Dogs are intelligent creatures that thrive on mental stimulation. While behavioral training and fun tricks are great for enhancing their mental prowess, there’s a lot more dog owners can do to keep their canine companions entertained. Since it’s impossible to be there with your dog 24 hours a day, why not invest in a puzzle toy to help your pooch flourish? High-quality toys are a great option to keep Fido occupied. More than just a standard chew toys, interactive options present a bigger challenge for pups. The best puzzle toys for dogs will give them an opportunity to flex their mental muscles and provide them with a reward for their hard work.
Why Do Dogs Need Toys?
The main reason why dogs need toys is to stave off boredom. Toys provide that mental stimulation they need to stay busy and out of trouble. This is especially true with dogs that were bred for work, such as Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, and more. While these dogs are specifically known for their intelligence and active lifestyles, dogs of every size, breed, and age are susceptible to boredom.
What Happens When Your Dog Gets Bored
Chances are, you’ll quickly realize that your dog was bored all day the moment you get home. It’ll be evident through tampered and destroyed objects throughout the home. When they’re bored, dogs will look for things to investigate and interact with. This typically occurs when you’re off at work. If no one is home, dogs are left to their own devices. As a result, they’ll go into places that are typically off limits to them.Usually, boredom manifests itself through chewed up items and rummaged trash. Whether it’s a stray shoe they found in your closet or an open garbage can, they’ll find a way to stay occupied.
Common Signs of Boredom
Beyond your destroyed home, there are a few telltale signs that your dog is bored. A noticeable shift in behavior can indicate how they’re feeling. If not taken care of, these common issues can become more permanent, affecting your dog’s personality and overall demeanor. Some signs include:
- Following you around your home
- Pawing for your attention
- Excessive barking or whining
- Constant jumping
- Digging at the carpet or dirt outside
- Restlessness throughout the day
What Can You Do To Stop It?
Toys are one of the best ways to keep your dog busy and prevent unwanted behavior. Challenging toys can keep a dog occupied for prolonged periods of time. With plenty of toys around, there’s always something to do. Instead of chewing on random items in your home, they’ll have the toy to interact with. It’s a good idea to regularly rotate toys to ensure that your dog doesn’t get bored with a single item. You can set out a few items to keep them busy throughout the day while keeping the rest hidden. After a few days, switch the toys out. You’ll quickly find that something as simple as a toy is enough to keep your canine companion fulfilled and well-behaved while you’re out of the house.
What Are Puzzle Toys?
Puzzle toys are unique from standard toys because they’re designed to get the brain juices flowing. They serve a bigger purpose that just chewing or throwing. They’re often built to last and can be used without the assistance or guidance of an owner. In fact, the best puzzle toys for dogs are designed to force dogs to figure it out on their own. They don’t cater to the primal instinct of dogs like standard chew bones or balls do. Instead, they’re made to challenge the mind, help develops essential problem-solving skills, and keep dogs entertained when you’re not around.
Some of the most common examples of puzzle toys have a hide-and-seek element to them. These toys have compartments to hold a single treat or multiple pieces of kibble. They work by providing an enticing reward for your pooch. However, the toy presents an obstacle your dog must overcome to gain access to the treat and reap the rewards. The constant scent of food adds a sense of determination, ultimately providing your dogs with hours of play. There are many forms of these toys. Some are fairly simple to figure out while others are designed for more intelligent dogs that need a bigger challenge.
The easiest type of puzzle toy is a simple food-dispensing roll and chew toy. They have a single compartment in the middle to hide food. To gain access, dogs have to roll the toy in just the right position or chew their way through the material. More complex variants include moving parts. Unique mechanisms like trapdoors and flipping boxes keep the treat hidden. To access the treat, dogs have to use a variety of tactics. They’ll have to use their paws, noses, tongues, and more to be rewarded for their efforts.
Other Interactive Toys
There are a number of other interactive toys on the market that provide a unique way to play. They still have a challenging element to them like common puzzle toys. However, interactive toys often add additional benefits and unique forms of stimulation. They may contain interesting textures to help promote chewing, bright visual components to attract their attention, or fun sounds to give them audible cues. Many of these toys can also help to deplete your dog’s energy by promoting exercise and physical activity beyond chewing and nudging.
