This line of toys has been out for a number of years now. I discovered them online a couple of years ago and have been lusting over them ever since. There are very few retailers in this area of the world. Yes, I could have searched online for a retailer that would ship, but I just never got around to it. Finances were always an issue, so I continued to put a purchase aside.
I finally got around to purchasing two of the Nina Ottosson toys this past weekend: the Dog Finder and the Dog Casino.
The basic premise behind the toys is that the dog is encouraged to use their nose and paws to manipulate moving components to reveal treats. The toys are rated at difficulty levels of 1, 2, and 3, with 1 being the most easy and 3 being the most difficult.
The Dog Finder and the Dog Casino are both rated as 2/3, meaning that they can be adjusted to make the puzzle more difficult to solve.
I find it very difficult to judge the size and quality of the toys from online resources. My primary concern was that the removable pieces would be too small and pose a choking risk. Or that the plastic would be thin or flimsy. Having seen the products first hand, I am very reassured! The plastic is thick and hard, but textured so as not to become slippery once it is drooled on.
A brief description of the two toys that I purchased is as follows.
The Dog Casino
Purchased for $40 CDN
This is a flat slab of plastic with 8 small plastic drawers along the side edges. The drawers slide out quite easily and smoothly, and have a sturdy handle that can be manipulated with a paw or the mouth. On the top of the body of the toy are 8 holes, one corresponding to each drawer. A plastic bone-shaped peg can be fit into each hole that, when in place, locks the drawer closed.
The bone-shaped pegs are thick and sturdy. They are small in comparison to dog toys we are used to seeing. For a dog the size of Romeo (average Sheltie-sized) they are not too much of a concern. Gio (a large Sheltie, average Border Collie-sized) can handle the small pieces well, though I have had to remind him with a "drop it" once or twice. A larger dog or one that has a harder mouth may have difficulty manipulating the pegs safely. Below is a picture of the bone-shaped peg in the palm of my hand and next to a house key for size reference.
The quality of the product is fantastic! Both Gio and Romeo have climbed on, scratched, bitten, and stood on the Dog Casino and it holds up very well.
This is a toy that should be used under supervision only! In addition to the safety concerns, you will need to encourage the dog to work certain areas of the board and you will also have to replenish the treats.
I noticed, in perusing the different Nina Ottosson products, that some toys are designed to be better for "mouth dogs" and some are more suitable for "paw dogs". Having one of each (Romeo uses his paws while Gio uses his mouth), I wanted to get a toy suitable for each. The Dog Casino requires a dog to use his paws to open the drawers, while it seems to be easier to pull the pegs out of the top with the mouth. Gio manages to open the drawers with his mouth, though he has to learn some finesse to excel at this. He particularly LOVES pulling the pegs from the top. Romeo pulls the drawers open with his paws and is struggling slightly with the pegs. He will push the pegs aside to get the treat underneath, but doesn't always remove the peg completely. I'm confident that he will figure this out in time.
As for difficulty level, I like the 2/3 split of the Casino. Romeo figured the drawer thing out in about 15 minutes, and is now quite adept at that portion. After two play sessions of roughly 15 minutes each (after which, both dogs were completely exhausted!!) he is still learning how to pull the pegs. Gio figured the peg thing out nearly instantly, though the drawers took a bit longer (about 15 minutes). Neither dog has yet figured out that the pegs lock the drawers, so there is still room for them to explore!
Here is a video of the boys playing with the Dog Casino.
The Dog Finder
Purchased for $40 CDN
This is a flat piece of plastic with a number of channels molded into the top surface. Each channel is narrower at one end and wider at the other. Plastic bone-shaped cups fit into each channel and slide smoothly back and forth. When the cup is slid to the narrow end of the channel, it cannot be removed. when the cup is slid to the wide end of the channel, it is possible for the dog to nose or paw the cup out and reveal treats underneath.
Like the Casino, the plastic base of the Finder is sturdy and well made. The bone-shaped cups are larger than the bone-shaped pegs of the Casino. Definitely not a swallowing risk for medium-sized dogs, though a large/giant breed may be a different story. Below is a picture of the bone-shaped cup in my palm next to a house key for size reference. As well as a size reference between the peg from the Casino and the cup from the Finder.
As always, supervision is important. For safety, encouragement, and treat replenishing.
The Finder appears to be more suited to dogs that are prone to using their mouth and nose to manipulate things. Gio easily slides the cups along the channels with his nose, and is learning how to scoop them out of the channels with his nose as well. The shape of the cups prevents him from pulling the cups out of the channel with his mouth, though another larger dog may have more success with this approach. Romeo has attempted to play with the Finder with his paws to varied success. He can move the cups back and forth along the channels with his paws, and some vigorous scratching will displace the cups when at the wide end of the channel.
The Finder, like the Casino, is rated as a 2/3, though both Gio and Romeo seem to be finding it more difficult than the Casino. The difficulty is increased to a 3 if extra cups are placed in the channels to prevent the treat cup from sliding. The extra cup must be removed before the treat cup can be displaced to reveal the treats.
A nice bonus is that each cup has a small hole in the top. This can be used to thread a thin rope through to assist in lifting the cup out of the channel (I have no yet tried this). It can also facilitate scent games, where all of the cups are placed in the channels, though a treat is only placed under a few cups. The dog must determine where the treat is hidden and then work to reveal it.
The big down-side of the Finder is that there is a long opening along the sides of the channels at the narrow end. I assume that this is to allow the cups to slide smoothly, but I find that it tends to allow the treats to fall through the base onto the floor beneath. Perhaps once the dogs become a little more skilled at removing the cups without shaking the toy around too much, this won't be an issue. You could also use larger treats that don't fit through the openings or spread some soft treat (wet dog food, peanut butter, etc.) on the inside of the cup to serve as a reward.
The boys have each worked with the Finder for two sessions of about 15 minutes each. They have had varied success and understand now that they must remove the cup to get the treat. They have not figured out that the cup can only be removed from one end of the slot yet. Both still need some practice at learning HOW to remove the cups.