Dog Puzzle Toys - The Overview
Our #1 Pick
The Best Value for Money
StarMark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Pet Toy
Puzzles are one of the best ways to keep our minds sharp. We have our sudoku, crosswords, and jigsaws. Dogs have snuffle mats, topple balls, and, well...jigsaws too!
As dogs age, puzzle toys are a great way of engaging their brain, defeating boredom, and improving cognitive function over time, making them at the top of the list of the best dog toy options.
One of my dogs was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS) recently, which is more commonly known as dementia in dogs. (1) To get her brain going I have been researching and testing out puzzle toys myself, so we want to help you with your search too.
In this article, I’ll share with you what I have learned in the pursuit of keeping my dog’s brain ticking into her twilight years. We’ll go through the many types of puzzle toys available on the market before I give our recommendations for the best dog puzzle toys on the Australian market.
What to Look for In A Great Puzzle Toy for Your Dog
Whilst searching for puzzle toys for my dog I learned a lot about the makings of a good puzzle, no matter what type of puzzle it is. Here are the criteria we recommend.
Choosing the right level of difficulty
Generally, when you choose a crossword sudoku puzzle to pass your Sunday afternoon, you know the level of difficulty you can handle. Too easy and you’ll find the puzzle boring and unsatisfying. Too difficult and you’ll probably end up ripping up the puzzle in a frustrated rage.
Your dog has the same patience for puzzles. It has got to match their skill level.
Another aspect of this to remember is that age rarely has anything to do with how clever your pup may be. Their level of intelligence is largely independent of age after your dog reaches 6 months. Don’t be surprised by this! I can’t be the only person who has meekly asked the child prodigy in the family to help me with the Sunday crossword.
It can be difficult to tell just how intelligent your dog may be. You can give them an IQ test but generally, it’s all quite hard to measure. (2)
To be safe, start with a beginner/intermediate puzzle and see how your dog gets on with it. If they solve the game quickly, then you’ll know you need to graduate to more advanced toys. That said, you can always keep this beginner’s piece in your collection for a quick game with your dog to lift their spirits and give them an easy win.
In theory, if you start puzzles young, you can increase the difficulty as they get faster and faster at solving the puzzle. After all, you still want it to be challenging for your dog. For senior dogs, you should still increase the difficulty but within reason. If you frustrate them too much, they’ll lose interest.
Puzzle toys for dogs are meant to used relatively often. They are known boredom busters and stress relievers so you’ll want to play these games with your dog at opportune times.
Maybe not every day, but your dog may want to play at least once per week. Let’s say at minimum your dog plays with their puzzle once per week all year. That is 52 doses of unyielding roughhousing as your dog attacks the toy to crack the code. They will take out their frustration when they can’t get it right. They will likely get it dirty over repeated use. And these toys are worth keeping in good condition for as long as possible.
To measure the durability of a toy, you’ll need to consider the materials of course. Most toys are made of plastic, but some are made of wood too. Wooden toys are hardy and sustainable, but harder to keep clean overall.
Snuffle mats are trickier to test in terms of hardiness. Generally, you get what you pay for with those. The cheap flimsy ones will fall apart quickly. Higher priced but higher quality mats have tighter stitching and stronger fabric. You’re also more likely to have a product that won’t dissolve in the wash.
I have said it a thousand times and you are probably sick of it, but the pet industry has a huge sizeism problem. Small dogs are favoured. Large and extra-large breeds sare left with the crumbs of the pet care world.
So, you need to make sure that the puzzles you choose are adequately sized for your pooch in particular. This goes for overall size, weight, and strength as key factors in your choice.
A super-strong Staffie may make light work of a toy than a dainty Pomeranian would, so the toy you choose needs to suit their physiology just as much as their psychology.
Manufacturers are quite diligent in letting you know what size dog the product is suitable for.
I also advise having a read through the reviews as reviewers often mention the breed and size of their dogs which will help you make a decision.
The Different Types of Dog Puzzle Toys
There are many different types of games and puzzles to get your dog’s brain dogs. The first thing to note is that all of them are treat or food dispensing toys in one way or another.
Cathay Madson of Preventative Vet notes “Feeding your dog out of a regular dog bowl is pretty boring. Dogs are natural foragers, so making them work for their bites of kibble is a great way to work their brain. If you have a dog that likes to inhale their food at record speeds, using an interactive puzzle for their meals is a great way to slow them down.” (3)
The objective of all of the following game types is to get the treats concealed behind a series of obstacles. The great difference between them is what obstacles they force your dog to face before receiving their prize.
They all require the use of different senses. Let’s break it all down.
A dog treat ball is a perfect beginner toy. The aim of the game is to stuff treats into the sides or interior of the toy and your dog has to try and release the treats.
Topple balls work using a specific toppling action to release treats slowly. On the other hand, treat-dispensing chew balls have the treats stuffed down the side, which requires less brain work but is still stimulating. Chew balls are also great for maintaining your dog’s teeth, making them one of the better dog chew toys available.
