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Not every dog loves every toy - the importance of understanding clients needs

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Sep 11th 2013 - By Gillian Shippen, Director Pets Need a Life Too
Diesel With Turtle

I love this Guest Blog Post because although it shows how passionate Gillian is about enrichment toys for pets it's also a great study on excellent client service. It shows just how much Gillian has studied her own pets and how determined she is to meet the needs of her clients' pets.  

Meet Diesel – he is a new addition to our household. Truth be told, I really wasn’t sure if I wanted another dog after I lost the number one furry man in my life, Cole, last year to stomach cancer.

Cole, my first Rottweiler, was just an amazing dog. No he wasn’t a perfect angel, but he was pretty awesome, well at least in my eyes. Because of my commitment to him, I am what I am today. Pets Need A Life Too! was born because of him.

Back to Diesel – I got lazy… Cole got older and more sedentary in his life (he still loved a game and to use his food dispensing toys (FDT). His eyes would always light up when I would bring him a new one to test) and our other Rottweiler Chevy, well he is a lazy dog: "Walk, what’s walking, isn’t that what you people have cars for?" Then when Cole died and Chevy was finally allowed on the couch (that was an unspoken rule between Cole & Chevy it seems, Cole had the couch, Chevy had the floor!), Chevy took his new position on the couch very seriously and wasn’t that fussed about his toys – oh he would use a FDT if I gave it to him, but all the other fun stuff he used to use, “meh”, not so fun anymore!

Chevy - the ultimate couch potato

A new family member can change everything

After a year passed, I took in a foster Chihuahua for about 10 days and noticed Chevy regained an interest in the fun toys. I wasn’t actively looking for another dog, I still wasn’t really over Cole (did I happen to mention he was an awesome dog?) but I thought maybe Chevy would appreciate some company.

Enter Diesel – an approximately 9 year old desexed male Rottweiler cross (no idea what he is crossed with). There he was looking forlornly out at me from the photo on an animal rescue page.  Reminding me of Cole, just a little! So we decided to give him a go, poor thing….I mean surely, given he is a Rotty Cross, already supposedly between 8-10 years old, he’ll probably only have a few more years left in him at most, it couldn’t be all that bad.

Puppy behaviour!

Goodness me; for a supposedly mature gentleman, this dog gets into stuff! He has chewed up a remote control and raided my wardrobe, where I just happened to have some dog bikkies in a pocket of some clothes. He is a notorious counter surfer – leave anything food related on the kitchen bench and it’s gone. It doesn’t even have to be in reach, he’ll get it somehow….and don’t think it’s safe when its wrapped – nooo, wrapping is easily dispensed of.

Bins are another wonderful source of entertainment for him….oh and watch out for that little “green wastes” basket we have too. The dishwasher is a wonderful source of interesting smells and usually requires his attention. Now if he can only figure out how to open that Large Silver Box thing in the most awesome room in the house (the kitchen) that the humans keep putting food in…I am sure if he could, he would open up that fridge and I would be eaten out of house and home. My best friend (who also works with me at Pets Need A Life too!) reckons Diesel has amazing Spiderman abilities to reach illicit food.

One morning we had a BBQ breakfast for my visiting stepson and his friends, and MOTH (Man Of The House) didn’t get a chance to clear things away properly before he had to take his son to the airport. I was sick that weekend and lying on the couch that morning, feeling woefully sorry for myself, Chevy came along and “OOFED” at me. Chevy has a special little “OOF” that requires attention – it means he wants to go outside – now! I grumbled to him the back door was open and he could go out himself, but I got up and led the way……only to find Diesel up on his hind legs, “helping” clear away the remains of the BBQ bits….Chevy had come to dob!

He just like the thrill of the chase!

No, Diesel hasn’t got any disorder that requires me to give him medication – he is actually a very healthy dog. Makes me wonder if his propensity for getting into mischief is the reason his original owner gave him up! I wouldn’t say he is obsessed by food, I think he just likes the thrill of the chase!

Purr-sonality is everything when it comes to selecting the right toy

So why am I telling you this story? Well you see, I always say to my clients that it is important to know what your pets purr-sonality when selecting the right environmental enrichment toy or product.

I ask all sorts of questions:

Does you dog like to pick things up?

Play tug?

Use his paws or just nose things around?

Does kitty prefer spiders, or moths?

Does she like balls or bits of fluff?

Is kitty a tree or bush dweller?

Do they like treats, how do you feed them?

Do they eat slowly or scoff it down?

Do they seem as though they ask for food and then might only eat a mouthful or maybe just turn their nose up and walk away?

I need to know all this stuff, so I can work out what is the right option for a particular pet.

Oh and by the way you really can teach an old dog new tricks, you just have to work out what makes them tick.

Take my three dogs – all Rottweilers (well one cross) and all different in their preferences!


Cole: was very physical with his toys, liked to pick them up and throw them around, loved a challenge and loved plush un-stuffing toys. He was always more than happy to nut something out. His most favourite game in the world was a toss-up between Tug and Chase.


Chevy: LAAAAZzzzzzzzeee – with an emphasis on the “Z” (as in sleep). When I got him, he didn’t even know what a toy was and he didn’t know how to play, certainly not appropriately anyway. Cole and I had to teach him how to play…he still is a bit inept but he is so much better than when he first came to our household at 18mths of age.

Chevy is not so physical with his toys, in fact he is actually very soft mouthed when it comes to the softies – he cannot even make a squeaky toy squeak – so when he accidently manages to – oh what a palaver, he is so proud of himself! As for the food dispensing toys – he doesn’t like anything too challenging. I had to start him with something really easy at first and have been able to lift it up a little challenge wise, but not too much. He pushes things around with his nose, he doesn’t really like anything that he has to pick up or use his paws for. He does like the plush un-stuffing toys but I have just discovered he needs “competition” in order to use them. Interestingly he is a soft dog, will yelp if a leaf falls on him, but he does suffer with gingivitis problems so is a reluctant chewer as a result, I figure this is probably why he doesn’t really like picking things up with his mouth.


Now at this stage I will point out, we have a cat, Normie, a domestic moggie who is now 7 years old. When he was younger he enjoyed the food dispensing balls that he could chase around. It’s a bit hard now because the dogs like them too. Now he likes my other food dispensing items that give him a bit more of a challenge – the Stimulo and the Food Maze are ones he particularly likes because he can use his paws to dig the food out. Normie is a tree dweller – he likes to be up high. He is also the boss of the household – what he says goes! He does have wand type toys he likes to play with occasionally but now he is more mature man, his favourite past times are eating and sleeping….oh and tormenting the Gold Fish in our outdoor pond (we inherited the pond when we bought the house!).

Back to Diesel again; he is a learning curve for me. I said I got lazy when we only had Chevy over the past year. Now I have to get back to my roots of environmental enrichment. As I say, I think Diesel just likes doing stuff, he’s a busy bee. I think there probably is a bit of an anxiety component to it at present (the last 6 months of his life haven’t been easy for him – 5 homes in 6 months). I note he likes to chew (again possibly a stress release) … all the softer food dispensing toys that he can chew on are the best for him, something he has to work at to get the food out. He seems to like them when we are settling down for the evening, he needs to release a bit of pent up energy, so he’ll work on a toy for about half an hour and then he too settles. He likes to feel very special as well, when he picks up the plush toys…..still trying to teach him how to un-stuff them properly though.

Oh and I don’t just do toys........


Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but she has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too'where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.

Gillian is passionate about the whole topic of behaviour and her aim is to "..not just to sell you products but to ensure you are purchasing the right item for you and your pet."


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