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Dog enrichment toys are the new “medicine of choice” for dogs with behavior issues.
The best dog enrichment toys serve a variety of functions: they keep your dogs busy, increase serotonin levels in their brain, calm your dog, and best of all– increase your dog’s happiness and sense of well-being.
What Is Dog Enrichment, And Why Do Dogs Need It?
The term dog enrichment refers to activities that improve your dog’s mental state by providing physical and mental stimulation. Dog enrichment activities encourage your dog to learn new skills and problem solve, activities which calm them and use pent-up mental energy.
Many enrichment activities provide an outlet where dogs can practice and express natural behaviors such as hunting, playing, smelling, and chewing. The result is a dog that is emotionally, mentally, and physically satisfied– and a dog that is much less likely to engage in unwanted behaviors.
Note: It is important for dog owners to be aware that not all enrichment activities will have positive benefits for your dog.
You need to evaluate any activity you are considering in regards to your dog’s personality and preferences, because in order for a dog enrichment activity to be effective, it must not cause anxiety or stress for your dog.
There are 4 primary forms of dog enrichment activities:
- Social Enrichment
Social enrichment occurs when your dog socializes with other pets and people.
Some dogs are social creatures, but for others, social interactions such as dog parks and unwanted petting and attention cause stress and anxiety.
For dogs that will be stressed at dog parks, or for owners who want to reduce the risk of dog altercations that can occur in dog parks where your dog is interacting with unknown dogs, finding dog park rentals on Sniffspot is the perfect answer.
Sniffspot allows you to create your own private dog playtime and invite only well-behaved dogs that your dog enjoys. You have complete control over your dog’s playmates, and your dog gets valuable social enrichment from playing with and exploring the yard with their best dog buddies.
- Physical Enrichment
Pent-up energy can be a source of behavioral issues for high-energy dogs.
Physical enrichment is simply providing opportunities for your dog to get physical exercise that they enjoy.
It can take the form of taking a walk, going for a run, a game of chase with their favorite dog friend, or quality off-leash time in a Sniffspot dog park rental.
- Cognitive Enrichment
Mental enrichment is just as important as physical enrichment in reducing problem dog behaviors and creating well-balanced dogs.
Cognitive enrichment engages the dog's problem-solving skills. There are countless toys on the market to choose from, and we will be showing you the best dog enrichment toys down below!
- Sensory Enrichment
Sensory enrichment is anything that stimulates your dog’s sense of sight, taste, touch, sound, or smell.
Sniffing is a huge source of sensory enrichment for dogs - scientists estimate that the dog's sense of smell is between 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours.
When a dog sniffs, it has multiple beneficial effects:
- Reduces canine anxiety and stress
- Provides a way for your dog to self-calm
- Activates a portion of a dog’s brain which is responsible for releasing dopamine, the “feel good” chemical
- Reduces adrenaline levels and lowers cortisol (a stress hormone)
- Lowers your dog’s heart rate
In a nutshell, sniffing is a calming behavior for dogs.
You may have heard the term “decompression walk,” a modern-day buzzword in the dog world coined by dog trainer Sarah Stremming, who credits this powerful self-soothing tool for reducing problem behaviors and creating more balanced dogs.
A dog that doesn’t get enough social, physical, cognitive, or sensory stimulation will find other ways to provide that stimulation on their own - such as chewing, barking, chasing passersby or other dogs, and other destructive behaviors.
As you can see, dog enrichment not only improves your dog’s quality of life, but has a positive impact on their mental health and behavior by keeping them occupied in constructive, - and non-destructive - ways.
Benefits of Puzzle Toys For Dogs
Nina Ottosson, a designer of some of the best dog enrichment toys on the market, recommends that your dog spend at least 15-30 minutes a day playing with puzzle toys.
Enrichment toys for dogs are a fabulous way to provide mental and sensory enrichment. These toys range from DIY budget-friendly options to amazing electronic toys that can be run remotely using your phone - from a different location!
By providing your dog with mental stimulation, puzzle toys provide a long list of benefits for dogs and their owners:
- Reducing or eliminating unwanted behaviors like
- destructive chewing
- separation anxiety
- stress (lower adrenaline levels)
- Preventing dogs from getting bored (and the corresponding trouble they get into when bored!)
