a dog destroys them, they can last for years. There are other dispensers which are used for kibble that require a dog to interact with the toy beyond holding and licking. Nina Ottosson makes a variety of these toys. Not only does the dog need to think about ‘how’ to get the food, the toys itself may have moving parts or make noise as it rolls around on uncarpeted floors. This can be helpful for dogs who are startled by movement or sound. Some toys may not be appropriate to leave with a dog unsupervised because of parts that could be ingested.

Dogs can be fed all of their meals from a toy or hollow marrow bone. You can use the dog’s regular food, filling them with their kibble or canned food and sealing the ends with, cream cheese, peanut butter or some other soft food. It may not take a dog much longer to finish off their meal than from a bowl, but if you moisten their kibble, mix it with canned dog food, baby food or other soft food to bind it, and freeze it, it will take longer. I like to put a few bits of kibble in a Kong first, I find that sometimes the dog can’t reach that far and soft food ends up being stuck there. Then I let my creativity run rampant, or just empty out leftovers from the frig. Dogs on low fat diets can have canned pumpkin, yogurt, cottage cheese or baby food. I like to add different textures, dropping in bits of kibble, training treats, apple pieces, biscuits or other crunchy bits, layered in with whatever else I’m adding. I’m not sure if my dogs appreciate this effort, but it makes me feel good. I fill several at a time and keep them in the freezer.

The local thrift shop in our town always has a selection of stuffed animals for $1 a piece. I choose ones with no plastic eyes or other parts a dog could chew off and eat. The stuffing should be fiberfill. Many have either styrofoam or tiny plastic beads. Neither is a good choice. The styrofoam balls will stick to everything and the plastic beads can be found in dog poop days later. Check for squeakers or other noisemakers. I actually feel guilty when I purchase many of these toys as they are in great condition and I know that won’t last once I hand them over to my dogs.

If you have a dog who is too afraid to explore their environment, play or go for walks you need to start somewhere to help them feel better about life. What better way than a guilt-free pint of Karmel Sutra.