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Smart, curious and high-energy pooches need challenging entertainment to remain happy, active and engaged. Regular dog toys simply won’t do! But brain-stimulating, treat-rewarding puzzle toys? Yes, please! Puzzle toys are ideal for pets who like having a “job” or a purpose, and especially those who like a bit of a challenge. They’re also great for destructive chewers and overweight dogs as they make them physically and mentally work for their food. In this article, we highlight some of the best, most entertaining interactive puzzle toys currently on the market so you don’t have to waste your money testing dozens of different models. We also talk about the benefits of puzzle toys, how to teach your pet to use them, and of course, how to pick the right one for your budget and your pup.
Shaped like an egg, this slow-feeding treat puzzle is ideal for pups who like (or should!) work for their food. It’s customizable, so you can adjust it to either dispense treats or food randomly while your dog plays, or increase/decrease the flow of treats by trimming the flexible prongs. The toy is suitable for tenacious chewers too, as it’s quite durable and sturdy, guaranteed to last for years. Importantly, it’s also easy to clean as you can just toss it in the dishwasher as needed. It comes in two sizes, small and large, with the latter being ideal for dogs over 20 pounds.
If you are looking for a unique way to keep your dog occupied and to reduce destructive behaviors, then the Nina Ottosson Interactive Puzzle Game might be just what you need. The puzzle game is available in four different difficulty levels, so you can find the right one to suit your dog’s needs and abilities. The beginner level puzzle contains nine removeable puzzle pieces that can be laid flush to the game board or positioned so that they are slightly raised to make it a little easier to solve. To use the puzzle simply hide the treats under the removeable pieces, place the game on the floor, and watch as your dog figures out how to remove the pieces and access the treats. The tough plastic puzzle game provides hours of fun and is easy to clean with soap and water when play time is over.
Milk-Bone’s puzzle dog toy is specifically designed to work with Milk-Bone biscuits, but of course, other brands and types of doggie treats can work too, as long as they’re of the right size (not too small and not too big). It’s a simple treat puzzle ball that engages your dog’s natural hunting instincts by rolling and bouncing on the floor. It’s made of high-quality, pet-safe flexible plastic, so it should last quite a while. That said, we don’t’ recommend this particular model to aggressive chewers as it’s just not chew-proof enough. For curious and well-mannered pups though? It’s perfect.
Unique treat-releasing dog ball toy
Constructed of high quality, non-toxic materials
Designed for Milk-Bone biscuits but can be used with other brands
If your dog is fond of playing with balls, check out IQ Treat Ball as it’s a fun, food-dispensing alternative. This puzzle ball is somewhat similar to a hamster ball as it comes with translucent and opaque hemispheres. This should help your pooch get a glimpse of what is inside, enticing them to figure out how to get to the tasty contents. So how does it work? Like most puzzle balls, your doggie is supposed to roll it in order to get to the treats or kibble. You can also adjust the desired difficulty level using the interior disc. The toy is mentally stimulating and keeps your pups physically active too, so it’s a must-have for dogs who like their ball toys.
Kong is a well-known name in the pet toy industry thanks to their durable and effective products, and the Wobbler is no exception. While this toy may not really be classified as a traditional puzzle dog toy, it sure can serve as an exceptional tool for preventing rapid eating and gulping. Since dry kibbles can only be accessed by wobbling the Wobbler back and forth to ‘eject’ some of the food from the hole one at a time, your pup will definitely take longer t to finish its meal. That means that, aside from being quite entertaining and mentally stimulating, the Wobbler is excellent for portion control and for managing canine obesity.
West Paw’s Zogoflex Qwizl is a unique treat dispensing contraption that doubles as a chew toy. Made of virtually indestructible materials that can withstand the bite force of even the most tenacious of all canine chewers, the Zogoflex Qwizl comes off as having a very simple design concept yet does the task of training your pooch to work for its treat. Using it is as easy as inserting your dog’s favorite treat inside the bone-shaped contraption. Slots in the middle allow the scent of the treat to escape, stimulating your dog to try to get the treat out. Simple but ingenious!
