Best Dog Puzzle Toys | Seek A Treat Mental Stimulation
Did you know?
The use of environmental enrichment aids, a.k.a. puzzles, to zoo environments is a well understood way to reduce stress for captive animals.
But does this really translate to our pets?
Although dogs of all ages appear to benefit from mental stimulation, senior dogs may well be an overlooked population that is especially well served by regular mental exercise.
Professional dog trainers often recommend adding mental stimulation activities such as clicker training, dog sports, and mind stretching toys to help your dog develop better focus, impulse control, and to boost confidence and interest in the learning process itself.
Some of these toys will keep your dog busy while you’re at work, and others require some supervision.
Either way, you get to feel good that you are giving your pup the mental and physical activity they need to be healthy, happy and balanced.
We did not just review a few products, we looked at the entire gambit and came up with our top choice in 10 different categories so that no matter what kind of challenging dog toy you are looking for, we can point you to the best in class.
- Best Dog Puzzle Toy – All Around Winner!
- Best Eco-Friendly Design Puzzle Toy for Dogs
- Best Puzzle Dog Food Bowl
- Best Einstein Collection
- Best Interactive Dog Toy for Fetch Lovers
- Best Plush Puzzle Toy for Puppies and Dogs
- Best Seek a Treat Toy for Strong Chewers
- Best Dog Puzzle Toy for Sniffers
- Best Treat Dispensing Ball Toy for Dogs
- Best Bargain Dog Puzzle
Qualities to Look for in a Great Interactive Dog Toy
Making sure the exercise needs for our pets are met can be a challenge in our busy lives.
Obesity is a growing concern for pet parents, with as many as 56% of pet pooches being overweight or obese, according to a national study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
In addition to physical health concerns such as hypertension, diabetes, joint damage and increased cancer risk associated with obesity, a lack of exercise can lead to behavioral issues.
A well exercised dog is going to be more relaxed, focused, and responsive to training.
Not everyone has access to secured outdoor spaces for long games of fetch or hide and seek, activities that readily wear out even the most high-strung canines. In addition, whether conditions don’t always make going outside ideal.
Interactive dog toys give you inside options for activity on rainy days.
The best interactive puzzle dog toys add to your pal’s daily physical routine by encouraging them to get up and move or “work” for their daily food rations.
Don’t worry, your pup won’t be agitating for a raise any time soon – they perceive “work for food” programs as a fun and rewarding game.
Mental stimulation simply means putting your dog in situations where thinking through a problem is rewarded.
Just like with humans, engaging your canine’s problem-solving skills with interactive dog games actually helps to develop their minds.
Yes, your dog actually gets smarter when they practice learning!
If you have a dog that has behavioral issues such as persistent barking, destroying property, or even mild separation anxiety, chances are that the first thing a responsible dog trainer will encourage you to do is work in more mental stimulation into your daily routine.
Dogs are intelligent and social beings. They need to be mentally engaged in order to be balanced and healthy.
This is especially true with the herding dogs such as Border Collies, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Australian Shepherds. If these dogs do not have a “job” to do, they can become neurotic, anxious, or depressed.
Positive Reinforcement Based Learning
The old-school theory that the only way to teach a dog is to “dominate” them into submission and use punishment as the go-to training tool has been completely debunked by animal behaviorists in the last few decades.
Modern research, and countless professional dog trainers and animal advocacy groups agree – Positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior is the most effective, humane, and powerful tool in the trainer’s tool box.
When a child performs well on a test at school, their reward is a good grade and hopefully praise and validation from caring adults.
People learn a great deal over the course of our lifetimes because we have systems in place that incentivize learning with positive reinforcement.
For dogs, the easiest reward to give is food.
It is infinitely repeatable, and it works across all dog breeds, intelligence levels, and experience with training.
Most interactive toys are of the dog food puzzle feeder variety as a result. However, we made sure to include non-food motivators like fetching a ball and finding favorite chew toys on our review of the best interactive dog toys as well.
If you are worried about feeding a ton of treats to your dog because of the excess calories, fat, and fillers—then don’t. Most dogs are motivated to work for any food, including their regular rations of kibble.
If you want to add a few “high value” rewards that might be a special treat for your dog, then go for it.
