Owning a high-energy dog or puppy can be exhausting at times, and obtaining puzzle toys for dogs give you an opportunity to take a break while ensuring your dog remains happy and active.
Both dogs and humans love brain stimulation – being challenged is a canine’s delight!
The best dog puzzle toys often involve making your dog work a little for a tasty reward.
Benefits of Puzzle Toys For Dogs
Why do owners choose puzzle toys to occupy your dog over chewy treats or self-amusement toys (like textured squeaky toys)?
- Keep Your Dog Occupied For Long Periods. For one thing, pup puzzle toys can keep your dog occupied for a longer amount of time than even the squeakiest stuffed squirrel. A high-energy dog isn’t just in need of a reward (e.g., the squeaky sound, or the taste of the treat): they need to work for it! For dogs, the promise of food rewards can keep your dog engaged for huge stretches of time.
- Prevent Destructive Behavior. Helping a dog focus their energy on an involving puzzle toy helps prevent them from turning to destructive or undesirable behaviors such as chewing furniture, nuisance barking, or begging.
- Combat Boredom & Loneliness. Dogs need mental enrichment, just like people do. Especially during times when your dog is alone for long stretches, it’s important that they can occupy themselves and not get bored.
- Provide Mental Stimulation. Like humans, dogs want to keep busy and can become neurotic or depressed when they don’t have enough opportunities to stimulate themselves. Imagine being stuck at the doctor’s waiting room with no magazine and a dead mobile phone – you’d be bored stiff (and dogs don’t even have smartphones – only those old brick Nokias, poor things).
- Exhaust Pent Up Energy. Regular exercise is a great first step for getting rid of physical energy (a doggy treadmill does wonders as well), but an energetic, intelligent dog can be harder to satisfy. Whether you want to build your dog’s mental acuity, help them release some energy, or present a challenge, puzzle toys are an appealing option.
Puzzle Rewards + Your Dog’s Diet: Don’t Let Fido Get Fat!
Most dog puzzle toys involve food as the reward for “solving” the puzzle. This is highly motivating for dogs, especially for canines who are especially food obsessed.
While food rewards can work wonders, and dog treats can make training a breeze, remember that it’s easy to overfeed your four-legged pal. It’s also much easier to overfeed your pooch than you’d think (just as it’s pretty easy to overfeed yourself when Dominos is running a 2 for 1 large pizza special).
Prevent your dog from gaining too much weight:
- Use Visual Aids. Not sure if your dog is on the chunkier side or not? There are many visual aids available to help you monitor your dog’s weight, including on the back of most dog food bags.
Your dog should have a visible waist, and their abdomen should tuck upwards when viewed from the side. You should also be able to feel your dog’s ribs beneath a light layer of fat.
- Keep Breed In Mind. It’s also worth noting that appropriate weight can vary between breeds. I used to always think that my Doberman/Lab mix Benzy was too skinny since I could see his ribs, and was constantly trying to fatten him up. After discussing his weight with our vet, I learned that Benzy was at a perfect weight – his skinny, sleek look was just part of his genetic makeup.
- Measure Out Puzzle Toy Treats. To avoid having your pooch develop a pot belly when incorporating puzzle toys, make sure to count or measure out the treats or kibble the toy uses as a reward.
If your dog chows down the allotted amount in a flash, it’s time to switch to a more challenging toy – don’t just fill up the toy, or you’ll end up with a chubby canine.
- Puzzle Time Can Be Dinner Time Too! You can also use puzzle toys as a method for your dog to “earn” their dinner. Put their usual meal amount of kibble into the toy and let them work for it. This is also a great solution for dogs that eat too fast or beg after they finish their meal.
Many owners also choose to put their dog’s meals into a Kong ball and then freeze it, which also prevent dogs from gobbling their kibble in an instant.
While chunky pups can be cute, it’s important to keep your furry pal trim to ensure that they stay active, healthy, and feel great!
Want to see a canine puzzle toy in action? Check out Shiba Inu Saki play with Nina Ottosson’s Brick Puzzle toy (which we discuss in detail below).
When Dog Puzzle Toys Won’t Cut It
Dog puzzle toys can help canines that are destructive or anxious put their energy into something constructive and beneficial. However, you’ll want to avoid using dog puzzle toys as a bandaid solution for your dog’s vast and varied canine needs.
When considering incorporating puzzle toys into your pup’s playtime, keep these tips in mind.
- No Substitute for Socializing. Puzzle toys are great, but they are never a full substitute for social interaction. Dogs are extremely social creatures, and your dog still needs to interact with humans and other dogs on a regular basis to optimize their mental health and behavior.
Binging alone through 5 seasons of Arrested Development on Netflix is fun, but it’s not the same as a long conversation over coffee with a friend (or in a dog’s case, a good butt-sniffing at the park).
- Dog’s Still Need Exercise. Puzzle toys are also not a full substitute for exercise. Some dogs just need to run until they drop, and no amount of Trivial Pursuit or Rubix’s Cube action will change that.
- Not An Easy Answer To Separation Anxiety. Dogs with serious separation anxiety may not be appeased by puzzle toys. While boredom can often be quelled by puzzle toys, separation anxiety can have some deep-routed causes that shouldn’t go unaddressed. Owners should consider professional training or thorough research on curing separation anxiety DIY style.
