REVIEW: Nina Ottosson's Dog Brick Sharpens Canine Minds

REVIEW: Nina Ottosson's Dog Brick Sharpens Canine Minds

12/03/2010 07:45AM

I consider myself lucky to have Ethel, my consummate city dog. She's small, portable and doesn't need to run laps around the park everyday. Still, she's 10 years old, I want to keep her as healthy and stimulated as possible. I didn't think I was doing that as well as I should. I used to wonder a lot about whether she was just, well, bored.

No more. Reader, I have found a stopgap to my Maltese's boredom. Its name is Dog Brick.

Nina Ottosson, a Swedish designer of interactive pet toys, makes amazing puzzle games for dogs and cats, including the Brick, but also the Tornado, the Memory Wood and the Turbo, among others. The idea is to not just give your pet a treat for free, but to make him find it before he can have it.

The Dog Brick ($42) came in the mail a few weeks ago in this cute box that had a rating system. The toy had a "smartness" rating (or difficulty level) of two out of three. It featured two dogs wearing glasses and graduation caps, and I seriously wondered whether Ethel could actually do it. Two caps means "Medium, fits most dogs." What if she only rated one graduation cap? Was my adorable dim bulb going to solve this game to find her treats?

So I had a mini panic attack. I project so much onto her, you know.

Ottosson suggests slowly introducing the game to the pet. You start off by simply making the treat available in the divots of the puzzle, so she gets the idea. Then, you move the plastic blocks around to cover up the treat – after she's seen you watch the treat go down into the crevice.

When I explained the task to Ethel and attempted to communicate what she should set off to do, she looked ready to go. Yes, I understand, she seemed to say, her furry engines revving.

And then what did she do? She couldn't figure out the Dog Brick and totally freaked. Just collapsed into a tizzy of digging and circling the puzzle and looking despondent. I had to move the blocks out of the way for her and show her they were moveable, even with her tiny paws (or her tiny nose).

After a few tries, and a few more desperate minutes, she mastered the basic idea. We kept it at that for a while before moving on to the next level of difficulty. Well, she wasn't ready for it at all. My food-motivated pooch gave up and walked away from a treat. Was she really just one graduation cap after all? Was she never going to get her degree in Dog Brick?

Don't worry! There's a happy ending. Patience, it turns out, really is a virtue. A few weeks after she first met the Dog Brick, Ethel can now take it down and scarf up all the little treats in every little crevice –and it takes her half as long as it used to. I think we'll even make it to the end of the year before she gets bored again.

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