A few special treats here and there will boost motivation in general.
The principle of “random rewards” applies here. If you won a prize every 10-20 times you bought a lottery ticket, chances are you would be highly motivated to continue to spend money on them!
Before you decide on toys to keep your dog mentally stimulated, make sure you are investing in a product that is made from high quality materials and has durable construction that you can rely on.
The last thing you want is a toy that breaks within a few uses, opening up the risk of a choke hazard on small plastic parts.
One of the exciting things about having a dog in the modern world are all of the nifty technological advances in mobile app technology.
Be on the look out for toys that let you interact with your dog when you are not at home.
Our review of the best dog puzzle toys certainly features a few remote options. However, this is an area of pet products that is in the middle of a rapid expansion. Expect these kinds of toys to continue to evolve and blossom in the years to come.Subscribe to our page to get updates on the latest innovations!
Let’s get into those reviews, shall we?
West Paw Design Zogoflex Toppl
Outward Hound Dog Tornado
Trixie Pet Products
iFetch Interactive Ball Launchers for Dogs
Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel
Wooly Snuffle Mat
OurPets IQ Treat Ball
Best Dog Puzzle Toys – The All Around Winner!
PupPod is among the best interactive dog toys available on the market today.
They have won the Innovation Award at the 2017 KC Animal Health Corridor Investment Forum, a community devoted to monitoring the latest in animal health science and technology.
The secret to their success is that they have worked closely with animal behaviorists to develop a smart dog toy that uses insights from positive training techniques to keep your canine engaged in learning (playing!).
Using the latest in mobile app technology, this puzzle game for dogs is designed to be used with or without direct supervision while you are home, or with your remote input while you are away at work.
Unlike many self-entertaining dog toys, the PupPod gets progressively more challenging as your furry friend is ready for the next level. This gives it an edge for very smart dogs such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds.
This is a toy that canine geniuses won’t outgrow anytime soon!
PupPod Wobbler Toy
Using both lights and sounds, this unit encourages specific actions from your dog, followed by a reward cue to let you know to dispense a treat when your furry friend has successfully accomplished her task.
Fat at the bottom and narrow at the top, the Wobbler toy always rights itself and provides a lively movement when nudged with nose or paw.
But unlike other toys in its class, this product teaches multiple cues which will develop focus and listening skills.
To increase the physical activity of the game, put distance between you and the PupPod, or add a flight of stairs between the unit and the reward for even more exercise.
Use this system with your pup’s regular mealtime rations to both slow down her eating and provide mental and physical stimulation at the same time.
Pet Tutor Bundle
If you upgrade to the Pet Tutor Bundle, you no longer have to be directly involved with the toy for your dog to enjoy hours of fun “figuring out” this dog puzzle.
Let the Pet Tutor automatically dispense kibble when your pooch has successfully completed each task.
Put some distance between the Wobble and the dispenser by placing in on the other side of stairs or in a separate room to really boost the exercise your dog can get while earning her meals on a rainy day.
If you want to know how to keep your dog entertained while at work, this is an excellent choice.
The mobile app works seamlessly with the system to give you the option to engage your companion while away from home.
Best Eco-Friendly Design Puzzle Toy for Dogs
West Paw Design Zogoflex Toppl
More and more consumers are demanding responsibly designed products for their pets. One of the leaders in eco-friendly options is West Paw.
Since 1996, this company has kept manufacturing in the USA with an eye towards environmentally sustainable processes in their Bozeman, MT facility.
The materials used in their toys feature recycled, BPA free plastics. In addition, they offer customers the chance to recycle their toys when going for an upgrade, keeping Zogoflex out of the landfill—forever.
In terms of design, West Paw is offering some of the simplest yet effective dog puzzle toys available. That is why we decided to feature this selection, the Toppl.
At first glance it does not look like much, but peak inside and you will see a network of prongs to hold treats or kibble in place to keep your pooch working hard to release each piece.
In addition, if you buy both the large and small sizes of this toy, you can link them together for a fun, treat dispensing dog toy.
The beauty of the design is that it has no moving parts—nothing to break off and ruin the toy or become a dangerous choke hazard. It is tough enough for even the most diligent chewers.