- Strengthening the bond between you and your dog
- Slowing down how fast your dog eats (reducing risk of bloat and food regurgitation)
- Building confidence for shy or fearful dogs
Owners who regularly use puzzle toys for their dogs report that their dog is happier, more calm, and more balanced.
What's The Best Puzzle Toy For Dogs?
This is the million-dollar question, and the answer is: the best puzzle toy for your dog . . . depends on your dog!
Before you shop for the best dog enrichment toys, think about the following important factors that will affect which puzzle toys your dog will enjoy most.
- Your dog’s age & health
Some dog enrichment toys require a higher level of activity while others may be better matched for a senior dog who has slowed down but still needs mental stimulation and fun.
- Breed of dog
Is your dog a herding dog or hunting breed that enjoys smelling and tracking down hidden treats, or a terrier that is super smart and needs an advanced puzzle toy? Or do you have a Bernese mountain dog who will be happy with just about any easy and chill dog enrichment toy?
- Your dog’s personality
Remember that the success of any interactive dog toy is very personal to the dog you are buying it for. At the end of the day, if you look at a toy and it doesn’t strike you as one your dog would love, you are probably right! Go with your gut.
- Your dog’s energy level
Keep your dog’s energy level in mind when choosing a dog enrichment toy. If you have a dog with off-the-charts energy, some of your enrichment toys need to involve physical activity. You might want to get a Jolly Ball, and for their dinner scatter their kibble in the yard so they spend 30 minutes running and sniffing.
If you have a puppy that needs constant activity and gets bored easily (and chews things as a result), you will want to get a combination of physical enrichment toys, appropriate chewing toys, and mentally stimulating ones that take the puppy time to use such as a snuffle mat for their meals.
Our Favorite Puzzle Toys for Dogs
Are you looking for the best all-around puzzle toy? We picked a few favorite enrichment toys that we find appeal to a wide variety of dogs and have withstood the test of time, entertaining dogs of all breeds and sizes!
PupPod Rocker & Feeder Enrichment Puzzle Toy
This electronic interactive dog toy is absolutely amazing. Besides being a ton of fun for your dog, it serves as an anxiety reliever when you’re not home by keeping your dog occupied and happy.
Many owners claim that the PupPod Rocker & Feeder enrichment puzzle toy has been an answer to separation anxiety issues because they have remote control during the entire time they are gone so can periodically engage their anxious dog.
- Dogs touch the Rocker toy to earn rewards from the feeder.
- The game gets harder as your dog gets smarter.
- Control the game from your smartphone. Play from anywhere - you can control it from the office if your pup is at home, or if you have an office pup it will keep them busy while you get your work done!
Bob-A-Lot Interactive Pet Toy
This toy turns mealtime into playtime - your dog will love batting it around and chasing the pieces of food that come tumbling out as it bobs back and forth.
- Available in 2 sizes
- Put your dog’s meal in the bottom chamber
- Adjustable openings at the top and bottom so you can regulate the difficulty level
- Anti-slip, weighted base makes the toy wobble erratically, spilling small amounts of food to entice your dog to play
- Great beginner puzzle toy
Outward Hound Hide-a-Squirrel Puzzle
The Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel plush dog puzzle is such a simple concept but so much fun for your dog! This brain-boosting challenge requires your dog to find each squirrel hidden in the log and extract it.
Even moderate chewers who de-stuff plush toys sometimes do well with the Hide-a-Squirrel plush dog puzzle, the task of pulling out the squirrel replaces the de-stuffing behavior.
This is also a great enrichment toy to use for office dogs, no food is involved so it’s always ready for playtime!
The Best Dog Toys for Enrichment
In the last 5 years the number of puzzle games has skyrocketed– you can find anything from a basic challenge toy to advanced puzzles to keep your dog entertained.
Remember, when you are looking at different puzzles for dogs, ask yourself if your dog would like that toy - not every canine puzzle toy will appeal to every dog.
Nina Ottosson’s Tap & Flip Treat Puzzle Game by Outward Hound
Each Nina Ottosson Outward Hound Puzzle Toy has a different level of difficulty. The Tap & Flip treat puzzle toy offers additional challenge for smart dogs.
