Psychologists and child care experts believe that puzzles and other similar toys can help develop a child’s cognitive skills particularly his or her convergent thinking and problem solving skills. In like manner, animal developmentalists say that using puzzle toys in dogs can have almost similar effects, although the manner in which the outcomes are measured can vary somewhat owing to the inter-specie differences between man and dog. Regardless, the mere fact that dog puzzle toys can help shape their cognition, this can have far-reaching implications in their trainability and social interaction capabilities. It is thus, highly recommended to provide your pooch with dog puzzle toys to help it become a more well-rounded pet. And if you’re wondering what constitutes smart dog toys, we’ve prepared 10 best puzzle toys to keep your dogs busy and help them harness their canine intelligence.

Puzzle Toys for Dog Buying Guide

In this section of our post on canine puzzle toys, we will be looking at the reasons why our pet dogs seem to love puzzle toys. We will also try to gain an understanding of the different benefits afforded by these contraptions. Towards the latter part of this section, we will explore some of the ways in which you can teach your pooch to use a puzzle toy including the things that you will have to consider when picking the right food puzzle and toy for your pet dog.

Why Do Dogs Love Puzzle Toys?

We all know that children love puzzle toys. It is also a well-established fact that many adults still play with puzzle toys to help kill the time, ease the mind, or even to sharpen their thinking skills. But do dogs really love puzzle toys?

To answer this question, it is important for us to travel back in time when our dogs were not really domesticated animals yet. In the past, ancient dogs have to hunt for food for them and the pack to survive. They cover great distances in search of their next meal. 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. Without it dogs simply cannot survive in the wild. Even those that belong to a pack will have to contribute something for the benefit of the group.

This survival instinct is even greater in those canids that have been considered outcast by any dog pack. They have to fend for themselves. There really is nobody else to rely on. If they don’t sharpen their hunting skills, they will starve. If they starve for so long, they will die.

It is in this hunting instinct that dogs’ love for puzzle toys is deeply ingrained. These canine toys are vastly different from the puzzle toys that we humans use to develop our cognitive abilities. Canine puzzle toys utilize food as a means to ‘awaken’ the natural predatory instincts in dogs. When pooches smell the scent of a kibble or a doggie treat inside these contraptions, they will make numerous attempts to get to the treat or the food. It may be hidden from view by a lid or a cover so they will have to learn how to open or remove such cover. For us it is more like trial and error. But for dogs, it is simply survival.

Does this mean they don’t really love puzzle toys? Strictly speaking, they don’t really love it. It is actually us humans who have found a way to label this canine behavior as equivalent to “loving something”. Here’s the thing: dogs may not love puzzle toys, but with the hunting instincts deeply ingrained in their genes, we can always say that it is already a natural behavior for them to search for food and to bring this food out from whatever object it is contained in.

Don’t be disheartened learning that dogs do not “love” puzzle toys in the strict ‘human’ sense of the word ‘love’. Let us just say that they are already born with this natural gift to ‘love’ puzzle toys insofar as the mechanism involves searching for and bringing food to the table.

That being said, we can always tap into this natural instincts of dogs to hunt or search for food to train them and harness their problem solving abilities. Behavioral scientists always adhere to the principle of conditioning when it comes to learning behavior.

dog playing with puzzle toy

Benefits of Puzzle Toys for Dogs

If you’re interested in giving your pooch a puzzle toy but are simply not convinced whether this type of canine device 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 puzzle toy to your dog.

  • Provides mental stimulation

Exercise is important for the optimum wellness of any pooch. Equally important is exercising the brain. While our idea of physical exercise entails the rhythmic contraction and relaxation of muscles, mental exercises require the more efficient firing of various nerve cells in the brain. The more neurons are activated for a particular task the better it is for the canine brain. There really is only one way to make sure a lot of neurons are activated and that is by providing a variety of stimulation. The use of canine puzzle toys have been proven to improve the brain development of dogs as these activities help provide adequate mental stimulation.

  • Enhances problem solving abilities 

Did you know that hunting actually entails a lot of problem solving processes? It all begins with a problem that needs to be answered with a solution. When dogs feel hungry, it is a problem. The solution is to eat. But, since there is no food to eat, it becomes a problem. The solution is to look for food. Looking for food may be easier said than accomplished so this makes it another problem. Dogs, then, will have to find ways on how to make it a lot easier to hunt for food. This is a very simple process yet it is filled with a lot of problem-solving activities. Giving your pooch a puzzle toy can help enhance these problem solving skills.

