7 Dog Puzzle Toys to Boost Brainpower
Regular exercise is important for a dog’s overall health, but we’re not just talking about physical activity. Similar to humans, dogs also benefit from a good mental workout.
If you’re looking for dog puzzle toys to exercise your pet’s body and mind, read on. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite dog puzzle toys to boost brainpower.
Benefits of Dog Puzzle Toys
A good dog puzzle toy will challenge your pet to think outside the box—and have fun while doing it. Whether you want to stop your dog from chewing on the couch, entertain him while you’re on a conference call, slow down meal time, or keep his aging mind sharp, dog puzzle toys have many potential benefits, including:
- Mental and physical stimulation
- Satisfying natural scavenging and foraging instincts
- Reducing boredom and destructive behaviors
- Strengthening your bond with your dog
If you’re looking for DIY dog puzzle toys, consider trying one of these fun brain games for dogs at home.
Shopping for Dog Puzzle Toys: What to Look For
Dog puzzle toys are available in a variety of styles and categories, ranging from treat balls and snuffle mats to games with lots of compartments, sliders, cups, or flaps. Some may require your participation while others can keep your dog entertained when you’re not able to play.
As with any toy, you’ll want to take your dog’s size, breed, age, and temperament into consideration. Here are some other things to think about when shopping for a dog puzzle toy:
Dog puzzle toys have varying levels of difficulty. If your pup is a newbie to puzzles, test the waters with an easy-to-medium level toy. If the game is too hard from the get-go, your dog may get frustrated and give up, or resort to destructive chewing behaviors. And where’s the fun in that?
How will your dog be rewarded for his impressive problem-solving skills? Since many dogs are food-motivated, most dog puzzle toys use treats as a reward. If your dog can’t resist a good squeaky toy, on the other hand, there are also hide-and-seek options that challenge your dog to hunt for adorable plush critters, like squirrels and rabbits.
The last thing you want is for your dog to grow tired of the very thing that’s supposed to bust his boredom. Some dog puzzle toys offer multiple ways to play or adjustable features to keep your pet’s head in the game. They may double as a chew toy, for instance, or you may be able to toss them around for a game of fetch after your dog has polished off those treats.
While no dog puzzle toy is 100 percent indestructible, certain ones may be more durable than others. Some games are intended to be played together with your dog to ensure he doesn’t shred them up or chew them to pieces. That being said, if your dog is a super chewer, you may want to forgo options with lots of removable pieces and look for a sturdy puzzle chew toy.
Best Dog Puzzle Toy: Overall Winner
If your dog is ready for a challenge, this interactive dog puzzle toy from Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound is sure to please. Once your dog learns how to slide and flip open the toy’s various treat compartments and bone-shaped pieces with his paws and nose, he will be handsomely rewarded for his problem-solving skills!
This is a level 2/medium difficulty puzzle, which means it will be more challenging than a beginner toy but is still suitable for all kinds of dogs. Once your dog has mastered the puzzle (which we’re sure won’t take your brainiac long!), you can explore more advanced options, like the Outward Hound Dog Worker.
- Provides mental stimulation and entertainment.
- Helps reduce boredom and destructive behavior.
- Level 2 puzzle with 3 ways to play.
- 20 easy-to-fill treat compartments, 4 removable bone covers, and 8 sliding treat covers with scent holes.
- Made from food-safe materials (BPA, PVC and phthalate-free).
Things to Consider
- Not dishwasher safe; you’ll need to hand wash with warm, soapy water between uses.
- Durable but not recommended for heavy chewers.
- Intended for supervised play.
Best Snuffle Mat for Dogs
Our pick: PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat
Dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell. Scent work (nose work) provides enrichment, mental stimulation, and a healthy outlet for your dog’s natural instinct to hunt for food. Sprinkle kibble or treats overtop the PAW5 Wooly mat and your dog will get both a mental and physical workout as he noses around for tasty morsels hidden in the grass-like strands. This scent-driven scavenger hunt will make mealtime fun and rewarding. Plus, the mat is pretty stylish to boot!
- Designed for interactive play during mealtime.
- Provides mental stimulation and environmental enrichment.
- Helps satisfy foraging instincts.
- Sustainably made with non-toxic, safe materials.
- Machine washable, easy to clean.
- Suitable for all size dogs and breeds.
- Modern gray color, stylish look.
- Product is not intended for chewing.
- Some dogs may pick up the mat and shake it and send kibble flying, according to some reviewers.
- Pricier than other snuffle mats at around $40.
- If you have a dog and cat household, note this is not recommended for cats, as their claws can get stuck.
- Intended for supervised use.
Best Licking Mat for Dogs
Our Pick: Hyper Pet IQ Treat Mat
This vet-developed licking mat for dogs dishes out a tasty IQ challenge for your dog while also having a calming effect. Spread wet food or a healthy treat like yogurt or peanut butter across the raised, textured surface and he’ll be entertained as he navigates the nooks and crannies to retrieve his reward. As an added bonus, eating a small amount of food at a slower pace may help improve your pet’s digestion. The licking action also boosts saliva production and scrapes away yucky bacteria, promoting good oral health.
