So your dog is stuck in an x-pen all day. You've played the games on the games page, you've patted your dog until your arms are ready to fall off ... isn't there anything else you can do to distract or entertain your poor bored dog? Here are some ideas:

Marrow bones

We couldn't have gotten through Kodi's two recoveries without marrow bones. I don't even know if we could get through the normal routine NOW without them! We give each dog a marrow bone straight from the freezer before we leave for work each day. A big raw marrow bone gives dogs sparkly clean white teeth (you won't believe the difference), exercises their jaws, provides some nutrition in the marrow, and best of all, most dogs are CRAZY about them and will stay busy for hours!

Why raw? Why not? Unless your dog has a compromised immune system, his system will be able to handle raw bones just fine. Note that we're talking about knuckle or femur bones here, where the dog will eat the attached cartilage, meat and marrow but not the actual bone. This is different than a raw-bones diet (which we also feed our dogs). Look for good-sized bones (too big to fit entirely inside your dog's mouth), and the more cartilage and meat attached the better. Cut off any large chunks of fat. If your dog hasn't had marrow bones before, give him one under supervision, and watch for any stomach upset that might follow -- the marrow is very rich and your dog may need time to adjust to it.

Note that some dogs are such aggressive chewers that they can eventually wear down their teeth on marrow bones. It's also possible for an especially aggressive chewer to split or crack off pieces of a marrow bone. If this sounds like your dog, give marrow bones only under close supervision and be sure to remove the bone as soon as he's gotten the meat and marrow off of it.

Find marrow bones at your local grocery (often labeled as "soup bones") or at a butcher shop. Many butchers will cut the bones to any size you like -- sometimes the ones they put out are too small for large breed dogs.

Kongs

By now I think every dog owner in the United States probably owns a Kong but just in case, here's a quick write-up. This is the dog toy to end all dog toys. You can throw it, play fetch with it, or just let your dog chew on it, but because Kongs are hollow inside, the best use is as a distraction for a bored dog. You can stuff a Kong with anything.

Here's one recommendation: Put a few small, smelly treats in the Kong (liver, cubes of cheese). Now stick in a couple of dog biscuits and wedge them in so they won't fall out on their own. Smear some peanuut butter across the top and present your stunned dog with this Holy Grail of treat-dom. Some dogs will work for hours to extract almost anything from a Kong, no matter how tightly it's wedged in there, while others will give up after a few tries. It's only fun if your dog is eventually successful, so don't be too overzealous with cramming stuff in there if your dog can't get it out. (Kodi has been known to THROW the Kong at us if he can't extract all the goodies. He will also take it to the top of the stairs and fling it down, trying to bounce the treats out.)

You can fill a Kong with peanut butter or cream cheese and then freeze it for a frozen treat -- perfect to give your dog before you leave the house for work. Or fill a Kong with your dog's daily food ration, top it off with wedged-in biscuits or frozen peanut butter, and let him work for his dinner for a change.

Here's where to buy a Kong online (any local pet supply shop will also have them):

  • Petsmart

    Kong alternatives include the Buster cube (a plastic square you fill with kibble or small hard treats -- as the dog pushes the square around the treats fall out), the biscuit ball and goodie ships. All are available at Dogwise:

  • Best-selling toys at Dogwise

    Refillable stuffed toys

    This new category of toys is similar to the Kong but different enough that I wanted to call special attention to them. If you've "been there -- done that" with the whole Kong routine and think there's nothing new in that arena, this is something you'll be interested in.

    The first one we tried is called a "Tennis Tummy." Wish I'd found these earlier, during the first part of Kodi's recoveries. It would have been wonderful at keeping him occupied. He's an expert at extracting goodies from buster cubes, Kongs (no matter how tightly I wedge treats in there), and can even twist the lid off an empty plastic jar of peanut butter, but this had him stumped! It's shaped like an elephant (or a cat or dog, they sell different ones) with two tennis balls in its belly. There's a strip of Velcro down the animal's back. The first time we used it, I threw some treats in with the tennis balls, smooshed together the Velcro, and figured Kodi would be able to extract the treats within a couple of minutes. No sir. He and Maddie took turns mauling the toy to death for a TWO HOUR period, until my husband took pity on them and opened the Velcro a little. What bliss to see the dogs so busy-busy, chewing and tugging and working, all by themselves!

    Between the two dogs repeatedly chewing and tearing at the toys, the tennis tummies haven't had the longest lifespans (once they get a good-sized hole the treats just fall out), but honestly, the price of a toy is worth it just for that first episode! I ordered my tennis tummy from J&B Wholesale but here's another site that has them:

  • Tennis Tummies

    The smart, similar "Material Dog" toys have a removeable inner padding (which squeaks). If your dog likes squeaky things then you're set to go ... but you can also take out the squeaker, fill the inside of the toy with treats and Velcro it up!

    Get 'em at Dogwise:

  • Material Dog toys