  • A more practical approach to weight management 

We mentioned above that canine puzzle toys are predicated on the understanding of dogs’ innate nature to look for food. Having said that, did you know that you can actually use dog puzzle toys in portion control? Since food is placed inside these puzzles and that these are designed to release food slowly or sparsely at any given time, then you are essentially addressing fast eaters and overeaters. By making your dog work for its 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 canine puzzle toy is that your dog should work to get the food inside. You can throw the contraption and your pooch will be running after it. You can have it bounce and your hound will be hopping along. The best part is that whenever they play or interact with these gadgets they are rewarded with a doggie treat or dry kibbles. The point is that you can actually make exercises more fun and nutritious, too.

  • Alleviates canine boredom 

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, or any other activity? Can you last 5 minutes? 10? 30? A couple of hours? Most modern individuals cannot stand doing absolutely nothing for a couple of hours. Chances are you will still be looking for things to do. Now imagine your dog that is left in your home for a good 8 to 10 hours from the moment you go to work to the time you arrive home. They will definitely grow bored, too. Providing them with toys while you’re away can help minimize their boredom. Now add doggie treats inside these toys and they will have more reasons to be happy.

  • Helps prevent dog anxiety 

This is almost similar to the above benefit. An idle mind predisposes your pooch to canine anxiety, too. Giving them something to keep them preoccupied can help prevent anxiety.

  • May aid in slowing the development of canine dementia 

There is a rather controversial benefit of using puzzle toys in dogs. However, it is very much plausible owing to the fact that the greater the amount of mental stimulation the lesser is the risk for the development of canine dementia or forgetfulness. The reason is simple. The more brain cells that are active the better is the transmission of electrical signals. Since these neurons are used efficiently, they don’t undergo degenerative changes. At any rate, you will be slowing down the symptoms of forgetfulness in your senior dog.

How to Teach Your Dog to Use a Puzzle Toy

Now that we have an understanding of the need for and the many benefits of puzzle toys for dogs, it’s time to gain a little understanding on how you can teach your canine friend to use its own puzzle toy.

  • Introduce the toy 

As in any dog training exercises it is imperative to get your pooch really familiar with the puzzle toy. It must look at it like a normal part of its every day existence. That being said, simply adding the toy to your dog’s collection of toys without necessarily using it yet can help in this case.

  • Develop your dog’s confidence in the 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 its favorite doggie treat then work your way up.

  • Show your dog how 

Sometimes you really have to demonstrate to your dog how to perform the solution to the puzzle. For instance, you can ‘bat’ or swipe the puzzle toy in the presence of your dog. Or, if you have a pooch that already knows how it’s done, you can bring your inexperienced hound to the experienced pooch for it to learn.

  • Choose a toy that allows your pooch to succeed 

Whatever you do, it is imperative to pick a puzzle toy that is relatively easy to obtain the food inside. 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.

dog puzzle toy

How to Choose the Right Food Puzzles and Toys for Your Dog

Choosing the right food puzzles and toys for your dog is crucial to ensuring they get all the benefits of such contraptions. Here are a few things that you really need to consider when buying a food puzzle and toy for your canine friend.

  • Size

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 and suffocating. Don’t give a small puzzle toy to a large breed as it might swallow this contraption and block its throat. Don’t get something that is too large either as it can be quite frustrating and painful for your dog to open its mouth as wide as possible.

  • Durability 

If you have a mighty chewer, then you need a toy that’s made of indestructible materials. If your pooch has a rather soft bite, then getting a toy with softer construction makes perfect sense.

  • Level of difficulty 

We explained above that you will need to pick toys that allow your canine friend to succeed. It is for this reason that you may have several pieces of puzzle toys in varying levels of difficulty. You will need to start with larger holes and slowly progress to more complex puzzle toys and feeders.

Puzzle toys for dogs are largely predicated on their natural instincts to hunt or look for food. Understanding this fundamental reason to why they seem to love puzzle toys is crucial to appreciating the many benefits provided by these types of doggie toys. In choosing the right puzzle toy for your dog, you will need to choose an appropriately-sized device as well as one that is durable and sturdy relative to the bite strength of your pooch. The level of difficulty of the toy also needs to be considered. All in all, you can start training your pooch how to use this type of toy by choosing one from our list of the best puzzle toys to keep your dogs busy.

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Olivia Williams
Olivia is our head of content for MyPetNeedsThat.com, mum of one and a true animal lover. With 12 different types of animal in her family, it's never a dull moment. When she isn't walking the dogs, feeding the cats or playing with her pet Parrot Charlie, you will find her product researching and keeping the site freshly updated with the latest products for your pets!

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