- Four quadrant design helps with portion control and extends feeding time.
- Keeps pets entertained with tasty treats.
- Repetitive licking may help soothe and calm pets with anxiety.
- Made of non-toxic materials (food-grade TPE, no BPAs or PVAs).
- Freezer friendly, microwave and top-rack dishwasher safe.
- Recommended for both dogs and cats.
Things to Consider
- Anti-skid base but some reviewers say mat slips and slides around.
- Some users find it hard to clean food out of the crevices.
Best Hide and Seek Dog Toy
If your dog is feeling a little squirrely, then he’ll be barking up the right tree with this hide and seek dog toy from Outward Hound. This adorable toy was designed to stimulate mental play, keep boredom at bay, and satisfy your dog’s natural hunting instincts. Stuff the tree trunk with the squishy, squeaky squirrels and let the games begin. It won’t take long for your clever pup to sniff them out!
- Boredom buster that provides mental exercise and enrichment.
- Good way to challenge a dog’s problem solving skills.
- Available in four sizes (small, medium, large and extra large).
- 2-in-1 interactive toy: great for sniffing and hunting, but removable squirrels also work well for game of fetch.
- Extra large comes with six squirrels, other sizes come with 3.
- Replacement 3-pack of squirrels available.
Things to Consider
- Not a chew toy, but your dog may beg to differ. Some reviewers note that the tree trunk is easily destroyed.
- When choosing a size, consider your dog’s size and activity level (small size is suitable for smaller breeds and puppies).
- Replacement squirrels are not compatible with small tree trunk.
- Intended for supervised fun, especially when dealing with a heavy chewer.
Best Dog Puzzle Toy for Tough Chewers
Our Pick: West Paw Qwizl Treat Toy
This interactive treat-dispensing toy will give your dog a mental workout and satisfy his urge to chew. The West Paw Qwizl is designed to keep dogs busy and stretch out snack time. If you’re searching for indestructible dog toys, there truly is no such thing. However, this durable dog puzzle toy for tough chewers may come close! It has side openings and a center hole to release the tantalizing scent of the treats inside. Fill it with a variety of dry or wet treats, such as kibble, biscuits, chew sticks, jerky strips, cheese cubes, apple slices, carrot sticks, or peanut butter. The fun doesn’t have to stop once your dog is done snacking—this toy is also fun to toss, fetch and chew.
- Treat-filled toy keeps dogs entertained and satisfied.
- Also fun to fetch, toss and catch.
- Floats in water.
- Made of durable Zogoflex material (100% recyclable).
- BPA free, latex free and FDA compliant.
- Curved shape makes it easier for your dog to hold the toy in place with his paws.
- Tested for toughness.
- Available in three bright colors and two sizes.
- Top-rack dishwasher safe.
Things to Consider
- Bully sticks or pieces of treats may get stuck inside the toy; the company suggests using pliers to grab and pull out any leftover treat. Soaking the toy in hot, soapy water can also help loosen up the treat, making it easier to remove.
- No dog toy is indestructible, even if it’s designed for tough chewers.
Best Interactive Dog Treat Ball
Our Pick: OurPets IQ Treat Ball
We know your dog is super smart already, but he’ll get even smarter as he learns the ins and outs of this interactive dog treat ball. It’s designed to keep your dog mentally and physically active while also slowing down snacktime. Fill the toy with your dog’s favorite dry treats or kibble and he’ll get to work. When he rolls the ball just right, treats will fall out for the taking. What’s more, if your dog catches on too quickly, you can adjust the difficulty level to extend playtime (and snack time) even further.
- Keeps dogs mentally and physically active through play.
- Fun alternative to slow-feed dog bowl.
- Slower feeding may help reduce bloat and aid in digestion.
- Available in two sizes (3-inch for smaller dogs and 4-inch for larger dogs).
- Adjustable interior disc to change difficulty level.
- Plastic pieces twist apart for easier cleaning.
- Some reviewers note this is not suitable for small puppies or toy breeds, who can get their jaws stuck.
- If you have hard-surface floors, the ball can be loud as your dog drops or bats it around the house.
- Recommended for supervised play.
- You’ll need to hand wash in warm soapy water and dry after use.
Best Dog Treat Dispenser for Memory Training
If you want to improve your dog’s memory and encourage daily exercise, this activity trainer fits the bill. You’ll need to spend some time teaching your pet how the game works. Fill the treat dispenser with treats or dry food. When your dog presses the remote release button with his nose or paws, a dog-friendly sound effect will play and treats will fall into the feed tray. Pretty soon, he’ll begin to associate the sound with a yummy reward.
You can attach the button to the main unit, or use the included suction cup, rubber button holder, or garden stake to train in different settings. The button can be placed a considerable distance away from the dispenser (about 100 feet), so your dog is sure to get a good workout as he runs back and forth!
- Designed for memory improvement and exercise.
- Encourages your pet to run and play.
- Adjustable sliding panel controls amount of treats released.
- Four ways to train using included attachments.
- Treat scoop included.
- Requires 4 C and 3 AAA batteries.
- Since the unit is lightweight, some reviewers say it’s not the best choice for large breeds, especially if they get over-excited about food.