Some examples of interactive toys include electronic devices that change to provide a constant challenge. These toys contain a large compartment for storing treats and a unique button system. To get a treat, dogs have to hit the right button with their paw. The best thing about these toys is that they change to provide a unique challenge every time. Other examples include a connected camera and laser. These types of toys allow you to interact with your pooch through an internet connection. You’ll get to see what’s going on through the camera, take control of the built-in laser to get your pooch moving, and speak to your dog to give verbal commands and praise.
The Benefits of Interactive or Puzzle Toys
Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Dogs need to be able to stay busy. This is especially true with active and energetic breeds. A toy can keep them mentally fit while also helping to promote skill development. Dogs that play with interactive and puzzle toys are better equipped to learn problem-solving skills that could translate to their everyday lives. They’ll have an easier time figuring things out. For owners, this increased mental capabilities can help to make tasks like obedience training and obstacle courses much simpler to teach.
With a great collection of toys, you won’t have to keep your dog occupied throughout the day. Dogs can enjoy these toys alone. They won’t have to look to you for stimulation. While they will undoubtedly still want social interaction, toys can help bridge the gap. They’ll learn how to stay entertained by themselves and you can leave your dog alone with confidence.
As mentioned before, a bored dog is a destructive dog. Without anything to do, dogs will look around for something to chew on or play with. However, with access to puzzle toys, that bad behavior will be a thing of the past. They won’t have to rummage around for something to do. Instead, they can harness any built-up energy they have into solving that puzzle. Toys can help you avoid chewed up shoes, destroyed couches, and a mess of garbage throughout your home.
Anxiety and Stress Management
Dogs are prone to anxiety, especially when they’re left alone. Issues can also arise when they’re in unfamiliar environments or if they’ve experienced something traumatic, such as the death of a companion dog. Toys can help keep your dog calm. They’ll be able to stay engaged through natural activities. Ultimately, this mental stimulation can help dogs to keep their emotions under control and move forward.
What to Look For
- Durability As with anything your dog is exposed to, you need to choose a toy that’s durable. Cheaper toys made from subpar materials just aren’t capable of standing up to the rigors of heavy play. It’s a good idea to go with toys that are made from heavy duty materials like nylon or thick rubber. Pay attention to the overall build quality of the toy as well. Look out for reinforced stitching on fabric toys and a seamless design on solid options.
- Correct Sizing When it comes to size, choose a toy that fits your dog. Toys are only effective if your pooch is able to play with it. Your dog will need something that’s big enough to prevent accidental swallowing but small enough to fit their jaw around. Something designed for smaller dogs will prove to be dangerous and ineffective if given to a large breed. If you have a flat-nosed breed such as a Pug, it’s important to get toys that are on the smaller size and made of a softer material to ensure that they can chew on it comfortably.
- Difficulty Smart dogs are no match for simple toys. It’s a good idea to match the toys with your dog’s intelligence level. Certain breeds are more inclined to figure out puzzles quicker. These breeds include Border Collies, Poodles, Retrievers, German Shepherds, and much more. They’re bred as working dogs, so they usually have no problem overcoming simple obstacles. They’ll need more complex toys to stay occupied. If your dog isn’t used to being mentally stimulated, go with something they can figure out with some practice. You should always monitor how your dog plays and adjust based on your dog’s success. The key is to give them something that’s relatively difficult for them, but not impossible to figure out over time.
- Tried and Tested There are many toys on the market, but not all of them are successful. It’s best to go with toys that have a tried and tested design. You may notice that many toys have similar design principles. That’s because these designs that have been working to help dogs for years. It’s best to go with toys that have been tested for effectiveness and safety to provide the best option for your furry friend.
What to Avoid
- Cheap Materials and Build A cheaply made toy will do more harm than good. Cheap fabric materials, thin plastics, and poor construction methods won’t last very long. Dogs are strong animals that are made to rip things apart with their teeth and jaws. It’s important that you consider a toy’s durability and overall quality. If it looks cheap and substandard, it’s best to avoid it. You need to go with options that are built to last to ensure that you protect your investment and provide your dog with the safety they need.
- Choking Hazards Toys are often put through the ringer when they’re played with. It’s not uncommon to see signs of wear and tear after a while. To ensure that your dog stays safe, you need to avoid toys that pose a choking hazard. Small parts can easily break off in your dog’s mouth. Instinctively, your dog will swallow it. It’s not just small parts, but also cheap materials. Cheaper toys can break apart into smaller pieces that can be swallowed. To avoid choking hazards, stick with solid toys sized for your dog and made from strong materials. Avoid small parts like squeakers.
