Just like their human companions, dogs get bored. And bored dogs can often quickly become naughty, destructive dogs, especially when left alone. Bored dogs can also become lethargic, depressed dogs.
As neither of these is anything any pet parent wants for their pup, themselves or their home then finding ways to keep canines amused and engaged is a must, especially if they spend time alone when their human family are at work or school.
Buying them the an interactive dog puzzle toy can be one great way to do that.
Finding the Best Challenging Toy For Dogs
As you begin to shop you'll quickly discover that there are a lot of dogs' puzzle toys out there to choose from.
As they have gained popularity - and the approval of vets and animal behavior specialists - it is only natural that more and more of them have flooded the market.
But not all dog puzzle toys are the same, not just in terms of quality and price, but also in what they offer to your pup. With this in mind, here are some of the most important things you should look for when choosing the best dog puzzle toys for your pup.
The term 'dog puzzle toy' is actually a pretty loose one, there are several different kinds. Some present a challenge in a very simple way - for example, they have to be tipped in just the right way to release a treat - while others are more complex, requiring, for example, a pup to 'hunt down' hidden objects.
To choose the right one for your pup think about his natural curiosity levels. If he is always sniffing around looking for - well, something, - when out on walks he will probably enjoy a more challenging toy, whereas a short attention spanned pup might be better off with a simpler puzzle themed plaything.
Dog puzzle toys come in lots of different sizes and so it's important to choose one that is sized right for your pup. Even the most engaging puzzle toy will be pretty useless if it's too big - or too small - for your dog to 'handle' effectively.
When you are shopping you'll likely see that many dog puzzle toys are offered in different sizes - usually small, medium and large.
But, as is the case when you are buying clothes, for your pup or yourself, every manufacturer's idea of what that really means is different, so ensure that you check the actual measurements of any dog puzzle toy you are considering purchasing before you do so.
Some dogs are serious chewers. They have teeth and jaws that allow them to tear through some toys in hours (sometimes minutes, as pet parents of aggressive chewers can attest.) These dogs need tough dog puzzle dog toys that are designed to be as durable as possible and stand up to that kind of 'assault'.
Unfortunately, lots of dog toys of all kinds are claimed, by their manufacturer, to be durable but that's not really the case.
This is where dog toy reviews and the opinions of other pet parents whose pups have tried out these toys before are so very valuable, as they offer an unbiased opinion about how tough certain dog puzzle toys really are.
Most dog puzzle toys are designed to be chewed or bitten, so ensuring that they are safe is a must. Most dog toys do go through testing, but there are still occasions when pieces break off, or there are too many small parts for them to be safely given to a larger pup.
Look for dog puzzle toys that have good safety ratings and, when you have made your choice and the toy is in use if it does become damaged - none of them are indestructible - take it way immediately to help keep your pup safe.
Price should never be the first consideration when buying something your pup is going to have in his mouth a lot, but there's no doubt it's something we all do keep in mind.
The highest price does not always indicate that a puzzle toy is the most engaging or even the highest quality option; sometimes you will just be paying for the name.
This is where those helpful reviews can be so useful again. While no pet parent wants to be too cheap when buying toys for their pup they don't want to spend money for nothing either, so hearing from those who have already purchased the toys you are considering can help you make sure you get the biggest band for your buck.
Why Is Enrichment Important To Your Dog?
Most pups like to have a toy or two to call their own, and almost every pet parent knows that. However, why choose a brain teaser dog toy, instead of a simple stuffed toy that squeaks, or a basic tug rope?
Both of those toy types probably have a place in your pup's toy box - and why shouldn't they have a toy box, human children have more than one toy, so they can too - but so do interactive dog puzzle toys, and for some very good reasons:
As we mentioned, dogs get bored, even if they do have a simple stuffed animal. The best dog puzzle toys present them with a challenge, and it's one that can keep them occupied for long periods of time, reducing the chance that they will get bored and become destructive or even sad and depressed.
Puzzle toys are also a great way to stop excessive barking when left alone while you're out shopping or working.
Although it might sound a little mean, the fact is that some dogs are smarter than others.
Breeds like the Border Collie, the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, the Labrador, The Golden Retriever and more are all very intelligent pups who will bore more easily than other pups might.
They actively look for, and enjoy, mental challenges - which is why they all make such great working dogs - and so the best puzzle toys for dogs will provide that.
Bored dogs can, as we have mentioned, become destructive dogs. Often pups who chew up want they should not, or try to dig holes where they shouldn't aren't trying to be 'bad dogs', they are 'acting out' because they have nothing else to do. Just like a human toddler.
