Fooled by the Foobler? A Review

If you have a small dog with little experience with food toys and who is not prone to chewing hard plastic, the new toy called the Foobler might be the very thing for him.

If you have a larger dog, a determined dog, one who thrives on chewing hard plastic, or most important, a dog who has a lot of experience with food toys, I have some cautions about the product.

That’s right. I’m recommending the Foobler for dogs who are new to food toys, and not for those who are experienced with them. You’ll see why below.

How it Works

The Foobler food toy is a plastic sphere. The photo shows the sphere with the lid taken off. Six separate food compartments are arranged in a circle.

Inside the Foobler

The Foobler is a food puzzle toy with six separate compartments inside a hard plastic sphere with a lid. It has a removable battery pack. The batteries power a timer that can be set for several different intervals ranging from 15 to 90 minutes, a motor to change the active compartment, and a mechanical bell. It is weighted to make it wobble,  and kibble falls out of a hole when the toy is rolled around. It’s a very easy toy; it need only be rolled, and kibble comes out rapidly until the current chamber is empty. (There are plans to add a method to adjust the difficulty; I’m not sure whether this is present on the models currently shipping or not.)

The idea is that the dog’s fun gets spread throughout the day because only one chamber is open at a time, and the timer determines when the next one becomes available.

The Foobler was invented by three engineers and produced with a Kickstarter campaign. I was delighted to support the campaign and got my Foobler early on. I think it’s really cool that these guys figured out a niche in the market and put their heads together and came up with a nice design.

I like the design, and I like how the food compartment and the battery pack are separate. It’s washable. It is kinesthetically pleasing to open and close; the lids close with a nice snap.

I introduced the Foobler to all three of my dogs, and as a result I have some cautions to share. Besides the danger of being damaged through chewing, the Foobler may be generally frustrating for many toy-savvy dogs.

What’s the Problem?

The problem with the Foobler for experienced dogs is the “unexplained” down time. Every other food toy the dog plays with likely reinforces persistence. As long as the dog can smell and hear food in the toy, she can generally continue to get it out. It may get more difficult as it empties, and the dog may have to vary her behavior more, but she can generally get all the food and know when she is done. For instance, I have seen Summer roll around her Tricky Treat Ball for 10 minutes to get that one last piece of kibble. After she gets it out, she stops. The lack of rattling tells her the toy is empty.

Where's the food?

Where’s the food?

However, the Foobler gives out mixed signals. After the dog has emptied the current compartment, and the next compartment won’t become available until the time interval has passed (up to 90 minutes), the dog can still smell food in the toy and it still rattles when the toy is rolled around. For every other kibble toy she’s ever experienced, these are cues that playing with the toy will be reinforced. However, with the Foobler, when the current chamber empties, the behaviors that she has been performing to get the food suddenly do not work without any clue from the toy.1)It may be possible for some dogs to learn to detect the sound or smell difference when no kibble is available in the current compartment. But that would take a while.

Using the terms of behavior analysis, there is a discriminative stimulus to indicate when food is available: the little bell. But there is no stimulus delta, no signal that food will be unavailable for a while when the current compartment is empty. With no straightforward way of communicating that to the dog, we are putting the dog’s behaviors into extinction. This can be quite frustrating for the dog and dangerous to the toy.

It’s important to acknowledge that in almost all cases, the amount of time that food is available is very small compared to the down time. Because the Foobler I have ejects food so easily, and because my dogs eat small amounts of kibble, they were all able to empty each compartment in 2-3 minutes.

Similar Toys

Despite the claims by Foobler that theirs is the first puzzle toy to spread the food out over the day, there was at least one previous toy that did that, and it didn’t have the problem that the Foobler has. There used to be a Kong dispenser that would eject up to four stuffed Kongs on a set schedule throughout a dog’s day.  It was similar in that food periodically became available, then unavailable throughout the day. But the beginning and end of the food availability were salient to the dog. 1) Kong bounced down from the counter: there was food. 2) Dog cleaned out the Kong: no more food till the next one bounced down.

How the Foobler Could Be Improved

There is a “training mode” for the Foobler, which can be implemented by holding down the power button. It causes the bell to ring and the chamber to switch. I used this to teach my dogs about the bell signaling food availability. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is telling the dog that she needs to stop working at the toy for a while (again, up to 90 minutes!). Adding a sensor that could detect when a chamber was empty and provide a signal for that would certainly be ideal, but unrealistic.