If you’re a fan of slide-to-reveal puzzle toys, then you’d want to get Spot’s Seek-a-Treat Interactive Shuffle Bone Dog Toy Puzzle. Shaped like an oversized doggie bone, the Seek-a-Treat puzzle contains 4 slots each with holes and ring sliders. The idea is to fill one or two of these holes with treats, leaving another hole empty or any other variation you can think of. This way, your pooch will have to identify which hole contains the treat and move the slider to open a hole underneath. This toy is made of eco-friendly wood, so it’s quite sturdy and durable. It’s ideal for playing together with your dog but can also be used by your pet when you’re away.
The Trixie Pet Products’ Strategie-Spiel Flip Board might be the most challenging dog puzzle feeder system ever. Imagine a food tray with partitions and in each partition is a kind of covering that dogs will have to learn how to ‘uncover’ to retrieve the treat that is placed in the partition. Lids can be flipped using knobs while disks can be slid open. Cone covers can also be lifted up. And if your pup is an experienced puzzle player? You can even increase the level of difficulty. All in all, a fantastic interactive puzzle dog toy that will mentally challenge and stimulate your pooch for hours.
Designed to challenge the cognitive abilities of dogs
Puzzle-based design, perfect for training
Made of pet-safe materials, with a non-slip bottom
The Outward Hound’s Hide-and-Squeak Squirrel toy is ideal for pet parents who want to stimulate natural hunting instinctive in their dogs. Featuring a plush tree trunk with stuffed squirrel toys inside, this toy is primarily intended to arouse the curiosity of canines and encourage them to use their inherent intelligence to ‘sniff’ prey. Each squirrel is embedded with a squeaker that will elicit a characteristic squeal once your pooch has it in its mouth, endlessly stimulating them. And if you’re not a fan of squirrels? Perhaps Outward Hound’s bee, hedgehog, or bird variants would be a better fit.
For pet parents looking for ways to keep their dogs occupied, entertained and mentally stimulated for long periods, puzzle toys are must-have canine accessories. Although typically simple in concept and design, these toys are a perfect form of amusement because they kill several birds with one stone: boredom, over-eating and gulping, destructive chewing, depression and loneliness. But finding the right interactive puzzle for your pup is no easy task. Every dog is unique, and as such, requires different toys – toys specifically made to target their particular needs and preferences. Luckily, you’re just in the right place! Here, we talk about all things effective and durable puzzle toys, including how to find the right one for your four-legged friend.
Why Do Dogs Love Puzzle Toys?
Wild dogs have to hunt for food so they and their pack can survive. Normally, they cover great distances in search of their next meal and spend most of their time busily engaged in a search for prey. Through generations of canids, this innate ability to distinguish the scent of ‘food’ or, in this case prey, has been fully ingrained into their genetic composition. And our domestic dogs are no different. Yes, they love us unconditionally, are well-behaved and absolutely wonderful, but they still carry this same search-and-hunt instinct in them.
And this is where their love for puzzle toys comes from. By using food as a means to ‘awaken’ the natural predatory instincts in dogs, puzzle toys excite our pups to no end. When they smell the scent of kibble or a doggie treat inside the toys, they’re able to do anything and everything to get to it. And that’s just part of the fun! Most of these puzzles are also fantastic for chewing, making them ideal for tenacious chewers, as well as teething puppies. Also, by providing endless fun and excitement, many are a great cure for loneliness.
Benefits of Dog Puzzle Toys
If you’re interested in giving your pooch a toy puzzle but are simply not convinced whether they can bring any measurable or even observable benefits, then allow us to share with you what many dog owners and pet experts consider to be the most compelling reasons why you need to give an appropriate toy puzzle to your dog.
Provides mental stimulation
Exercise is of utmost importance for the health and well-being of all dogs. But equally important is exercise for the brain. While our idea of physical exercise entails the rhythmic contraction and relaxation of muscles, mental exercise requires the efficient firing of various nerve cells in the brain. The more neurons are activated for a particular task the better, and this goes both for humans and canines. Using canine puzzle toys can improve the brain development of puppies and boost the cognitive function in adult dogs as they help provide adequate mental stimulation.
A more practical approach to weight management
Using treat or food-dispensing puzzle toys is a great way to make your pup eat less, as well as slower. Since food is placed inside the puzzle that is designed to release food slowly or sparsely at any given playtime, you are essentially addressing fast eaters and overeaters. By making your dog work for their food, you are able to limit its food intake or even slow down its ingestion and digestion of food so that abnormal blood sugar spikes can be avoided. This can lead to a more sensible weight management program for your pooch.
