The 20 Best Puzzle Toys for Bored Dogs
Banish boredom from your dog's life with these clever puzzle toys. Your pooch will be mentally stimulated, physically active, and a lot less likely to destroy your home.
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Why are puzzle toys so good for dogs?
With many parks, trails, and beaches closed during the quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to get your dog the exercise your furry friend needs. Dogs may seem content to lounge around for a good portion of the day, but they need to be mentally stimulated. Just like humans, dogs get bored. When dogs are bored, they tend to act out by doing things like destroying your shoes, your pillows, and whatever else looks interesting around your house.
That’s where puzzle toys come in. What are they? Pretty much what they sound like: toys that your dog has to figure out in order to get a reward, usually a treat. But not all puzzle toys are right for all dogs, says Tammy Helzer, DVM, a veterinarian at the Humane Society of the White Mountains. Both the breed and age of your pup will play a role in determining what’s best, and it may take a little trial and error. (And don’t simply go for the brightest puzzle toy, since dogs don’t see colors the same way we do.)
Dr. Helzer says that puzzle toys are particularly beneficial for dogs who live in an apartment without a yard or who don’t have the opportunity for a lot of playtime. But all dogs need to be stimulated both physically and mentally, which is just one of the things your dog wishes you knew. That said, younger dogs will need more physical activity than older ones. And herding breeds, like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, have the most energy, so they need the most stimulating toys. So, what should you choose? We rounded up the best puzzle toys for dogs of all ages, sizes, lifestyles, and personalities so you can find the right one for your furry BFF.
Note: Prices listed were accurate as of press time; pricing fluctuations may occur.
Puzzle brick toy
The Ottoson puzzle brick dog toy by Outward Hound is great for exercising your dog’s mind. It has three different treat-feeding features, which use open-close flip compartments and removable bone puzzle pieces. Emma Grigg, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and lecturer at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, says this level-two treat puzzle is a more challenging puzzle toy—one that a beginner pooch can graduate to over time. Just how smart is your dog? Here’s how to tell.
Tricky treat ball
Even though this toy by Omega Paw is very simple, it can keep you dog busy for a while. There is a small hole in the side of the ball where your dog’s favorite treats or kibble can be put inside. They have to use their nose and paws to roll the ball around until the food comes out making for an excellent challenge. It comes in sizes small, medium, and large and doubles as a great toy for fetch.
Treat-dispensing game for beginners
The Nina Ottosson Dog Smart beginner dog puzzle toy is great for pooches who may be more used to getting their treats on a silver platter. Grigg says it’s perfect for beginners since it’s easy to figure out. How does it work? Your dog can work at getting a variety of yummy rewards from nine removable treat-dispensing compartments. This will keep your pup busy, redirect destructive behaviors, and also slow down eating (which can improve digestion).
Stuff-A-Ball dog toy
Give your dog some mental stimulation by challenging them to get the food out of this treat ball. Stuff the center and the ridges around the side with something gooey, like peanut butter, and they’ll have lots of fun licking it out. As a bonus, on top of this toy giving your dog great mental stimulation, it also doubles as a teeth cleaner. The denta-ridges help to clean teeth and gums.
IQ treat ball
Pet Zone’s IQ treat ball is another food-dispensing dog toy—but one that keeps your dog physically active in addition to mentally stimulated. The challenge: Learn to roll the ball properly in order to get the treats to fall out. If your canine is carrying some extra weight, this might be a great option for burning calories. It comes in two sizes: three inches for smaller dogs and four inches for larger dogs. Grigg says the difficulty level can be adjusted via the toy’s internal disc, making it good for beginners or more advanced dogs. If your pup is up for another challenge, try these 12 easy dog tricks you could start teaching today.
This interactive feed game by AWOOF challenges dogs to find treats or small toys hidden in a fun mat. Dogs love it because it keeps them occupied, but it also encourages their natural foraging and sniffing skills and can even help with stress relief. It’s easy to clean (ideally washed by hand) and environmentally friendly, and at less than 20 dollars, you can’t beat the price tag. You can DIY a similar puzzle toy by tying durable fleece to rubber grating, says Grigg.
Fun feeder bowl
This Outward Hound Fun Feeder Dog Bowl combines a fun toy with feeding time. If your dog is a fast eater this is the perfect solution for mealtime. It helps your dog eat up to 10 times slower. The fun feeder bowls allow dogs to forage for their food through the fun patterns and mazes within the bowl. It also helps to aid digestion and prevent bloat.
StarMark’s Bob-A-Lot interactive toy exercises and feeds your dog at the same time. The large bottom chamber fits up to three cups of food, so it can actually provide a full meal. Plus, most types of dog food work great with its adjustable openings at the top and bottom. But how does it wobble without falling down? It’s got a weighted anti-slip bottom, allowing it to wobble erratically—and motivating your dog to come play. This puzzle toy encourages movement, according to Grigg, and it’s not too difficult if used correctly. Wondering what you should put in this puzzle toy? These are the dog food brands veterinarians feed their own pets.