Put treats in the holes on each side or through the top insert, shake the toy to release the scent of the treats, then encourage your dog to paw and nudge to release the treats.
The Kong Wobbler is a great way to feed your dog their dinner.
Just unscrew the top and fill it with kibble. Your dog can bat it or push the Kong Wobbler with their nose and as it rolls around their dinner will spill out a little at a time!
Trixie Mad Scientist Interactive Dog Toy
Watch your dog’s brain in action when they figure out the Mad Scientist puzzle toy!
Just place your dog’s meal in the beakers, and choose your desired difficulty:
- Lids off for beginner dogs
- Lids with patterned holes on for maximum challenge
Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball
If your dog likes the Kong Wobbler, they will also love the Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball! This mentally stimulating food-dispensing dog toy is a great way to keep your dog busy and out of trouble.
- Available in two sizes
- Adjustable difficulty levels allow you to make the puzzle harder as your dog gets smarter
- Disassembles for easy cleaning
PetSafe Sportsmen Barnacle Treat Dispenser Dog Toy
This bouncy rubber toy can be used with or without food - its unpredictable bounce keeps your dogs engaged and entertained! Great for moderate chewers.
- Three chambers to fill with your dog’s favorite treats
- Dishwasher safe
- Vanilla scented rubber makes it even more appealing
Trixie Dog Activity Board
This dog treat puzzle is a fun hide-and-seek toy that challenges your pup to learn combined actions to uncover yummy rewards!
Your dog will learn to
- Remove cones
- Slide disks
- Use a flip arm
The toy is made with non-slip rubber on the bottom to keep the base in place while your dog works on the challenges.
Beetoy Squeaky Plush Enrichment Toy
This 27-inch long toy has 7 food holes for you to stuff your dog’s favorite snacks and treats! Simply put the snacks in the puzzle toy, roll it up, and secure the velcro closure.
Your dog will use its natural foraging skills to sniff out the treats - and as mentioned earlier, sniffing provides a whole host of benefits and helps calm your dog. Once the dog smells and locates the treats, they will have to problem-solve to figure out how to get them out.
When the dog has retrieved all the treats they can continue to play because the toy has 3 squeakers in the head, body, and tail.
This toy is a great one to bring to work for your office dogs to enjoy.
Nina Ottosson Outward Hound Worker Composite Puzzle
The Nina Ottosson Outward Hound Worker Composite Puzzle is a brain-stimulating puzzle that provides additional challenge for the smartest dogs.
- Flippers swivel to hide your dog’s favorite treats
- Put treats in round blocks of this Nina Ottosson Outward Hound puzzle toy for added challenge - treats fall from the block into treat bowl when dog slides them over the bowl!
- Non-slip base keeps puzzle from sliding https://www.amazon.com/Nina-Ottosson-Outward-Hound-Puzzle/dp/B0719Q89XH
West Paw Zogoflex Tux Treat Dispensing Dog Chew Toy
West Paw is an excellent manufacturer of rubber toys that hold up to heavy chewing. This interactive dog toy is made of durable rubber so it is a great option for aggressive chewers.
You can tuck your dog’s favorite treats inside the West Paw Zogoflex, or fill it with soft food, chicken broth, or peanut butter and freeze it for long-lasting fun.
West Paw offers an amazing “Love It Guarantee,” which entitles you to a one-time refund or replacement, per toy design.
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball
The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball comes in 3 sizes, so you can find the perfect match for your dog. Fill this treat-dispensing puzzle toy with their favorite treats or use it for a game of fetch!
Your dog will have a blast batting the ball around and trying to get the treats out, and has a vinyl textured surface to help them grip it while working to get the treats.
OurPets Sushi Interactive Puzzle
The OurPets Sushi Interactive Puzzle is a great basic challenge toy to give your dog before moving to more advanced ones.
Just put your dog’s dry food or favorite treats in the compartments, move the sushi flippers to cover them, and let your dog figure it out!
You can use wet food and soft treats like peanut butter, cheese, and canned pumpkin in this dog enrichment toy as well.