Offers a fun way to exercise
The idea behind a toy puzzle is that your dog should work to get the food or treat inside. You can throw the contraption and your pooch will be running after it, have it bounce and they will be hopping along. You can even leave your pup alone with their toy and they’re guaranteed to push, chew, hit and run to get the treat. It’s a fun way to make your pet exercise without much effort on your part.
How long can you remain seated doing absolutely nothing – no texting, logging onto your social media account, no watching streaming videos, no listening to music? Can you last 10 minutes? Perhaps 20 or 30? A couple of hours? Chances are, after a short while, you’ll be looking for things to do. Now imagine leaving your dog alone for good 8 to 10 hours every single day (provided you work). Even the laziest pooch is bound to get bored after a couple of hours! Providing them with toys while you’re away can help minimize their boredom and decrease feelings of loneliness.
Speaking of loneliness, many dogs feel separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time. And an idle mind can only worsen the feelings of anxiety and stress. Giving your pup an entertaining and treat-rewarding toy to keep them preoccupied can help prevent anxiety or at least decrease their anxiety.
May aid in slowing the development of canine dementia
There is a rather controversial benefit to using canine puzzle toys – prevention of dementia and slowing down the progression of the disease. However, this is very much plausible owing to the fact that the greater the amount of mental stimulation, the lesser the risk for the development of various brain problems, including diseases like dementia. Basically, the logic behind this claim is this: the more brain cells that are active, the better is the transmission of electrical signals, and since these neurons are used efficiently, they don’t undergo degenerative changes. At any rate, by providing your pooch with puzzles, you’ll be slowing down the symptoms of forgetfulness.
How to Teach Your Dog to Use Puzzle Toys
Now that we have an understanding of the need for toy puzzles and their many benefits, it’s time we talk about how you can teach your canine friend to use its own toy puzzle.
Introduce the toy slowly
As in any dog training exercises, it is imperative to get your pooch really familiar with the puzzle before they start using it. Simply adding the toy to their collection is a good start. Let them sniff and lick it and watch closely how they behave around the new toy.
Once your canine friend has grown accustomed to the presence of the gadget, you can start introducing treats into the device. You can always start with smaller portions of their favorite doggie treat then work your way up.
Sometimes, you have to demonstrate to your dog how to use the puzzle to get to the food or treat. For instance, you can ‘bat’ or swipe the toy in the presence of your dog to show them how it’s done. Alternatively, if you have a pooch that already knows how to use the puzzle, you can bring your inexperienced pup to watch and learn.
Choose the right puzzle toys that allow your pooch to succeed
Whatever you do, it is imperative to pick a puzzle that is relatively easy to moderately easy to use. You can choose toys that have bigger holes so treats are easily dispensed. As your dog’s confidence grows, you will then have to provide it with more challenging puzzles such as those that come with sliding doors and the like.
How to Choose the Right Food Puzzles and Toys for Your Dog
Choosing the right food puzzles and toys for your dog is crucial because you want your pooch to reap all the benefits that come with the toy(s). Here are a few things that you should to consider when buying puzzles for your canine friend.
You really need to consider the size of the gadget you want to buy. Your pooch should be able to put its mouth onto it without the risk of swallowing any part and choking on it. Don’t give a small puzzle to a large breed dog as it might inhale or chew off parts of the toy and suffocate on it. Likewise, don’t get something that is too large as it can be quite frustrating and painful for your dog to open its mouth as wide as possible to chew on the toy.
If you have a mighty chewer in your household, then you need a toy that’s made of ultra-durable, practically indestructible materials. If your pooch has a rather soft bite, then getting a toy with a softer construction makes perfect sense.
If your pup is using puzzle toys for the first time, it’s a good idea to get something that is relatively easy to use as you do want them to succeed in getting their treat sooner or later, as this makes them feel confident and happy. However, if your dog has been using puzzles for years, consider getting a more complex contraption that will really make them work for their food. After all, you want the toy to be both physically and mentally challenging, plus entertaining.
Whether you own a puppy, an adult dog or a senior pooch, getting them a fun toy puzzle is sure to make them happier and healthier, both physically and mentally. It’s all just a matter of choosing the right toy for your pup’s specific needs and particular preferences. We suggest purchasing at least two different puzzles, as this will provide plenty of variety and entertainment for any dog.