“I want to adopt a really smart dog.” Yeah, I’ve heard that a few times. Prospective pup parents revel in the thought of teaching their dog cool tricks to show their friends at dinner parties, but not everyone really thinks about what it means to have a dog with an active mind. Sure, you can teach them to play dead looking down the barrel of your finger-gun, but smart dogs require lots of mental stimulation to avoid growing bored, and puzzle toys are a fantastic tool.
With boredom comes… less fun things. An occupied mind makes a happy dog, and there’s nothing more we want for our best friends. Here are 7 of the best toys to exercise those mental muscles.
Enticed by the smell of their favorite snacks, dogs have to nudge and lift the bones to free their treats from the compartments beneath. They’ll have to use their noses for some serious detective work, and with 9 separate sections the task should keep them busy for at least a little while. “12/10 would recommend,” that’s what this one dog said to me. I’m just the messenger.
This toy ups the ante by creating levels your dog must move through to get every reward. After lifting the bones and devouring the treats underneath, the larger bone-shaped platforms need to spin and reveal the next set of hidden compartments. Thus, “tornado.” It’s a little harder to solve, and that much more satisfying.
In this casino game, everyone wins. Assuming they master the puzzle, that is. The small bones on top twist to lock and unlock the red drawers along the edges. You lock them in place (filled with some delicious delicacies) and encourage your dog to twist them back and then paw or pull the drawers open.
Does your dog even lift? I hope so, because there’s no other way to get the reward from this stimulating puzzle. Pups have to lift the bones off the board and flip open the lids on the bordering compartments, and viola!: TREATS!
This adorable packed lunch doesn’t need to book it all the way to the cafeteria. If you stuff the crinkly bag with a few treats and pop the PB & J sandwich and cookie inside (and seal with the velcro closure), it gives your dog a chance to work his mental muscles and figure out how to get the goods. Plus, it’s ridiculously adorable.
Ranging in size from Junior to Ginormous, there’s a Hide-A-Squirrel for every dog who’s got a little hunter in her blood. This toy is double the fun for me (literally) because it gives humans the opportunity to get in on the action! Just stuff the squeaking squirrels into their plush tree and let your pup sniff & seek out each one. They’re also perfect for impromptu games of indoor fetch.
The Buster Activity Mat is more of an experience than a toy. The starter kit comes with the mat itself—it’s covered in button snaps to which you can attach a multitude of different “activities.” This one includes three: The Envelope, The Water Lily, and The Cone Cloth. Your dog must unwrap, unravel, or otherwise solve these puzzles using those big brains of theirs (and, of course, reach the treats you’ve hidden inside).
The best part is that you can purchase countless additional puzzles that snap onto the mat and can be swapped out at will. Each is available at a different difficulty level. Once your pup is finished, just roll up the mat, pack it away, and store it or take it anywhere.
My little terrier ADORES this toy. I typically stuff it with a few of his favorite treats because he’ll do anything to get them, and they can be easily broken in pieces and stuffed inside this flying saucer-shaped puzzle. He learned in a matter of minutes that all he needs to do is nose it around (sometimes he’ll even pick it up and drop it) to get the treats to fall out. It was an instant favorite!
Get those bored brain cells firing at full throttle with the Gambling Tower by TRIXIE Pet Products. Curious dogs must figure out how to pull on the ropes and move the platforms to release their treats. The base of this toy also contains cones that need to be lifted straight up to reveal the snacks underneath.
Swinging, pulling, thrashing, chewing… this toy takes it all in stride. Fill the bottle portion with food or a few treats and watch your genius doge shake loose the goods. Even without the added reward, the Tug-A-Jug is just plain fun to play with. Plus, it can help keep teeth clean and provide a nice gum massage with the knotted rope and nubby rubber ball.
This rubber toy fell straight from outer space and became an instant hit with all our furry Earthlings. Its unique bumps and craters make for some crazy bouncing, and the rubber pins make a challenge out of liberating the treats you stuff inside.
One of the few brain-teasing toys that squeaks, the Busy Buddy Booya looks almost as good as a bonafide chicken leg. It’s made of thick vanilla-scented rubber with a “Treat Meter” that randomly dispenses your dog’s favorite goods. It’s also top-rack safe in the dishwasher!
No one likes to brush their teeth, especially not dogs. And while dental toys are not equivalent to a toothbrush and toothpaste, they certainly don’t do any harm. Playay’s super nubby treat ball mixes things up by having you shove food or treats between the rubber nubs. Instead of nudging them loose, dogs have to put in a bit more elbow grease to give their teeth a good “brush.” It’s cat friendly, too.
I can always appreciate versatility with a puzzle toy. The Bob-A-Lot’s treat-dispensing openings are adjustable to make it a little harder or a little easier to get them out. This toy gets bonus points for being big enough to fit an entire meal inside. Especially if your dog tends to inhale his food without chewing, feeding him this way slows him down AND keeps him busy for a while.
This toy is best for medium-to-large dogs due to its size and height (though it is adjustable). The space inside the “bones” makes it perfect for a fun way to feed meals, and slows down exuberant eaters. Dogs have to use their nose to flip the bones upside-down and free their kibble; when filled with a few treats, it’s also a fantastic way to cure chronic boredom.
Very much a treat toy AND a traditional toy, you can either stuff the Snoop with treats or insert one of Planet Dog’s rubber balls for a different sort of fun. The unique concave design means dogs need to push, roll, and drop their way to yummy goodness. Unfortunately, we now need to put a gate at the top of our stairs because our terrier has learned to push his treat toys down and have the steps do all the work. I can’t honestly say if he’s lazy or a genius. Possibly both.
I know, it looks like we swiped this toy straight from a dino museum display. Despite its realistic prehistoric shape, this egg won’t crack no matter how rough your dog plays. The wavy ridges bend and flex to admit all kinds of crazy treats that won’t fit in other toys, and pups will have a dinosaur of a good time trying to free them.