Outward Hound Brick Puzzle
This advanced dog treat puzzle has multiple obstacles which you can use in different combinations, thus creating an adjustable difficulty level for your dog:
- Flip lid compartments to reveal treat hiding spots
- Lift brick bones to find concealed treats
- Slide obstacles to uncover even more treats
The advanced challenges in the Outward Hound Brick Puzzle keep your dog occupied and mentally engaged to reduce anxiety and destructive behavior.
Jolly Ball Original Tug-N-Toss Dog Toy Ball with Handle
If you are looking for interactive games to play with your dog, the Jolly Ball Original Tug-N-Toss is the answer!
The iconic kettle ball shape allows your dog to grab the handle and carry it back to you. The Tug-N-Toss can be used for fetch or for retrieving in water, if punctured it will will not sink.
It comes in 4 sizes so you can pick the perfect size for your dog. It’s good for moderate chewers, aggressive chewers need to be supervised.
Snuffle Mat Dog Enrichment Toy
Snuffle mats are a great beginner puzzle toy. Simply take your dog’s dry food, scatter it on the snuffle mat, rub it down in with your hand, and let your dog sniff out each and every piece!
The sniffing action will calm your dog, provide mental stimulation for bored dogs, and slow down your dog’s eating rate.
Green House Dog Snuffle Mat Pet Puzzle Toy
A great travel snuffle mat option is the machine washable Green House dog snuffle mat.
This has a smaller design that can be cinched up into a small shape and stored in a storage bag for travel.
Lickimat Classic Dog Slow Feeders for Boredom & Anxiety
Lickimats are great to use with wet foods. If you feed raw or home-cooked meals, smear them onto the Lickimat and set them down - your dog will eat more slowly and have a blast eating their dinner!
They are also great to use when doing something that normally causes anxiety in your dog such as baths, brushing, or nail clipping.
Tuff Mazee Puzzle Dog Toy
The Tuff Mazee treat-dispensing toy is a little bit bigger than a softball and works well for medium sized dogs and above.
Put your dog’s dry food or a few of their favorite snacks in the hole, set it down, and your dog will start rolling it all around the floor! The clear shell makes it easy for your dog to see the treats, but they will have to roll the ball to get them out.
Outward Hound Fun Feeder Slow Feeder Dog Bowl
Slow feeder puzzle bowls are a great enrichment toy for dogs that eat their food too quickly, something that is a common cause of a dangerous medical condition called bloat.
Outward Hound makes a great variety of different slow feeder puzzle bowls; this one is shaped like a maze. Fill it with your dog's dry food and watch them as they lick and move their food through the maze, only swallowing small amounts at a time.
Dog Puzzle Ball
This amazing rubber ball has durable rubber teeth that hold your dog’s dry food in for hours of chewing fun! Simply pull the crevices open, tuck in your dog’s kibble, and close them so the durable rubber teeth hold the kibble in.
The ball is roughly the size of a tennis ball, so when it’s empty it’s a great ball for fetch games with your dog as well.
DIY Dog Enrichment Toys & Activities
If you need a budget-friendly option, don’t despair! These DIY dog toy puzzles will keep your dog just as happy as store-bought enrichment toys.
Toilet Paper Tube Fun
Put a handful of food or your dog’s favorite snacks in a toilet paper tube, and bend each end in to trap the food inside.
Give it to your dog and let them problem-solve how to get the food out!
Tennis Balls and Treats
In a muffin tin or empty egg carton, sprinkle kibble or treats into each cup.
Set tennis balls on top of the cup to cover the food, and set it down for your dog to dig and uncover each and every piece!
For additional difficulty, hide different value treats and use multiple containers. Leave some cups empty (but still cover with a ball). Your dog will learn to sniff out their favorites before moving the tennis balls!
Box With Packing Paper Mystery Hunt
Next time you get a package in the mail, save the box and packing paper to make this easy DIY dog enrichment toy that stimulates their natural hunting instincts.
Simply take your dog’s dinner or favorite treats and sprinkle them on top of the packing paper. Gently shake to make the treats fall down into the paper and the box, and let your dog use its natural hunting instincts to sniff out each and every piece!
Rolled Up Treat Towel
Grab an old bath or hand towel and lay it on the table. Sprinkle dog treats - or better yet your dog’s dinner - around the towel, then roll it up tightly.
Set the towel on the floor and let your dog figure out how to enroll it and find the treats inside!