Our Top 5 Puzzle Toys
Let’s take a look at what we consider to be the best puzzles for dogs:
1. KONG Wobbler Treat Dispensing Dog Toy
This option from KONG is one of the most popular puzzle toys because of its simplicity and durability. Many dog owners have praised its resilient material. It’s made from a plastic polymer that’s FDA-approved for use with food. It comes apart with a simple twist and can hold up to 1 cup of food depending on the size you get. There’s a small opening on one side. To get the treats, your dog will have to move the toy using their nose and paw. At approximately $20, it’s an affordable toy that can provide your dog with hours of fun. It’s available in two different sizes to accommodate a wide range of dogs.
Buy now from Amazon
- Made from durable polymer
- Available in two sizes
- Simple to use
- Small treat opening limits the food you can use
- Plastic can break apart if chewed enough
2. OurPets IQ Treat Ball Interactive Food Dispensing Dog Toy
This toy from OurPets is very similar to the previous option. However, it has an added feature that lets you control the difficulty. An adjustable disk inside manipulates the size of the opening for treats. One thing that many buyers have liked about the toy is its round shape. It rolls like a ball, dispensing food as it goes. This helps to promote activity and movement for the dog. The ball comes apart relatively easily for cleaning and maintenance. It’s priced at around just under $15 and comes in a few different sizes to ensure that you can get the option that’s right for your dog’s size.
Buy now from Amazon
- Adjustable disk for varying difficulties
- Rolls like a ball
- Available in multiple sizes
- Made from cheaper plastic
- The two halves separate easily after being dropped
3. Trixie Pet Products Flip Board
If you’re looking for a unique challenge for your dog, this toy is a great option. It is one of the best dog toys for mental stimulation. It features multiple doors, sliding discs, and cones to hide food. Your dog must figure out how to reveal the food. The various components use different methods to open, so you can increase the difficulty as your pooch learns. It comes in the shape of a plate and has a non-slip rim at the bottom for stability. Many reviewers have seen success with this toy on a variety of breeds. It’s suitable for dogs of all ages. Best of all, the toy comes in a few different difficulty levels, allowing you to advance as your dog gets smarter. The toy is also very affordable at approximately $10.
Buy now from Amazon
- 3 different types of challenges
- Non-slip rim on bottom
- Has small parts
- Holds a small amount of treats
4. Ethical Pet Interactive Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone Dog Toy Puzzle
At around $10, this simple toy from Spot is the most affordable option on this list. It consists of several sliding disks that hide various treats. Many owners have praised its simplicity, but have also noted that it’s an easy challenge that dogs can figure out within a few minutes. One thing that makes this toy stand out from the others is its material. The toy is made from durable wood that can withstand some wear and tear. It only comes in one size, but its simple design can work for a wide range of dogs. The toy measures approximately 12 inches long by 8 inches wide and is designed to look like a large dog bone.
Buy now from Amazon
- Made from wood
- Simple design
- May contain sharp edges
- Disks can be a choking hazard
- Only holds 10 treats
5. Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel and Puzzle Plush Squeaking Toys for Dogs
Unlike other toys that may use treats as an incentive, this toy utilizes fun squeakers. It’s a large hide-and-seek toy that’s made from soft plush. It’s available in a few different sizes to accommodate different types of dogs. The size doesn’t just dictate the main tree trunk base, but also the size of the squirrels to help prevent choking. The main goal of the game is to place each squeaking squirrel into one of the holes of the main log. However, many owners also utilize the individual squirrels in other games, such as fetch. It’s priced at around $15.
Buy now from Amazon
- Can be played alone or with owner
- Made of soft material
- May rip if used by stronger dogs
- Contains squeakers
- Must be played with under supervision
Other Interactive Toys
These are our choice for the best interactive dog toys:
1. StarMark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Dog Toy
This toy from StarMark is priced at around $13 and is designed to hold a full meal for your pooch. The spacious container holds up to 3 cups of kibble, so it can be used to slow down a fast eater while keeping them entertained. In fact, many owners utilize the toy as an alternative to traditional food dishes. Rather than a single opening for kibble like other toys, this options has two openings. Both of them can be adjusted based on your dog’s skills. The bottom of the toy is weighted and features a slip-resistant coating to improve the wobbling movement.
