Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 24, 2015

Who’s Smarter?

Posted at 08:32AM - Comments: (15)

One of my friends has a dog, Lena, who recently tore her ACL. She’s on as much crate rest as my friend can manage. Ordinarily, Lena is a highly active dog, and keeping her quiet while her knee heals is quite a chore. Lena had surgery on her OTHER knee a few years ago, and my friend has been told that Lena’s hips are highly dysplastic, so my friend has invested a lot in finding ways to keep Lean busy while keeping her inactive. She owns lots of food-puzzles and tons of toys and Lena eats only out of Kong toys . . . anything to keep her occupied and prevent her from tearing the house apart.

One day my friend came home from a shopping trip, happy about a toy she found in a chain drug store (CVS) called the Fetch ’N Treat. It’s a low-tech toy that dispenses treats when a ball is dropped into the top. When the ball is dropped into a hole at the top, it presses a lever that makes treats sprinkle out, and the ball itself also rolls out of the toy.  My friend said that she loaded the toy with a combination of kibble and treats, and showed the ball (tennis ball-sized but heavier) to Lena, demonstrated dropping the ball into the hole at the top of the toy to Lena two times, allowing Lena to first eat the treats that were dispensed and then pick up the ball. And then Lena herself dropped the ball into the top of the toy, ate the resulting treats, fetched the ball, and did it again.

Click image to go to video page.

I was both impressed and a little dubious. I’ve never thought Lena was all that smart, frankly. My friend got her when she was about three or four months old, and she’s always been kind of a hardhead and slow to learn – or at least, slow to learn good manners behaviors. She’s never been all that reliable with recalls or paying attention to her owner on the trail. So I had to see this for myself. I ended up driving over to my friend’s house that day to see both the toy and whether Lena could, as advertised, operate it that quickly and efficiently.

It turned out that yes, she could. My friend set it up and she went to work like a factory worker. Get the ball, drop it in, eat the treats, get the ball, drop it in, eat the treats. . . . Score one for Lena, Nancy zero.

So what’s next? I had to drive right over to CVS and get one of the toys myself so I could see what my dogs would make of it.

Tito the Chihuahua was alternately interested in the ball and the treats. No matter how many times I demonstrated, he would either chase the ball and leave, or eat the treats and then look for more. It seemed like he couldn’t comprehend the connection between the two. But I didn’t think he would. I had higher hopes for Otto. He’s far more interested in training and learns new tasks really quickly. I’ve played “shaping” games with him many times, like “101 things to do with a box,” and he’s always been quick to understand when I want him to find a new behavior; he’ll persist in trying behavior after behavior until he finds something that earns him a treat.

I demonstrated the toy for Otto. He, too, failed to see the connection, or at least, failed to show that he cared enough to operate it himself. He did seem to quickly grasp that treats would come out of the toy if * I * put the ball into the hole at the top, but he also figured out that if he nosed the toy super hard and made it fall over, the treats would spill out then, too. 

I was able to coach him into bringing the ball toward the toy, and even managed to direct him into dropping it into the top of the toy, but I could see that there was no way he would have managed to do it without heavy coaching. Left to his own devices, he just started pawing and nosing the toy (he’s played with a lot of food-dispensing toys that require manipulation to dispense the treats).

Today, I drove back over to get some video of Lena operating her toy. She’s had it for about two months and her owner sets it up for her to play with a few times a week. She is an absolute expert at it now. She doesn’t get frustrated, but just tries again, if she puts the ball in and it fails to dispense a treat (sometimes they get stuck). Sometimes the ball gets stuck inside, and she’s learned to nudge the toy hard if this happens, to get the ball to roll out. She doesn’t need any encouragement or direction; she clearly understands exactly how the thing works.

So much for my understanding of canine intelligence.


Comments (15)

I'm sorry that it has turned out to be difficult to find this product. I wasn't actually endorsing it, given that I think Lena is the outlier here; I'm not sure most dogs would give it a try. But for the record, I've seen it in several CVS stores in different parts of California, and it sells for $19. As you could see in the video, the ball does not launch out of the toy, it just presses an interior lever and rolls out.Maybe I should have a contest and send the winner the one that I bought. My dogs think it's dumb.