Tornado puzzle toy
Outward Hound’s Dog Tornado Puzzle toy makes your dog work for their treats instead of you just handing it to them. The three layers spin around each other allowing your dog to slowly discover the hidden treats in each compartment. It has 12 different compartments that will work your dog’s brain and keep them from destructive behavior elsewhere in the house. Feel free to put some mid-day snacks in the Tornado Puzzle toy, or feed your dog their meals from it.
Saturn-shaped treat dispenser
This IQ treat ball by Wisedom is made of 100 percent natural rubber. Ideal for medium to large dogs who love to chase—even the world’s biggest dog breeds—it’s great for both free-time play or training exercises. As the dog rolls the ball, treats will fall out, rewarding them for being active. The only issue, notes Grigg, is that this toy may be difficult to clean thoroughly. On the plus side, she says that it looks pretty durable.
Cone and slider puzzle toy
This puzzle toy by Trixie has non-slip rubber feet that will keep the toy in place when your dog gets a little too excited about their treats. It has four levels of play that require concentration from your pooch to figure out. This toy is for more advanced dogs because not only do they have to pull the cones out, but they also have to slide the plates around to get to the food. Stack up the various levels of cones and sliders to make it more difficult.
It doesn’t get more fun than this for your furry friend. Outward Hound’s plush hide-and-seek interactive puzzle toy allows your dog to sniff, hunt, and fetch. With this toy, though, the reward is a stuffed toy, not food. The squirrels have hidden squeakers, which will keep your bored dog busy and mentally engaged for hours. That said, while it’s super popular—garnering more than 7,000 positive reviews on Amazon—it might not work for dogs who are intense chewers. If that describes your dog, Grigg says to skip this puzzle toy to ensure that small pieces aren’t ingested. Dr. Helzer also emphasizes the importance of safety when bringing home any new toy. “You need to observe your dog with their new puzzle toy (at least initially) in case they tear it up. Avoid toys with little pieces that could break off,” she says, adding that some objects pass through a dog’s digestive system but others don’t.
Most dog owners already have a KONG, but people probably don’t know how to make it into a puzzle toy. If you add treats to the inside (bonus: if you put a treat in it and freeze it) it provides your pup with hours of mental stimulation. They’re challenged to figure out how to get a much wanted, tasty treat out of a small hole.
Two puzzles in one
Ito Rocky’s interactive dog food puzzle toy keeps dogs busy and slows down the speed at which they eat. First, they have to get the food out of the top by turning the wheel. Then they have to collect it from a puzzle that looks like a maze down below, for even more fun and brain stimulation. Grigg says this puzzle toy looks complicated and fun, but it might be tricky to clean. Don’t miss these other things your dog wishes you’d buy.
Your dog will be in a bit of a pickle working hard to get treats out of this puzzle toy that—yes—looks like a pickle. It’s made of latex, free of potentially harmful phthalates, and dishwasher safe. For maximum doggy fun, switch up the treats you slip inside the pocket. Just make sure to use treats that are small enough for your dog to get out without too much frustration, says Grigg.
Four spinners for smart pups
Pupper Pamper’s food puzzle toy is all about spinning, food, and fun. It’s particularly great for dogs with anxiety. Why? There’s so much to do, they won’t have time to worry. But dogs need to be on the smart side to use this successfully since they’ll need to turn the canisters attached to the handle to release the treats. This toy is silent, durable, and won’t make a mess. But Grigg suggests supervising your pooch to make sure he doesn’t chew on the wood. If you’re feeling ambitious, she says, you can make a similar puzzle toy using empty soda bottles or PVC piping. In case you were wondering (and you know you were), these are the 20 smartest dog breeds.
Balls, balls, and more balls
This package of balls by Volaco Pets is great, especially if you’ve got multiple dogs. Choose from a giggle ball, a squeaky ball, a rubble ball, a rope ball, and a dental cleaning ball—great for keeping your dog’s teeth fresh and pearly-white. Grigg likes the variety here (some are puzzle toys, some aren’t) and suggests rotating the toys out instead of leaving all of them around for the whole day. While some toys can improve oral hygiene, this is how often you should actually be brushing your dog’s teeth.
Easter-egg educational game
These aren’t actually Easter eggs, but the fun colors and rounded bowls will get you thinking about fun and treats—for dogs of all ages. This Holiberty IQ treat ball is also a slow feeder, meaning that your dog won’t be able to eat too quickly. Instead, your pup will have to figure out how to flip each bowl open to get to what’s inside. If you have an overweight pet, slowing down the eating process is important, as are these other doggy weight-loss tips.
This puzzle toy is pretty advanced. Outward Hound’s Dog Casino dispenses treats in sequential steps for more challenging play. There are six pull-out compartments, along with six moving pieces. Nope, it’s not easy, but it’s perfect for the right dog. Skip the dishwasher for this one, and hand-wash instead. Remember: No matter how entertained your dog is, there is a limit to how long you should leave them alone.
Double the challenge
This two-pack by TAZAI (one pink, one blue) is great for dogs of all sizes. Your dog can see, hear, and smell the treats inside these layered balls, making the challenge exciting on every level. In some cases, though, it might be frustrating for a dog, says Grigg. The bottom line: Know your dog and see what works best. These bouncy balls are also environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and, according to reviewers, very durable. To keep your pets truly happy and stimulated, check out how to make the best backyard for your dog or cat.
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