- Frustration vs Aggression. Another important issue is the difference between doggie frustration (due to too much energy) and aggression. Puzzle toys won’t “fix” a dog with food aggression or other types of social misbehaviors. These types of more serious issues often require professional assistance.
Look for a trainer with a certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) or the Association for Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), which are widely accredited organizations within the US.
6 Best Dog Puzzle Toys For Keeping Your Pooch Amused
We’re detailing the very best interactive dog toy puzzles that are sure to keep Fido entertained! Some toys require owner supervision (and even participation), while others can be left with your dog unattended.
[easyazon_link identifier=”B0002AR0I8″ locale=”US” tag=”k9ofmine-20″] Classic Kong [/easyazon_link]
[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”160″ identifier=”B0002AR0I8″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://k9ofmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/411ZBp7Et6L.SL160.jpg” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ width=”160″]
About: The ubiquitous Classic Kong is a great beginner puzzle toy to ease your dog into using their problem-solving skills. Start by filling it to the brim with a handful of dry kibble and let them figure out how to get it all.
As they become more adept at emptying the toy, increase the difficulty by using soggy kibble, peanut butter, or frozen treats. You can use the Kong to handle mealtime or to help a puppy adjust to crate training.
- Vet Recommended. The Kong ball is a highly rated, vet-approved toy for keeping your dog happy and engaged.
- Great For Dinner & Play. The Kong can be used both as a feeding system or as a simple fun, bouncy toy.
- Ultra Durable & Chew-Proof. Kongs are known for their tough, chew-friendly rubber, so even owners of rough dogs need not fear the Kong.
About: This “Brick” style interactive dog toy from Nina Ottosson allows you to hide treats under different “bricks” for your dog to sniff out and slide away to reveal the treat.
- Good For Beginners. This is a great beginner puzzle toy for dogs new to the concept, with an easy to medium difficulty level.
- Bond & Interact With Your Dog. This puzzle toy works best with dog owner interaction, allowing you and your canine to play together and bond!
- Sturdy And Non-Toxic. These durable interactive toy is tough, non-toxic, and can be washed easily in a dishwasher.
[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”200″ identifier=”B003X19R7U” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://k9ofmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/41t4EHlxeIL.SL160.jpg” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ width=”200″]About: The TRIXIE Dog Activity Chess is a puzzle toy for dogs that offers multiple difficulty levels within one game.
- Use Mouth & Nose. Requires your dog to use their mouths and paws/noses to lift and shift pieces.
- Multiple Difficulty Settings. Features 3 levels of difficulty that can be adjusted or randomized each time.
- Non-slip Rubber Feet. Non-slip feet allow your dog to push and nudge the toy without it toppling over or sliding around.
- Washable. Machine washable and easy to clean.
- May Require Some Teaching. Requires some initial training to teach your dog how to access the treats.
About: The Outward Hound Fun Feederis another basic toy that stimulates your dog while also slowing down how quickly they eat at mealtime.
- Your Dog’s Dinner. Holds up to 4 cups of dry kibble, making it the perfect dinner time toy.
- Helps Dogs Eat Slower. This toy is designed to help gobbling canines slow down, which in turn improves digestion and prevent bloating, choking, and other issues.
- Food Safe Plastic. Made with food-safe ABS plastic that is BPA, PVC & phthalate free.
Nina Ottosson’s Dog Tornado Toy[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”200″ identifier=”B0091ZS3KO” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://k9ofmine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/41UZNqD52VL.jpg” tag=”k9ofmine-20″ width=”200″]
About: Another Nina Ottosson toy called the Dog Tornado lets dogs swivel different stacked compartments to access hidden treats.
- Can Leave Dogs Unsupervised. Unlike many others, this interactive dog toy doesn’t require constant supervision.
- Training Needed. Requires some training interaction at first to teach your pup how to use it.
About: The next level up from the basic Kong, the KONG Stuff-a-Ball Toy offers a bigger challenge for motivated dogs.
- Multiple Settings. This toy provides more treat dispensing options with external crevices and an internal dispenser.
- Chew-Friendly. Made from super durable, puncture-resistant, non-toxic rubber that Kong toys are known for.
- Cleans Your Dog’s Teeth. Toy’s ridges helps clean your dog’s teeth and massage gums.
- Easy To Clean. This interactive Kong toy is dishwasher safe and durable.
What’s The Best Interactive Puzzle Toy For Dogs? We Choose Kong
All the puzzle toys we detailed above are great choices for challenging your four-legged fur baby, but if you simply can’t decide where to start, we suggest going with Kong.
I find the Kong Stuff-a-Ball to be the most “foolproof” toy of the lot, especially for dogs that are new to puzzle toys. It offers a broad range of stimulation and skill usage, and gives adult dogs and teething puppies an outlet for chewing.
For the level of occupation it provides, combined with the lack of training input on your part, the Kong Stuff-a-Ball is an ideal beginner or intermediate puzzle toy.
Also, considering its low price range, it’s not a big loss if your dog decides they don’t like it. It is a quality budget puzzle toy that suits a range of needs, making it the best option for new puzzle toy buyers.
What are your favorite interactive dog puzzle toys that you use with your dog? Any top picks we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments!