Entertaining pets during the pandemic

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Playing fetch with your dog is so old school. Today’s pet toys aim to stimulate their minds as well,

Since the pandemic, sales of pet toys have gone up noticeably, and Bob Pressley, owner of Bark Street Petopia in Marietta, whose sales have tripled, has a theory. “We’ve all been in quarantine, and when you need to do a Zoom meeting, you can put your kids in front of a movie or give them an iPad to play a video game, and they’ll amuse themselves,” he says. “But what are you going to do if you’ve got a dog that wants attention? They just want to be with you. The interaction between pets and their owners has increased and people are buying more toys for self-preservation.”

Daniel Burton, general manager at Pooch N Paws Pet Boutique in Suwanee, says three weeks into the quarantine he noticed increased requests for pet toys. “They need something to stimulate their dogs to buy them time to cook or do a little work. They need to stimulate the dog.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

No longer is it good enough to give your favorite pooch a chew toy or even a rope and expect it to be happy. “Oddly enough, they get bored just chewing on things, so you have to stimulate their mind. Make them do something, think and then reward them,” Burton says.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Interactive toys where treats are hidden inside a toy are very popular, says Laura Saunders, owner of Inman Park Pet Works. The key is for the toy not to provide immediate gratification. Just like for children wanting a treat, they have to earn it. The pet can smell the treat; they just can’t see it.

Nina Ottosson is a Swedish maker of puzzle toys and her company makes one of the most popular lines of doggie hide-and-seek toys. Treats are put into little holes, and the dogs have to figure out how to get to them. They have to slide levers over, remove pegs or spin a wheel and then slide the levers over to reap the reward. The puzzles come in three difficulty levels with the most advanced requiring a couple of movements before the pet finds the treat. Prices range from $15 to $25.

>> WATCH VIDEO: MultiPuzzle, a Dog Puzzle Game by Nina Ottosson, difficulty level 4. Hide and seek treats.

Another popular toy brand is Kong, which makes toys that “unleash the power of play.” They make a variety of plastic toys that have an erratic bounce that keeps the pouch engaged — especially if you stuff the inside with treats. For cats, try the Better Buzz Cigar, which is shaped like a cigar and loaded with catnip.

Orbeez also offers several options, including a ball with a hole in it to put treats. But the dog must push, twist and turn the ball before the treat slowly works its way through the inner maze. “You wouldn’t believe how much focus they have when they can see and smell it. And, they only get a small portion of the treat, so there is a constant reward coming out,” Pressley says.

Don’t have enough time to play fetch with your pet? No worries. There are toys that will teach Fido to play fetch with himself. Yes, you can teach your pet to drop the ball into a ball launching machine that automatically lobs the ball, so that the dog can then go chase it. The machines can toss a ball up to 35 feet. Every time. Over and over again. The Paws & Pals Automatic Dog Ball Launcher even gives a reward when the dog puts the ball back into the launcher. The PetSafe Automatic Ball Launcher Dog Toy stops after 15 minutes of play so the dog doesn’t get exhausted. “It doesn’t take a long time to train the dog. If the dog is good at retrieving, they can do it for hours,” says Sanders.

Another great quality time pet-owner activity is to play dress up. Over at Bark Street Petopia, a variety of Hawaiian shirts are popular. “We had a greyhound come in the other day and was outfitted with a Hawaiian shirt,” Pressley says. “Usually, the dogs don’t like it, but they’ll keep it long enough for a picture. But this greyhound just laid down and took a nap in the store.” Of course, for the dog that is a sports fan, there are a variety of collegiate jerseys as well as Atlanta’s local sports teams’ jerseys. Of course, we have SEC jerseys and Christmas ones, too.”

Still, sometimes an owner just wants to relax, maybe have a cocktail and chill — and so does your dog. The perfect toy, then, is a hemp chew toy. “There is no marijuana in the hemp ropes,” says Burton. “But, it does have a calming effect; it helps the dog chill out.” It also seems to help in the treatment of pain, arthritis, seizures, anxiety and cognitive dysfunction.

So, whether you need a toy to help keep your pet engaged while you’re on Zoom or need it to calm down while you’re enjoying relaxation time, your local pet store will have it.


Inman Park Pet Works. Monday-Saturday. 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 914A Austin Ave. Atlanta. 404-522-4544, inmanparkpetworks.com.

Bark Street Petopia. Monday-Friday. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: Noon-5 p.m. 136 S. Park Square NE, Marietta. 470-485-2345, barkstreetpetopia.com.

Pooch N Paws. Monday-Saturday. 10 a.m.- 7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: Noon- 6 p.m. Locations: 5185 Peachtree Pkwy #102, Peachtree Corners and 320 Town Center Avenue, Suite C-9, Suwanee. 770-932-7040, poochnpaws.com.