Offering them an engaging puzzle toy can be a very effective way to stop those behaviors and keep your home and furnishings safe from your pup's destructive ways.
Dog puzzle toys are a great way to create a positive association to a location in your home, like the crate, on the opposite side of a dog gate or in another part of the house with the door closed.
Improve Paw Eye Co-ordination
Growing pups need to master the whole 'paw eye' coordination thing in the same way that human toddlers need to practice their hand eye coordination. An engaging puzzle toy works very well for both!
Improve Digestive Health
It might sound crazy to suggest that playing with a toy can improve a pup's digestive health, but for those prone to a digestive ailment called bloat it's absolutely true.
Some breeds are genetically predisposed to bloat, but in many cases it occurs because they eat too fast. Bloat can be very serious, even fatal, and so anything that can be done to prevent it is a plus.
Food dog puzzle toys - the kind that make a pup work to get his food - force them to slow their eating down without leaving them hungry. They are a great way to offer a few treats or even, in the case of some toys, to offer a meal's worth of kibble to a smaller pup.
The extra activity will help them burn calories too, preventing excess weight gain!
Improve Mental Health
Various research studies have found that dog toys that stimulate a pup's brain can sharpen their mental clarity and increase their cognition.
These toys may also help ease separation anxiety in pups that suffer from it and there is even some evidence that the act of playing with a toy they like releases endorphins in the brain that improve your pup's mood and satisfaction with his life!
There is evidence that enrichment can also help delay the progress of dog dementia in senior dogs.
Watch Kaci, a 15 year old blind dog playing with puzzle treat toys.
Allow For Cooperative Play
Your pup almost certainly loves it when you have the time to play with him, and the right toys can make that playtime more fun for you both!
Some dog puzzle toys are excellent for cooperative play between pups and their owners, and that not only makes them happier but increases the important bond between you and even allows you to have a little fun as well.
The Eight Best Dog Puzzle Toys and Games
So, you have a smart dog who you think will really benefit from a puzzle toy. But which one should you choose?
To help you make the right decision we enlisted the aid of some very savvy canine testers, and tried out some of the top selling and best reviewed dog puzzle toys ourselves.
In compiling this list of the best dog puzzle toys for smart dogs, we took into account both our 'testers' reactions to the toys and the opinion and reviews of other pet parents whose pups had also tried these dog toys out.
And the following is what we came up with as top puzzle toys for dogs that get bored and need the mental stimulation.
1. KONG Classic Dog Toy
Best Basic Puzzle Toy for Beginners
The name 'KONG' is one that's well known in dog toy circles and for good reason. The company has built its reputation on offering durable dog toys that are also fun, and offering them at a reasonable price.
The KONG Classic is a great 'entry level' dog puzzle toy for a pup who has never had the chance to play with one before. It's simple, rounded shape makes it easy for pups of all sizes to handle and its ease of use means pet parents don't have to get too puzzled figuring it out either.
It is a very simple toy. Fill it with your pup's favorite treats and then let them figure out how to manipulate the toy until their efforts are rewarded by a tasty treat. This not only helps to stimulate their brain but also if they are prone to gobbling down their treats too fast will help curb that bad behavior.
2. Trixie Poker Box
Best Entry Level Puzzle Toy For Very Smart Dogs
Let your dog play poker? Well, sort of. The Trixie Poker Box is essentially a board game style challenge for very smart pups that can keep them occupied for hours. The basic toy - you can purchase add-ons - offers your pup four boxes that he will need to figure out how to open in order to get at the treat (you placed) inside.
Each box is opened in a different way, and both a dog's mouth and paws will be engaged in order to master them all. Our pups found - and other pet parents seem to agree - that each puzzle box does offer a challenge to even very smart dogs and that while they may be able to figure them all out in time they can't 'cheat' in the way that some dog toys allow them too and that it will keep them amused and engaged for quite a while.
3. Outward Hound Fun Feeder
Best Dog Bowl Puzzle Toy
The Outward Hound Fun Feeder Dog Bowl works for any kind of diet, from store-bought kibble to homemade. Slows down your dog eating too fast, decreasing the likelihood of choking, vomiting, and bloat.
Some pups simply eat too fast, and that can be very bad for their health. This puzzle toy doubles as a real dog bowl, so that you can give your fast chewing pup his entire meal but add a challenge that will slow his eating down and engage his interest at the same time.
This particular feeder comes in two sizes; mini and regular, which is designed to hold up to four cups of standard kibble - more than the average meal size of even the largest pups. However, there are five different patterns and colors to choose from that stay looking new for years. The bowl is crafted from a durable, BPA plastic and is safe for pups to eat from and play with.