I would suggest instead that the Foobler include a 5-minute interval on its timer. This would create an interim state between the manual training mode and the shortest interval currently available, 15 minutes. This would be especially helpful for small dogs who can empty out their portion quickly, and they are arguably the best candidates to use the toy safely.

Oh, another caution: the Foobler stays on when it is powered up in training mode. So be sure to turn it off when you are done, or it will keep advancing and ringing its bell at the next interval. If it does so and no kibble becomes available, this will work to undo the salience of the bell = food relationship you were carefully building up.

 One Pass and Two Failures

Summer staring at the Foobler

Of my three dogs, only Summer is a candidate to enjoy the Foobler. She was fascinated and made no move to chew it. After I teach her about the “down time,” the Foobler may be good for her.

However, there is a very quiet little motor noise when it powers up and shifts to the next compartment. It’s a bit scary to Summer. (You can see her response in the movie.) But I think since it is mild, the fact that it signals food availability will quickly correct the problem.

Clara carrying Foobler

Clara can pick up the Foobler even though her jaws don’t fit all the way around it

Clara adores chewing hard plastic, and had immediate plans to destroy the Foobler. The present food compartment wasn’t even completely empty before she managed to pick the toy up and carry it to her staging area. No matter how much training, supervision, and management I might do, it would never be safe to leave it with her unattended for any period of time.

The Foobler is not recommended for dogs who can get their jaws around it, a very good caution. But note that even though Clara is not big enough to do that, the toy is still not safe for her. I have absolutely no doubt that she could break into this toy. The photo below shows where she would start.

Here's where my dogs would start chewing

Here’s where my dogs would start chewing

Little Zani also decided very early on that chewing was called for. She is only 19 pounds but was able to get her jaws around some indentations. She couldn’t lift it,  but I’m not willing to wait to find out whether she can break into it. She is a genius at that type of thing.

Even if the Foobler were not vulnerable to being damaged, I would not feel comfortable just setting the timer and leaving it down for a dog to figure out. Some people might think this is overly solicitous on my part. Perhaps it is.  But food toys are supposed to be fun. I don’t find it fair to let my dogs go through long periods of frustration and extinction because of the huge reinforcement history for persistence with food toys I have built up. My dogs get plenty of practice with frustration just living with a human; I don’t see a benefit in deliberately allowing repeated periods of pure extinction until they figure out how a toy works.

Link to the movie for email subscribers. 

Naive Dogs

Again, this toy could work very well with many inexperienced dogs. Dogs who are new to food toys lack the persistence that experienced dogs have. The fact that they are likely to give up more easily actually will work in their favor. And the bell will probably attract them back to the toy again after very few repetitions.

Who else has tried the Foobler?  Did you do anything in particular to help your dogs learn about the down time?

Many thanks to Kiki Yablon and Mary Hunter, who discussed the behavioral effects of the Foobler with me when I was working on an article for BARKS from the Guild that included a section about it.

This review was not solicited. I paid for my Foobler through the Kickstarter campaign, received it, studied my dogs’ reactions to it, and wrote this review.

Related Article

When Food Toys “Fail”: in BARKS from the Guild, Autumn 2014, page 21

© Eileen Anderson 2014                                                                                                             eileenanddogs.com

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Notes   [ + ]

1. It may be possible for some dogs to learn to detect the sound or smell difference when no kibble is available in the current compartment. But that would take a while.

About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
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35 Responses to Fooled by the Foobler? A Review

  1. Tracy says:

    Very interesting thoughts. Things I hadn’t thought about. Still waiting to get mine. I upgraded to the blue tooth. My dogs are food ball savy so not sure how this will play out. Plus they are big chewers so we’ll see what happens.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Well, I hope you’ll us know how it goes. I didn’t think about any of this either when I saw the product marketed. I’m still glad I supported it though; I think Kickstarter is such a good way to get good ideas going. And there is a niche for the safe use of this product. I’ll be sharing the methods I try to “teach” Summer about the downtime.

  2. fearfuldogs says:

    I have this food toy as well and have had similar experiences with it. I do feel comfortable leaving my dog with it, but without training he has yet to sort out that the sounds indicating a shifting of a chamber indicates the availability of food. I return to find many of the chambers still full which leads me to think he either didn’t want to get the food (doubtful) or that the sound had no relevance for him (more likely).

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Interesting! At least it doesn’t sound like he is afraid of it. I’ve read about more than a few dogs who were. The pairing with food is a pretty good way to get over that, though.