Hide And Seek
This is a great activity that combines physical activity with sniffing and problem solving.
If you are inside your house, hide treats in a room, then let your dog come in and sniff them all out. Better yet, hide their dinner in multiple rooms - once they learn the game, we guarantee they will look forward to dinner time more than ever before!
This can be done outside as well. If you have a fenced yard, you can scatter their dinner in the grass and let them sniff and find it.
No fence? No problem! Buy a long line and your dog will be able to move and sniff freely but will be completely safe.
You or your kids can also teach your dog to play hide and seek, inside or out! Find a good hiding spot then have someone release your dog, they will love listening for your call and using their nose and their natural hunting instincts to find your hiding spot.
How to Introduce Your Dog to Puzzle Toys
Even the best dog enrichment toys can frustrate a dog.
When you first start using dog toy puzzles, be sure to make it easy and set your dog up for success.
Your whole goal is for your dog to have fun, and to give them enrichment that makes them more happy, calm, and balanced.
If your dog gets frustrated, you will end up doing the exact opposite!
Start with easy toys. If the toy is more advanced, use strategic treat placement to lure your dog to the right area, or spread something like peanut butter on levers or sliders to help the dog learn how to work each piece.
Puzzle Rewards + Your Dog's Diet: Be Careful!
You have probably noticed that many dog enrichment toys use food and treats to entice the dog to problem solve, which in turn provides the mental enrichment dogs need.
These food puzzles provide a fun challenge, and they are of course an appealing option for most dogs and their owners.
But if you don’t adjust your dog’s calorie intake to account for the treats they consume when playing with dog enrichment toys, your dog may quickly become overweight.
Not only does obesity shorten a dog’s lifespan, but in addition it puts them at an increased risk for:
- Osteoarthritis and joint degeneration
- Certain types of cancer
- Bladder stones
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Anesthetic complications
To reduce the risk that your dog will gain weight when you use dog enrichment toys, be sure to:
- Use a combination of enrichment toys that do, and do not, use food or treats
- Use your dog’s enrichment toys to feed their meals instead of only for treats over and above their meals
- Reduce your dog’s mealtime food if you are giving puzzle toys filled with treats
- Monitor your dog’s weight
Dog Toy Safety
When you are choosing enrichment toys for your dog, you need to have your dog’s safety in mind at all times.
Is your dog an aggressive chewer? Stay away from rope toys or soft toys - pieces or rope or stuffed toys can cause an intestinal blockage which requires expensive surgery, and in some cases can be fatal.
Stay away from rawhides. If your dog swallows rawhide pieces they can swell in the stomach or intestines and lead to surgery, or in some cases, death.
Is the toy made by a reputable company? If not, read reviews and look for potential problems like toys breaking and dogs ingesting the pieces.
When Dog Puzzle Toys Won't Cut It
If you have one of those over-the-top energy dogs, or perhaps are dealing with a tough case of reactivity, anxiety, or boredom/chewing, you may want to look into further enrichment activities such as nosework, herding, and lure coursing.
Be sure to check out the following Sniffspot articles:
- 9 Unusual Enrichment Ideas For Reactive Dogs
- Introduction To Dog Nosework
- Complete Guide To Herding With Dogs
- Introduction to Lure Coursing
The Best Dog Enrichment Activity Of All
One of the most enriching activities a dog can do is to run and sniff off-leash.
Scientifically, the sniffing will reduce your dog’s stress and anxiety, provide them with a way to self-calm, and engage their brain in the most species-appropriate activity available.
But the best benefit of all is seeing how happy and fulfilled it makes your dog.
And an added bonus: when dog owners watch their dogs run free, carefree and full of joy, it reduces their stress level as well!
Unfortunately, for many owners letting their dogs run off-leash isn’t an option. Perhaps you live in the city, or you don’t have a fenced-in yard.
Sniffspot was created when its founder, David Adams, couldn’t find safe places for his dogs to run off-leash.
He has networked across the world to find safe, private spaces for dogs to play.
Click here to learn more about Sniffpot and to find a safe place for your dog to run and enjoy off-leash enrichment– and take their happiness to a whole new level!
Trainer that reviewed this article
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This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Owner & Lead Trainer - Ardent Dog
Certified Separation Anxiety Professional Trainer