Buy from Amazon
- Holds up to 3 cups of kibble
- Has 2 openings
- Can be adjusted for difficulty
- Available in 2 sizes
- Can be chewed threw by larger dogs
- Top cap is suceptible to damage
2. FurryFido Indestructible Treat Dispensing Toy
This toy from FurryFido stands out because of its indestructible materials. It’s made from strong thermoplastic rubber that’s textured to clean your dog’s teeth as they chew. The toy has the appearance of a standard ball, so it can roll around to promote exercise. However, it features two layers for added protection and complexity. The outer layer features multiple holes while the inner ball that holds the treats only has one. Treats are dispensed when the holes line up. Many buyers have seen success with energetic breeds because the toy requires a lot of movement, trial, and error to get treats. It’s priced at around $16.
Buy from Amazon
- Takes some time to get the treat
- Textured surface cleans teeth
- Not adjustable
- Only comes in a single 3-inch size
3. CleverPet Hub – Dog Puzzle Feeder
At approximately $300, this is by far the most expensive option on this list. However, it contains a lot of great technology to keep your dog learning. The toy features lights to dispense kibble. Dogs must press the lighted button to get food. With its ability to hold 2.5 cups of kibble, it can be used as a replacement to a regular dish. Many buyers have praised this toy’s ability to keep dogs occupied all day long. They’ve also said that it’s simple for dogs to get the hang of. It’s a luxury item that can help serve your dog throughout their life. Because it automatically adapts and changes, each playthrough is like a new experience.
Buy from Amazon
- Automatically adjusts difficulty
- Includes visual stimulation
- Can hold 2.5 cups of kibble
- Can be controlled by an application
- High price tag
- Limited number of times it can be played per day
4. PetSafe Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Meal Dispensing Dog Toy
This oblong toy from PetSafe wobbles, rolls, and rattles to get your dog moving. It’s very similar to other dispensing toys, but, the unique shape allows it to be used flexibly. It has two openings on the top and bottom, so dogs can get the treats using a variety of methods. The difficulty of the toy can be adjusted by simply cutting interior prongs. It comes apart by simply unscrewing the two halves apart. It can hold up to 2 cups of kibble, which can be seen through the clear windows. Many reviewers have commented on the toy’s ability to get dogs excited, especially with its loud rattling. It has a price tag of around $16 for the large size.
Buy from Amazon
- Includes 2 dispensing holes
- Can be adjusted for difficulty
- Difficulty adjustments are permanent
- Plastic windows are easy to break
5. Petcube Camera | 720p Video, 2-Way Audio, and Built-in Laser Toy
This option allows you to keep an eye out on your dog and play with them remotely. It has a simple and sleek box design that’s praised by many buyers. It features an HD camera with a wide-angle lens. Once connected via the smartphone application, you can see what your dog is doing and even speak to them using the microphone and speaker. You can even control a laser through the application to get your dog’s attention and give them a bit of exercise. At around $150, it’s a big investment. However, many have praised the device’s security and customization features that let everyone in the family keep track of what their dog is doing.
Buy from Amazon
- Wide-angle lense and live HD camera
- Controlled with an application
- Autoplay function
- Two-way audio
- High price tag
- Takes time to set up
Can I Leave My Dog Alone With a Puzzle Toy?
This depends entirely on the toy itself. For the most part, solid indestructible toys are perfectly safe and can be used without supervision. However, certain toys can be very dangerous if you’re not careful. Determined dogs can get frustrated if they’re not successful. Even if they’ve given up, they’ll be determined to get the treat inside. If the toy has any small parts or components that are easy to break, the toy becomes a choking hazard. If that’s the case, you should keep a watchful eye on your pup. You can still let them play by themselves, but make sure that you’re close enough to get rid of any parts that break off and are capable of acting quickly should something go wrong. The same goes for intricate toys that can break if used incorrectly.
All in all, interactive and puzzle toys are a great investment that can help your dog in the long run. They can do wonders to improve your dog’s mental prowess while avoiding any problematic behavior. While nothing beats the social interaction and connection you have with your dog, the right toy can act as a substitute whenever you’re not available. The best dog puzzle toys will challenge your dog’s mind and develop life-changing skills they’ll use to thrive. Not only that, but puzzle toys will allow your canine companion to achieve fulfilling play for many years to come.