  3. rachael says:

    your article was very insightful. I especially like that you talk about the dog’s behavior with the toy. I personally do not want a toy that will frustrate my dog. I do enjoy your articles.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Thanks, Rachael. That was my goal, to discuss whether the toy would be fun or not, and if not, whether we could help make it be so. Thank you for your kind words!

  4. Meghan says:

    Thanks for this review! I had been considering getting this toy, but my dog also has a special talent for disassembling frustrating toys–the Busy Buddy Mushroom was a pretty spectacular failure for us (she took it apart in seconds, and I was getting a drink from the kitchen so I have no idea how!) and whenever I try to increase the difficulty of the Snoop by blocking the larger hole with another ball, Nala extracts it and proceeds with emptying the toy on her preferred difficulty setting. Thanks to you, I can confidently say that we should skip this one. 🙂

  5. Great information, Eileen. We also backed the Foobler as I love KickStarter and try to support at least a few projects each year. We received our Foobler a while back, and it is sitting out in the training building, waiting to be tested. (I generally do not use food delivery toys with my own dogs but have a lot of clients who use and like them – will see what they think about the Foobler soon and will definitely share this review with them). It was especially nice to see Clara moving so well and looking so happy!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Thanks, Linda! I hope you can find the right fit for the Foobler. I just saw one about to change hands in a thread about my review, and that made me happy! Thanks about Clara, too. She played heartily with Zani yesterday and ran the whole circuit of the yard at least 8 times. Things may be looking up!

  6. Cindy Martin says:

    Thanks for this review, Eileen. I had similar experiences with our Foobler. Holly, our bull terrier, is a very seasoned food-toy dog. (I survived her adolescence through food toys!) The Foobler put her into overdrive, and she ended up with a raw nose as she experienced that frustration of no clear sign the session is over. She also managed to pick it up and carry it around, and dislodged the battery pack one time. I will hang onto it, and possibly share with some other dog that is better suited. I hope the designers can develop an “all done,” signal for the device. That would be great.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Oh dear, the thought of any bull terrier with a Foobler! Tenacity and wicked cleverness all rolled into one! Sorry about Holly’s nose! Thanks for the comment. I do feel badly for the frustrated dogs out there.

  7. As usual, another great post. I agree with much of what you wrote. Here’s our in-depth review of the Foobler;
    I definitely think a shorter increment setting is necessary:

    https://www.facebook.com/K949Training/photos/pb.108790432522998.-2207520000.1417829411./671130922955610/?type=3&theater

  8. Good post, Eileen! Made me think back to the interesting email conversation that we had about this.

    I still haven’t gotten around to giving either of my Fooblers a try. I do have some ideas for how to perhaps introduce it to a puzzle toy savvy dog, although I’m not 100% sure if it will be successful. But, I would like to try it out with Ginger (my mom’s dog) and see what she thinks of it. When I do get around to it, I will let you know how it goes!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I hope to see a post from you about it, Mary! It’s an interesting challenge. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Julie says:

    I also purchased the Foobler through the kick start campaign couldn’t agree more and personnally I’m disappointed it was $45.

  10. Belinda says:

    I recently bought one for my 13kg crossbred dog, he is very experienced at food toys and i call the Foobler his arch nemesis. While he can hear the food he won’t leave it, and he plays very energetically with his food toys. I am genuinely concerned about heat stress and won’t allow him to have it unless i am home to physically remove the toy between intervals. He can also pick it up by the finger indentations and treat holes, and has made scrapes along it with his teeth. I really want this toy to be a good thing, but in it’s current form i don’t think it is quite there.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      “I really want this toy to be a good thing, but in it’s current form i don’t think it is quite there.” That sums it up in a nutshell, doesn’t it. I really WANT to like it.

  11. Pam says:

    Thanks for this insightful article. I think the down time would be very frustrating for my very smart golden, and she’s also persistent enough to reverse engineer the thing and or simply dismantle it. KNOWING food was trapped in there would drive her crazy. I won’t be getting her one!

  12. Robin J. says:

    Haven’t tried the Foobler, but we’ve had some similar issues with any hard plastic food dispensing toys, including the Kong wobbler and those purple and green ones. Dilly cracks them very quickly, either by intentionally dropping them or just crunching. He’s fine with red or black rubber Kongs, doesn’t even leave any tooth marks. I think he enjoys chewing them as intended. But the hard plastic simply seems like an obstacle to him, and he intends to remove it as soon as possible!

    I did want to say that we leave the Manners Minder out all the time now with food in it and he doesn’t go after it. He understands no food is coming out of it until we’re in training mode. But of course it’s a true dispenser, he doesn’t have to work at it to get the food out. So it may be a simpler concept for him: when the food’s available, eat, otherwise ignore it until the next time the food is available.