Inside the bowl is a maze-like puzzle that pups can puzzle over and release their kibble as they do, forcing speedier eaters to slow down and potentially preventing dangerous bloat.
4. iFetch Too Automatic Ball Launcher
Best Ball Launching Dog Puzzle Toy
Interactive, on demand ball launcher that lets dogs play fetch to their hearts’ content while stimulating dogs’ minds by challenging them to learn something new.
This toy is not an inexpensive option, but if your pup - or pups - loves the challenge of a great game of fetch, then it will more than pay for itself in a very short time. It will also make the whole game a lot easier on you as a pet parent.
This toy is perfect for dogs of all sizes, the bigger version launches standard size tennis balls up to 40 feet, the smaller version launches miniature tennis balls at distances of 10, 20, or 30 feet.
The 'puzzle' challenge offered by this ball launcher is that your pup will never quite know where the ball is coming from and when but he will quickly learn to expect that it is and be willing to wait so he can 'pounce' when it does. The launcher's ball distance and throw timing can be set differently every time and the quiet operation is a plus too.
5. Outward Hound Hide a Squirrel
Best Multi-Purpose Interactive Dog Puzzle Toy
The Outward Hound Hide a Squirrel dog puzzle toy is cute, but it also offers an ever changing challenge for pups.
Available in several different sizes this toy is essentially a plush tree trunk that can be 'stuffed' with between three and six (depending on the toy size chosen) squeaky stuffed squirrels. The challenge for your pup is to sniff out where in the tree trunk they are and how to get them out.
As you can hide the squirrels in different tree trunk holes every time, the challenge is always different. The squirrels all squeak and scrunch but so does the tree trunk itself, which will add to the fun as well.
This hugely popular dog puzzle toy is also more than a puzzle toy for some pups. The cute squirrels used in the 'game' also double as nap time buddies for pups who love to cuddle with a soft friend while they sleep!
6. Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Dog Brick Interactive Dog Toy
Best Puzzle Toy To Sharpen Dog's Problem-Solving Skills
These dog puzzles are a great way to not only entertain but also stimulate a dog's mind. challenge dogs with complex problems that are fun to solve.
This interactive puzzle toy that will challenge pups who have never played with a puzzle toy before and get them used to the idea of interacting with their playthings instead of just tossing them around!
The toy is set up like a board game and consists of several lidded blocks. Pet parents add treats to some of the blocks, but not all, and it is up to your dog to figure out which blocks contain his yummy snacks and how to open up the blocks to get to them. This toy provides a high level of enrichment and mental stimulation.
7. The StarMark Bob-a-Lot
Best Tough Puzzle Dog Toy
This is a durable interactive toy that will get your pup moving, entertained, while also feeding them healthy treats.
This is another simple, entry level dog puzzle toy that is very similar to one of our other picks, the Kong Classic, giving your dog some extra exercise and mental stimulation.
The brightly colored 'bobbing' toy can be filled with your pet's favorite treats or kibble and then it's up to him to push, paw and toss it until they all come out. It has a 3-cup capacity with adjustable openings on the top and bottom of the toy to allow for customizing the level of difficulty.
The Bob-A-Lot, thanks to a series of adjustable weights inside, will never quite tip over and keep bouncing back, something that adds an extra element of fun to play and makes it a good solitary play choice to keep your furkid busy while you are away.
8. Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug
Best Puzzle Tug and Chew Toy
The Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug is more than just a chew toy — it is also an interactive toy, treat dispenser toy and a tug toy.
Lots of dogs love a game of tug of war, but playing it with them can be very hard on a pet parent! The Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug Treat Dispenser offers pups the fun of a tug rope but also offers the challenge of puzzling treats out its bottle shape.
As curious pups will discover, the bottle is designed to be filled with treats that he can then release by tugging on the attached rope, raising the ball inside and 'freeing' all the yummy stuff. While it can be used as an interactive puzzle toy it's also good for solo play to keep your pup amused when you're away.
The Last Piece of the Puzzle
All the dog puzzle toys on our list are well worth your consideration, although some, as we noted may be better suited to very smart dogs than others. However, if you will be purchasing your pup his very first dog puzzle toy it's hard to go wrong with the Kong Classic Dog toy.
We have to favor the Kong Classic since it's affordable, durable and offers a great introduction to puzzle toys for your pup. As your dog masters it you can move on to one of the more complicated puzzle toys as well, while keeping the Kong as a reliable go to back up toy for when he's alone.
We hope you've found this list helpful and all that remains now is for you to get out there and buy your smart dog a great puzzle toy that you'll both enjoy!