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | February 26, 2015 10:05 PM    Report this comment

Also, check out Trixie Pet Products. they have some fun interactive games that do not appear to have much distribution, but you can buy them on US Amazon. www.trixiepet.com

Posted by: Tami4540 | February 26, 2015 5:09 PM    Report this comment

For anyone looking for this toy, I too went on a mission. I found the same, that the international distributor doesn't distribute in the US, however Toys R Us (new dog toy line) seems to have purchased the rights. It's being manufactured under their name and sold at Petsmarts. I have had a hard time finding it as it only seems to be available in stores (not online) and most are sold out. Out of 10 nearby stores, one had 2 and I bought both :-) There seems to be confusing on the packaging and bad reviews because they are marketing it as an automatic ball launcher so people are expecting something else. For someone who wants to work on a fun training exercise though, it's great! Hope that helps....

Posted by: Tami4540 | February 26, 2015 5:06 PM    Report this comment

The only place I could find this was amazon.co.uk and the seller doesn't ship to US. Bummer.

Posted by: RJ | February 25, 2015 10:45 PM    Report this comment

Sorry I haven't been able to find it in Pennsylvania at any of the CVS Stores around me. Looks like it would be fun.

Posted by: 3doghome | February 25, 2015 4:37 PM    Report this comment

The mfg is All for Paws.
Looks like they make several interactive toys for dogs & cats and numerous other pet products.
Their website shows there's only one USA distributor. Found the subject toy on Amazon UK but not Amazon USA.
Wonder what their products cost...

Posted by: als | February 24, 2015 8:10 PM    Report this comment

I have had 9 dogs and everyone of them refused to play with toys. I tried over and over again throwing a Frisbee, a ball and what not in the yard and they would just sit there and look at me. So, after about 10 minutes of waiting, I would go get the ball or whatever toy I threw. Even trying to get them to play fetch and get a treat did not work. I would drop the ball on the ground and all of them would pick up the ball and put it in my hand. I finally gave up on all of them. But believe me if I threw a sneaker into the air, they would catch it and play with it including chewing it. None of them would ever play with any toy I got so saved a lot of money not buying them any more. I did learn a valuable lesson from them - I learned how to fetch. LOL!

Posted by: huskydog | February 24, 2015 5:32 PM    Report this comment

I checked with our local cvs here in Northern Virginia. They don't carry it. It also is not on their website. Is it possibly imported from Europe?

Posted by: Hovifriend | February 24, 2015 3:01 PM    Report this comment

Oh my gosh, I love this thing. Three of my 4 love the ball and it would make them even happier if food was involved. I think #4 might even give it a try. Unfortunately, doesn't look like they carry it in the south florida market.

Posted by: SFLSue | February 24, 2015 12:18 PM    Report this comment

Interesting. I bought the PLAY WITH YOUR DOG book because I wanted more interaction with my Labradoodle, Harvey. They mention GENIUS toys quite frequently, so being a good dog owner, I bought three of them.
No matter how I engaged him, he just wasn't interested. I also need to mention that Harvey does the exact same thing with a marrow bone; eat the easy part, but leave the center behind and walk away.
I gave the toys to two friends who own dogs, and man, the dogs went nuts for the toys. One, a blue tick hound mix, can spend hours with the toy and cries when the owner puts it away. The other, a Jack Russell / Chihuahua mix actually chewed the thing to bits.
Just goes to show every dog is different and has different levels of interest.

Posted by: Rbert135 | February 24, 2015 11:46 AM    Report this comment

Does the person who wrote the article own stock in the dog toy company? Sales are going up.

Posted by: Soon | February 24, 2015 11:23 AM    Report this comment

This sounds like fun. I have a shephard/rottie mix, and a catahoula, both smart in the extreme, and I have several interactive toys that both have mastered. I'm going to see if I can find this one as it uses a different kind of manipulation than the others.

Posted by: BClare | February 24, 2015 10:22 AM    Report this comment

I'll have to see if either of my girls will be interested in this. Neither is a "ball" dog, preferring the more expensive stuffed squeaky toys. However, both are treat hounds and it will be a fun experiment to see what lengths they will go to get one.

Posted by: MJC | February 24, 2015 10:22 AM    Report this comment

Interesting, will try to find one. I have three Jack Russells of differing intelligence. Will be fun to see which one, if any, figures it out.

Posted by: 3doghome | February 24, 2015 9:35 AM    Report this comment

Funny, I'm going to see if I can find one. I have three Jack Russells of differing intelligence. Will be interesting to see which one would be able to figure it out.

Posted by: 3doghome | February 24, 2015 9:33 AM    Report this comment

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