Boredom is not a good state for a dog. Nearly all dogs love their regular walks, but that still leaves plenty of hours to get up to mischief at home if they aren’t stimulated. Using puzzle toys is one of the best ways to challenge a dog mentally. They can alleviate boredom and stress as your dog tries to work out the puzzle, instead of creating their own fun – which can be destructive. They also provide a useful activity for senior dogs or those recovering from injury, as they can work with their nose rather than straining their joints.
Dog puzzle toys come in many forms. Some are interactive, requiring problem-solving skills to tackle puzzles, while most dispense treats to reward the dog for solving the puzzle. For dogs who tend to bolt their food, or who shouldn’t have any extra treats from a dietary perspective, you can feed their regular meal via a puzzle – they’ll be really motivated to solve the challenge. Another food-orientated choice is a snuffle mat, which can be great fun for dogs who love to forage and use their sense of smell to solve puzzles.
If you have a dog that prefers to chew his toys rather than play with them, you’ll need to keep a close eye that he’s using the puzzle as intended. If not, he might find one of the toughest chew toys more stimulating.
6 of the best dog puzzle toys
Outward Hound Nina Ottosson Interactive Puzzle Toys
Difficulty level: Four levels from beginner to expert | Aim: Mental stimulation and reward | RRP: From £17 |
This company specialises in puzzle toys, which come in dozens of shapes and difficulty levels, from easy to expert. Pictured is the popular Tornado puzzle. This is an intermediate level toy, which involves multiple steps to reveal the hidden treat. There are 12 compartments with four spinning layers, which your dog needs to work out which to shift to get his reward.
Beginner (level 1) involves one-step actions; intermediate (level 2) has added obstacles requiring your dog to combine actions; advanced (level 3) demands sequential steps; expert (level 4) requires a series of steps in the correct order. What’s your dog’s IQ?!
Kong Rewards Ball
Difficulty level: Intermediate | Aim: Mental stimulation and reward | RRP: £13.99 |
This treat dispenser toy should keep dogs active and engaged as they endeavour to get the ball to release its treats. The ball is nobbly, which means it bounces in unexpected directions, which keeps the dog guessing, as well as making it fun to grab and chew. Fairly robust and durable, it tends to outwit most strong chewers.
It does require a certain size of treat, however. If they are too big (over 1cm), they won’t fit through the hole, while if they are too tiny, the puzzle becomes too easy. Kibble tends to work well, so it’s a handy option to feed some of your dog’s main meal in a stimulating way.
Trixie Dog Activity Gambling Tower
Difficulty level: Easy | Aim: Mental stimulation and reward | RRP: £16.53 |
Trixie offers several games at three difficulty levels, from easy to advanced. This Gambling Tower is level one, and challenges your dog to pull drawers out in the correct order via the loops to earn a reward. There are also three cones for hiding small rewards within the base compartments.
Although this is marketed as easy, the sequential steps required seem a little trickier than beginner level – making it more of a challenge for sleuth-like pooches. Best suited to smaller dogs, and under close supervision, as it’s not particularly robust and has small moving parts. But if your dog is careful, dextrous and loves a challenge that isn’t going to over-face him, this is ideal.
Elezenioc Dog Puzzle Slow Feeder
Difficulty level: Easy | Aim: Slow feeding; mental stimulation | Colours: Blue, green or pink | RRP: £14.99 |
Make feeding time fun with this puzzle feeder! You can hide the food in the compartments, where the dog can smell it and use his nose to shift the lids. This helps boost their problem-solving skills as it stimulates their mental faculties while they are motivated to find their grub. It also nurtures their foraging instincts of working for their food – and helps them not to wolf the whole lot down in 10 seconds, thereby helping their digestion.
The rubber non-slip feet are pretty good at stopping the tray sliding around the floor as your dog noses around, but if you have a pushy dog, he’ll probably end up scraping it around the kitchen. It doesn’t hold a huge amount of food, so it’s best suited for treats or small meals.
Pet Prime Dog Casino
Difficulty level: Advanced | Aim: Mental stimulation and reward | RRP: £15.99 |
This is an advanced level puzzle game that is designed to challenge your dog’s ability to learn sequential steps to seek and find hidden treats.
You pull out the yellow drawers, fill them with treats and push them back in. If your dog is already a puzzle genius, you can lock the drawers and make it even harder for them to work out.
It’s nice and sturdy, and unlike most dog puzzle toys it’s made of wood. This looks lovely and is easy to wipe clean with soap and water, but might stain if you’re using meat as treats.
Should keep your dog busy for a decent spell!
In the UK? View now at amazon.co.uk
Vivifying Snuffle Mat
Difficulty level: Easy | Aim: Mental stimulation; slow feeding | RRP: £16.99 |
Suitable for small and medium dogs, this feeding mat has eight different types of compartment that you can hide treats and kibble in, encouraging your dog to puzzle it out.
It simulates an environment that allows your dog to forage naturally and slows down his eating, which helps avoid boredom and destructive behaviour. It is machine washable for easy care.
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