When we think about playing with our dogs, we often consider physical play, such as fetching, tugging, or chasing. However more people are understanding the importance of mental stimulation for dogs as well, and puzzle toys are becoming increasingly popular. Teaching dogs how to play with puzzle toys can provide a workout for their brain, alleviating boredom and related behaviours (such as barking, chewing, or pacing), and tire them out just as much as physical exercise can.
Puzzle toys usually involve the dog working to get food out of some sort of vessel.
It can be as simple as a slow feeder bowl, or as complicated as needing to unlock certain parts of the toy to open it and find the treat.
Didi getting her treats out of the Tux toy.
Engaging in these games is important for a dog’s mental health.
It allows dogs to build problem solving skills and exercise their brain. This can help alleviate boredom, and avoid unwanted behaviours such as excessive barking or chewing the furniture. Some studies have even shown that mental enrichment can help prevent dementia later on in life.
It is also suitable for injured dogs, or those that cannot be very active.
Puzzle toys can provide some physical exercise, since dogs need to use their nose or paws to operate the toy. They are also perfect for days when the weather is too terrible to go outside.
How to choose the right puzzle toy
When choosing a puzzle toy for your dog, go at their pace and start with something simple so that they remain motivated, and build up their confidence. If they don’t seem interested in the beginning, use high value treats and show them how to work the toy. Once your dog figures out the simpler puzzles, you can start introducing them to more complex ones. The range of toys by Nina Ottosson have varying levels of difficulty, with Level One being the easiest and good for beginners, and Level Three being the most advanced.
Little Rosie and Little Lily and the Casino Puzzle Toy.
When your dog has learned what puzzle toys are, you don’t have to use them solely for treats.
They can be used to feed your dog their regular meals as well! This makes mealtime more fun for your dog, and can allow them to engage in their natural behaviour of “hunting” or working for their food. Some people even say to “ditch the bowl”, and encourage pet parents to feed all meals from various puzzle toys.
Eating out of puzzle toys can slow down fast eaters.
This stops dogs from inhaling their food too quickly and causing health issues such as vomiting or indigestion. Being able to forage for their food may also motivate picky eaters to eat. Toys such as the Kong and Toppl are great for filling with wet or dry food. You can even stuff and freeze them, to provide longer enjoyment. Snuffle mats and Lickimats are another good choice, and give dogs the opportunity to engage in natural canine behaviours like sniffing and licking.
Google (adopted in 2020) gnawing on the Toppl toy.
Puzzle toys are a great way to provide mental enrichment for dogs, and being able to use their brain is an important part of having a healthy and happy pup! Just remember to choose the correct size of toy for your dog to avoid any choking hazards, and always supervise your dogs when they are playing with the toys.
Scientists say that dogs have approximately the same mental abilities as a human toddler. They’re curious, and are capable of learning amazing things. By letting your dog play with puzzle toys, perhaps you can discover just how smart your dog truly is!
**Note that puzzle toys do require some guidance in the beginning. Read instructions carefully and look for tips online on how to optimize your puzzle play.