Tornado puzzles are a special breed. They work by stacking a series of plastic components that spin or slide to reveal treats underneath. Your dog needs to use their paws or snout to spin the top component in the right direction to get to the first treat.
After getting to the first treat, they then need to spin the following components down the “tornado” to get to the treats at the lower levels.
It’s an intermediate level game and should provide good mental stimulation.
Snuffle mats are all about using your dog’s foraging skills. They need to follow their nose to snuff out the treats embedded in the tiny pockets of the fabric.
The fabric should be lightweight and easy to clean. Snuffle mats come in a range of different sizes, colours, and shapes.
Since most dogs should have quite sophisticated senses of smell, this is a relatively easy game to crack but is fun and stimulating all the same.
Composite games are very much like our own jigsaw puzzles but with one major difference - instead of building a picture from scratch, your dog needs to slide or spin certain elements to solve the puzzle.
Moving the right pieces will reveal the treats hidden within. Composite games are the most scalable in terms of the level of difficulty.
Beginner puzzles have very few pieces to move whereas some are as complex as sudoku. It all depends on your dog’s level of genius.
Best Dog Treat Puzzles Reviewed
We have gone through what to look for and the various types of puzzles your dog may enjoy. Let’s jump into our favourites on the market. We tried to have a good mix of different types of toys of different sizes and at various skill levels. I hope this round-up of dog treat toys is helpful for you.
It was tough to choose a “best overall” category when it comes to puzzle games because of the various different types of dog games and the many factors that just depend on your dog. So, when making this choice, I thought of the most universal toy that is accessible and fun for dogs of all sizes and IQs. The StarMark Bob-A-Lot ticks those boxes.
It is a food dispensing ball that is a little more complex than a chew ball. This one is a topple ball that is sure to provide hours of entertainment.
The trick is that your dog needs to tip the ball in a certain way to release the food. Therefore, your dog is getting some exercise around the house.
Topple balls like this one are perfect for beginners. To increase the difficulty, you can adjust the openings and place the food or treats in different sections of the toy. That means you can scale the difficulty level for a while with the same toy! Great investment.
StarMark make this toy in two sizes: small and large. Most breeds should be able to get on well with this toy and the reviews attest to its toughness.
Versatile. Durable. Well reviewed. This is our very top choice for dog puzzle toys.
For the budget-friendly award, I also wanted to recommend a simple beginner toy.
The Anything Pets Chew Ball fits that bill perfectly.
This is the perfect initial toy just to get your dog into the habit of using puzzle feeders.
You stuff the sides of the toy with treats or kibble and your dog has the joy of kicking it around or chewing on it to release the goods. Sounds almost too simple but honestly, your dog will find it so much fun!
Made of soft non-toxic rubber, this toy is durable and chew-proof. The tooth-like corrugated sides also have the benefit of helping to clean and maintain your dog’s teeth.
We love the range of bright, bold colours this model comes in: blue, green, yellow, red, and a cool duo-tone style too.
The con with this little toy is exactly that… it’s little. This tiny toy is only 7cm in diameter which may not be suitable for large and extra-large breeds. It is certainly too small to hold large kibble so only small morsels can be stuffed into the sides.
Being so inexpensive, it is a wonderful starting point for puppies to join the puzzle-loving club.
Sticking with the treat ball train, let’s talk about the Sniffiz Smelly UFO.
This toy is great for its versatility. It can be used as a fast-paced fun game and exerciser or a slow feeder.
This is a topple treat ball for dogs with a difference - the disk shape makes it fun to slide across the floor and tilt the interior maze. There are two difficulty levels. On one side you have the easy maze and the other side has the more challenging maze.
The Smelly UFO is made of non-toxic rubber and tough plastic so it is completely indestructible dog toy. The manufacturer reportedly tested out the toy with over 20 breeds of all shapes and sizes to make sure it won’t crack under pressure.
A huge plus of this toy is the ability to open it fully to give it a good clean. Treat balls can be tough to clean. By popping this one open, you can get into the folds for a thorough scrub. It is even dishwasher safe!
We are a little disappointed it only comes in one size. It is about 17cm in diameter. That isn’t too bad in terms of suitability for large breeds but it would have been nice for Sniffiz to make a slightly larger size too for larger paws, teeth, and treats.
At a decent price point and adjustable openings for difficulty, your pup will love the endless fun of this magical treat-dispensing UFO.
Maybe you know that your dog is super smart or they already have experience with puzzles. It’s time to really challenge them. My Intelligent Pets makes a great line of varying puzzle toys for dogs. The one I want to highlight today is the sudoku game.
This dog sudoku game has 15 sliding pieces that your dog needs to strategically move to find the hidden treats below. It takes a keen sense of smell and patience to work out how to get to the treats. Incredible mental stimulation and reward for your pup.
