When we got the DNA test results for our dog, Pipsqueak, we learned she's part Jack Russell Terrier. And terriers like to participate in earthdog trials, where they use their keen sense of smell to hunt down little rodents (typically a rat in the trials). This fascinated me to no end, but our dog is shy and likes to stick close to home. So when she snatched up a little stuffed javelina toy that had tumbled onto the floor one day, we were delighted. To her, it looked like a little rodent -- her terrier instincts were kicking in! We coined it her "little piggy" and it was the first toy we could get her to play with.
Fast forward several months, when we learned from her trainer that dogs like to be challenged by hunting for their treats or food. After hearing this, I ran to my workshop and attached a crude pocket to Pipsqueak's little piggy. We stuffed some treats inside and waited in anticipation to see if she'd figure out they were in there, and if she'd figure out how to get them out.
The pocket is dirty, but it's holding up great.
She did! It was so fun to watch her investigating, and from then on whenever we wanted to give her a treat or stimulate her appetite we'd put some food (her regular kibble) in the pocket and set the toy somewhere for her to find. "Little piggy" was now "pocket piggy".
My design challenge was set: how could I create a soft toy that would keep dogs entertained and challenged, engaging them in a mental activity with a treat for a reward?
My design goals for this new toy included:
- a pocket that holds little treats or pieces of food to mentally challenge dogs
- adding a floppy tail for grabbing (Pipsqueak likes to do drive-by toy grabs and sometimes these little appendages help her pick up the toy)
- no plastic pieces, like eyes, that could get chewed off and harm a dog
- roughly rodent-like (but cuter)
The inspiration for the Pocket Critter interactive dog toy comes from three main sources:
- the rat that's used in earthdog trials
- the way dogs like to be mentally challenged and hunt for treats
- the crude pocket I stitched onto the original plush toy
The design process
The design didn't come easy. I'd only made one other stuffed toy before, the stuffed pig project from Martha Stewart. I actually modified that project to have a long pocket along one side, but the fabric was too thin and it got chewed up.
I learned that a single layer of flannel was much too thin for the pocket.
I scoured Abby's great tutorials on whileshenaps.com and did all kinds of experimenting with different designs. The trickiest part was integrating the pocket into the design, and sizing it so Pipsqueak could actually reach the treats without just chewing through the pocket itself.
My final design was kind of a 180° turn from what I initially thought it would look like. Instead of being more true-to-life in shape, I sketched out a flat front-facing version that I fell in love with. The addition of big ears and a stuffed tail really help give it character.
After field testing the toy with Pipsqueak, I was happy with the design and ready to start making a bunch of them for a pop-up shop. (Spoiler alert: they were my best seller at the event.)
In my next post, I'll be giving a look into the making of the cute and huggable Pocket Critter toy.