And, the whole thing pops right in the dishwasher to keep it clean and bacteria free (a very nice perk for a toy designed to be covered in dog slobber!)
Another popular option by this manufacturer to check out is the Zogoflex Qwizl. The innovative long tubular design will help you make expensive chew treats such as bully sticks last longer.
Best Puzzle Dog Food Bowl
Outward Hound Dog Tornado
There is a lot going on with this puzzle. It features 12 different compartments that are each tucked onto a different level.
Each layer spins independently, revealing treats or kibble as your pet works her way through the puzzle.
To make the game more challenging, you can start to add the small bone covers that fit into the puzzle, preventing the layer above from spinning fully. Over time, add more bones pieces to really stump your puppy.
Another thing to keep in mind with Outward Hound toys is that they offer a full line of similarly themed but distinctively different puzzle toys for dogs. If your pooch gets bored with one design, get another to change the challenge.
Developed by Nina Ottosson, each toy in the line is classified by level of difficulty, giving you plenty of options regardless of your dog’s experience level.
Here are some other toys in this line that you should be aware of:
These toys not only entertain, but actively teach your dog important skills such as impulse control, focus, and determination.
If you happen to have a puppy, using the Dog Tornado at feeding time helps to reward problem solving, an important part of helping to develop a lifelong love of learning.
The main downside of the Dog Tornado is that it does require supervision.
Because it has detachable pieces, you want to be sure your pup does not decide to chew on the pieces, a potential choke hazard.
Best Einstein Collection
Trixie Pet Products
The Trixie Pet collection of challenging puzzles for dogs gets our top place designation for a complete collection because it uses several different types of activity in each puzzle, really pushing your canine genius to think it through.
In addition to providing a fun way to give your dog a mental workout, these puzzles really encourage her to try new things, building confidence along the way.
Dog trainer’s value a dog’s willingness to “volunteer” new behaviors because this is a fundamental skill used in the training techniques known as “capturing” and “shaping.”
Problem solving skills developed over the full line of Trixie Pet Puzzles include:
- Lift cone covers straight up
- Move sliders (with paw or nose)
- Switch a lever to move a drawer
- Pull on ropes to open hidden compartments
- Flip lids using knobs
- Spin canisters to drop food
- Delayed gratification with some puzzles requiring multiple steps before treats are dispensed
In addition to the puzzle we have featured (which is a level 2 selection), be sure to check out these other options, categorized by level of difficulty:
Best Interactive Dog Toy for Fetch Lovers
iFetch Interactive Ball Launchers for Dogs
A treat free option providing top-notch indoor exercise.
Some dogs enjoy fetch so much that they will gladly “work” for a toss of the ball. If you have a ball-addicted pooch, then you can take advantage of this interactive dog toy that does not use food rewards at all.
Unlike some automatic ball launchers for dogs, this one is fully interactive. Your canine will load her own balls when ready for the next toss.
You can adjust between 10’, 20’ and 30’ so you can use it indoors or outdoors, increasing the physical challenge as your furry friend is ready for more.
Although this model is optimized with mini balls perfect for pocket pooches, be sure to check out the IFetch Interactive Too, which is designed with larger breeds in mind and uses standard sized tennis balls.
If you are interested in learning more about the world of ball launchers, be sure to check out our comprehensive review covering the full gambit found here.
Best Plush Puzzle Toy for Puppies and Dogs
Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel
Another treat-free option is this plush toy made by Outward Hound. Some canines just go crazy for the soft mouth feel of stuffed animals, especially teething puppies.
This fun toy lets you hide up to five small critters (options include squirrels, bees, birds and hedgehogs if you happen to have a particular dog) for your little hunter to find. There are 4 sizes to choose from which makes it a good choice for any sized dog.
Each animal is squeaky, adding a dimension of play that will get most canines interested.
If you have a food motivated dog, you can always tuck a few treats in amongst the critters when you stuff this toy for play. Or, ask your dog to bring you each toy before receiving a treat for a more bonding experience.
One downside of this toy is that some dogs just love to chew and shred plush toys to pieces.
Although this set is well designed for durability, if you have a heavy chewer on your hands, you should probably move on to another selection.