The toy is made of wood. That is good for sustainability reasons however it may take more of a beating if your dog decides to chew on it. It can be cleaned with a damp cloth.
This isn’t a game that you can leave your dog to play alone. I suggest supervision to stop them from destroying it. Highly engaging, challenging toys like this are always best with your constant encouragement anyway. Treat balls are less high maintenance - you can leave your dog to play with these whilst you are away from home. Sudoku takes a watchful eye. It’s a great vehicle for bonding with your dog because of that.
This game is best for small to medium dogs. Large and extra-large dogs will likely find the pieces too small.
Finally, let’s touch on the difficulty here. I don’t know about you but sudoku has always been a challenge for me. As a born linguist, anything with numbers just looked like another language to me. I warn you that this game will be just as maddening to your pup if they aren’t ready for it.
Switching gears, we have a great recommendation for a puzzle mat! The Petvins Dog Snuffle Mat is the perfect package for this type of toy.
It is colourful, large, interactive, and fun. There are various flaps and folds on this treat blanket to hide kibble that your dog will enjoy sniffing out.
The Petvins mat is made of a machine-washable fleece, backed with a non-slip bottom pad. This makes the product easy to clean and maintain.
It comes in four sizes and three different colourways making it the most customisable purchase on this list.
This is an ideal toy for senior or disabled dogs as it is a flat comfy fabric with no hard corners. It also doesn’t require a lot of exercise to use like treat balls do.
Snuffle mats are also amazing for all levels of difficulty. It’s a simple puzzle to solve but is still entertaining to super-genius dogs.
The con is that this is not ideal for chewers. If left unattended they could tear it up. That’s not to say you can’t use this mat with your puppy. It will withstand normal use. It probably won’t withstand long unattended hours of your dog devouring it though.
Overall, if you want a snuffle mat, this is a wonderful choice.
Finally, the last game we are recommending is a tornado puzzle. The Nina Ottoson Dog Tornado to be exact!
Nina Ottoson has an incredible range of toys of all skill levels which we are huge fans of. Today’s pick is the Tornado because it is a great boredom buster for your pooch.
If you find that your dog is listless or even destructive around the house due to boredom, this is the toy for you.
The design is perfect for engaging your doggie’s brain. The twist and turns reveal treats as they progress. It’s a rewarding game to play and truly the Goldilocks of puzzle toys; not too easy or too hard.
At 24 x 18cm it is a decent size. Many breeds will be able to enjoy this toy. It is made of hardy, easy to clean plastic too.
For the ultimate boredom fighting product, the Nina Ottosson is a wonderful pick.
Final Verdict: Best Treat Dispensing Dog Toys
For a wonderful introductory toy that will suit breeds of all shapes and sizes, the StarMark wins a million times over.
As a personal favourite though, the Petvins Snuffle Mat has been a great addition to my dog’s life. Though she may be losing her faculties, she really enjoys snuffling out treats on this colourful, entertaining mat. Doggy dementia approved!
Puzzles are not the only way of providing mental stimulation for your dog. (4) Here is a list of other ideas:
- Rotating toys
- Physical exercise
- Setting up play dates with other dogs (if it is safe to do so)
- Agility training
- Learning new tricks
- Changing the walking routes
Yes! Mental stimulation is essential to your dog’s overall health and wellbeing.
Nicole Ellis from the American Kennel Club writes, “As a trainer, I’ve learned that many of the hyperactivity and destruction problems my clients struggle with can be resolved by adding mental exercise to their dog’s daily diet. Excessive barking, destroying the house, destroying toys, eating socks — all of those things have gone away after the owner starts to give the dog mentally stimulating activities.” (5)
Using puzzles is also a good source of mental stimulation for dogs with dementia like my dog. (6)
- Cohan, M. June 7, 2018. “Recognizing and Managing Dog Dementia”. Hill’s Pet. Retrieved November 15, 2020. https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/healthcare/managing-dog-dementia-canine-cognitive-disorder
- Dodman, N. March 29, 2016. “How Smart is Your Puppy?”. Pet Place. Retrieved November 15, 2020. https://www.petplace.com/article/dogs/pet-care/how-smart-is-your-puppy/
- Madson, C. August 30, 2019. “10 Boredom Busters for Your Dog”. Preventative Vet. Retrieved November 15, 2020. https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/boredom-busters-for-your-bored-dog
- “10 Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog”. Pet Coach Editorial. Retrieved November 15, 2020. https://www.petcoach.co/article/10-ways-to-stimulate-your-dog-s-brain/
- Ellis, N. January 1, 2019. “A Mentally Stimulated Dog Is a Happy Dog”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved November 15, 2020. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/mentally-stimulated-happy-dog/
- Cain, M. & Cain, S. October, 2017. Updated February, 2020. “Canine Dementia — Signs, Symptoms, Treatments”. The Bark. Retrieved November 15, 2020. https://thebark.com/content/canine-dementia-signs-symptoms-treatments