    It sounds like the Foobler needs a “no food now” indicator, something that would be constant until the next interval, so if the dog came in from another room she could still tell immediately if a reward opportunity was available. So a light, probably, rather than a bell. Or even an indicator symbol in a large window that changed at the interval.

    There would still be dogs who would be frustrated by it, but some, like Dilly with the Manners Minder, would adapt.

  13. Ellen says:

    I completely agree with your review. My Border Collie is very experienced with treat balls, and will not leave the Foobler alone between feeding intervals. She knows it isn’t empty. Maybe it would work if there was music playing* the entire time the food was available. But no matter what, Gracie would keep rolling that ball till the last piece of kibble fell out.

    *I also think the cost of adding that kind of sensor would be too high for this kind of device.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Interesting idea, to have music turn on and off! But yeah, the sensor thing pretty much nixes it. Thanks for the comment.

  14. I found your review very insightful. My BC is very experienced with food toys and will work for hours but he quickly realised that although he could hear food, when the chamber was empty there was no point continuing. However he’s struggling with the bell, which I think is fascinating. He comes running on the first bell but with subsequent ones it’s like he thinks it’s a false alarm. He’s sure the toy’s empty so why bother coming back. The cat has got it worked out though. I probably need to train the BC per the instructions but I think he’s starting to get it now (after about 6 times I’ve left him with it). Last time there were only 2 chambers unemptied when I got home. I do leave it unattended as I hadn’t considered it a danger. I think he’s OK with it as he just rolls it around like with Buster balls. He chews and bounces hard rubber toys but not hard plastic. My small dog doesn’t really like the size and hardness of it much. She would be more likely to become frustrated by it, as she started barking as soon as she’d emptied the first chamber (by pawing at it rather than nosing as; I don’t think she liked the hard plastic on her nose… fussy poodle!). Lisa

  15. Robin J. says:

    Perhaps the primary issue with the Foobler is that the device is described, and so perhaps conceptualised, from a human point of view, not a dog’s. Specifically, it says it is “automatically refilling,” which it is not. It is simply changing which chamber is available. A dog knows there’s still food inside the ball, even though the chamber that is accessible is empty.

    An alternative refilling design might work like so. You start with a sturdy trunk, with a door in its side. Inside the trunk, the Foobler rests in a true refilling station, which at set intervals refills the ball. The ball then rolls out the door and a chime sounds. (Note that the chime sounds after the ball has moved away from the box. We want the dog to associate the ball with food, not the box.) The dog can play with it or not, but at least the dog should be able to tell when it’s empty! At the next interval, the ball returns to the box to be refilled. (Think Roomba returning to the battery charger.)

    Those with dogs who might worry the box can put it inside a closet and cut a hole in the door for the ball to exit.

    (Eileen, you may remember my mentioning a friend who did something similar with her Manners Minder: it lives in a trunk with the dispenser bowl extruding from the side.)

    My own dog would still have the safety issue with hard plastic, so it’s still not going to work for all dogs.

    And having said all that, I myself wouldn’t leave any dog alone with a mechanised toy, which would likely make it a less attractive purchase.

    But just as a thought experiment, I thought it would be interesting to consider the difference between “fills” from a human point of view and a dog’s. We understand the device is “full” when food is available. But a dog will consider it “full” when there is sensory evidence of food: they can smell and hear the treats inside the ball. So of course they will keep working at it.

    Just a thought…

  16. thelma watson says:

    I can’t undo the battery compartment of the foobler!!

  17. Fantastic, thorough review, Eileen!

    I too did a review when it came out, and I found many of the same issues.

    One thing I wanted to mention – presently Foobler is on sale at Petsmart for $14 right now. I believe Toys R Us bought out the company. Crazy that many of us spent upwards of $60 for it….

    Here’s my review: https://www.facebook.com/K949Training/photos/a.126858410716200.21048.108790432522998/671130922955610/?type=3&hc_location=ufi

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Wow, look how we complained about the same things! Shall we say great minds? I promise I didn’t see yours before writing mine–I might not have bothered! Great job, you!

  18. Amanda says:

    I bought one of these two days ago at the local pet shop. The lady recommend it for my Jack russell terrier X. Got it home and put it together. My dog was very excited and within ten minutes her jaw somehow became stuck in the round hole part. Very traumatic trying to keep my dog still to release it. She had cut gums and bruising. Not happy.

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