Best Seek a Treat Toy for Strong Chewers
In terms of the hide-a-treat dog toys, KONG is the manufacturer that really brought them to the mainstream. This is the award winning and extremely popular design that made this company a household name in dog toys.
The soft rubber construction is both easy on the gums, and durable enough for even the most powerful chewers.
For breeds such as Pitbulls, German Shepherds, Huskies and Labradors, chewing is an urge that often lasts well beyond puppyhood.
In order to satisfy the urge in nondestructive ways, many owners have relied on KONG products for decades.
You can pack crunchy treats and kibble in this toy, but it works best when combined with some peanut butter to provide a longer lasting quest to lick out the last morsel.
For an extra challenge, freeze it with peanut butter and treats inside before giving it to your dog or teething puppy.
Because it has no moving parts, this is a toy that you can stuff and give to your dog in their crate before leaving them alone as long as you get a size large enough it can’t possibly be a choke hazard.
By the time they get all of the peanut butter out, they will have passed through the period where separation anxiety usually kicks in, developing a positive association with their crate in the process.
If you are impressed with the KONG brand and are looking for a more interactive toy, check out the KONG Wobbler, a new design that adds a new dimension of play and mental stimulation to the game.
Best Dog Puzzle Toy for Sniffers
Wooly Snuffle Mat
The design of this food puzzle for dogs is deceptively simple. However, it is a great way to mentally stimulate your canine and engage his sense of smell at the same time.
It adds a challenge to meal time while also slowing down the meal which can be important for those dogs that insist on gobbling down their dinner dangerously fast.
The fabric used to make this hide-a-treat rug is 100% upcycled, making this an eco-friendly choice. Plus, it is machine washable so keeping it clean is easy.
The Wooly Snuffle Mat is a great toy for any breed, age, or sized dog.
If you have more than one dog, plan on getting one for each because encouraging two canines to forage on the same mat might cause resource guarding, a common source of in-fighting among pack mates.
Best Treat Dispensing Ball Toy for Dogs
OurPets IQ Treat Ball
There are several different types of treat dispensing balls on the market, but we like this option from OurPets IQ for several reasons.
First, the price is right. This is a very inexpensive toy that offers hours of fun for your perky pooch.
Second, it offers plenty of both physical and mental stimulation. It will get your puppy moving around and thinking, all while earning rewards along the way.
Although you can use treats in this ball, you can also just use regular dry kibble to make dinner time a fun activity for your pet.
Third, you can make the game more challenging as your companion gets better at the game. This ability to adapt the toy to make it progressively harder is a major advantage of this treat ball over many others.
There are two sizes to choose from, 3” and 4”. Unfortunately, although that is a great size for small and medium dogs, it is a little small for larger dogs.
If you have a giant on your hands, this toy may not be the best choice. If that is the case, consider the 5” Omega Paw instead.
Best Bargain Dog Puzzle
When it comes to bang-for-the buck, we recommend this treat dispensing puzzle for dogs. It offers a lot of forward facing design features that really help this product stand out, despite a very small price tag.
The self-righting design of this wobble toy creates an interesting movement that is just irresistible to dogs. They will have to keep working this toy to get all of the kibble out, adding both challenge and time to your regular feeding routine.
You can also adjust the size of the holes which means regardless of the size of kibble you use, you can control exactly how hard it will be for your pooch to get their reward.
The large interior chamber is big enough that you can put their entire meal in the device with a single load.
The Bob-A-Lot comes in two sizes and will provide hours of mental and physical stimulation for dogs of all breeds and sizes.
If you want to really make the game exciting for your pooch, add a few soft treats that he really loves to the mix.
Conclusion: Interactive Toys that Help Your Dog Learn
Both mental and physical stimulation are important for your dog to be happy and balanced.
The new generation of interactive dog toys aims to get your dog thinking and problem solving to not only improve their capacity to learn, but also teach them important skills such as impulse control and delayed gratification.
We wanted to provide our readers with a comprehensive list of the best dog puzzle toys that provide challenges to keep them thinking and engaged.
Don’t waste the all-important dinner time! It is a chance to get your dog active, even if the whether outside isn’t right for a satisfying game of fetch or visit to the dog park.
Do you have some favorite toys that we missed in this review or a funny experience you want to share about one of the ones we did?
Please leave a comment below to share with our readers.