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  • Molly Weinfurter

11 Best Dog Puzzle Toys: Providing Mental Stimulation for Dogs

Dogs can get bored just like we can. That’s why I always recommend puzzle toys for dogs as a way to provide mental stimulation. It’s especially important for breeds that were meant to have a job, such as herding dogs. If those dogs aren’t kept busy enough, they could cause destruction or display other undesirable behaviors.

While active breeds are the ones that need enrichment the most, mental stimulation for dogs is essential for all breeds. I have a Shih Tzu (I think. She’s a rescue, but I’ve never done a DNA test), which isn’t a breed known for intelligence. However, she loves puzzle toys. She has several treat dispensing toys and squeaky toys that I can hide inside bigger toys. When she plays with these toys, she seems so happy.

So, whenever I’m worried about my dog feeling bored, I offer her a puzzle toy to keep her mind busy. I think all dogs should play with puzzle toys now and then because it can improve their intelligence and it’s fun for them.

Shih Tzu with advanced puzzle toy

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What is a Puzzle Toy for Dogs?

Dog puzzle toys, also referred to as mental stimulation toys, are any toys that require your dog to solve a problem. That problem is usually, “how do I get this treat or toy out of this thing?” 

Some puzzle toys are easy and simply require the dog to lick inside a toy or roll a toy around to get treats out. Other puzzle toys are more complex, featuring multiple steps until the treats are revealed. If you’re unsure what your dog’s skill level is, you can start by offering them a simple toy and then get more difficult toys once your dog masters the easy toys.

Best Puzzle Toys for Dogs

There are lots of great dog toys for mental stimulation, but the following are a few of my favorites. Some of these toys are ones that I’ve used for my dog and my foster dogs while others are ones that I’ve written about for other sites. I tried to choose a wide variety so there’s something for every dog.

intermediate dog puzzle toy

These are the ultimate puzzle toys for dogs. The pictured one is a puzzle toy that I got for my dog once, and it’s an intermediate puzzle. There are several types of intermediate puzzles, along with some easy and difficult ones. These puzzle toys require your dog to push, lift, and alter pieces to reveal hidden treats. 

The first time I tried it with my dog, she sat near it and whined, expecting me to get the treats for her. But after a while, she figured it out on her own and got excited whenever I brought it out.

plush chipmunks dog puzzle toy

This is another one of my dog’s favorite puzzle toys. It’s perfect for dog parents who want to give their dogs an interactive toy that doesn’t involve extra treats. It comes with a plush log and several plush chipmunks with squeakers inside. The dog needs to figure out how to get the chipmunks out of the log. It comes in several sizes to cater to different breeds.

My dog loves pulling the chipmunks out and playing with them individually. She was confused by the toy at first, but she quickly figured out how to do it. Now, she pulls the stuffed animals out of these types of toys with no problem.

red KONG classic dog toy

I’m sure every dog has had a KONG at one point or another. It’s a durable chew toy that you can fill with treats. It’s especially great for spreadable snacks, such as peanut butter or the special KONG spray (my dog loves the liver-flavored spray).

This classic dog toy comes in several sizes and durabilities to ensure there’s an option for every dog. The red one, which is the one my dog uses, is the regular one, but there are softer ones for puppies and seniors and a harder one for heavy chewers.

blue and purple dog snuffle mat

Snuffle mats are awesome! You can hide small treats among the fabric pieces, allowing your dog to sniff around to find them. It’s great for a dog’s sense of smell and foraging instincts. If you want to increase the challenge, you can buy several snuffle mats and link them together.

My dog doesn’t have this exact snuffle mat, but she has a very similar one. I like to mix up which puzzle toys she plays with, and while this one seems simple, it definitely keeps her busy. She loves sniffing around the kitchen for crumbs, so now she can sniff around her mat for treats instead.

wobbling dog mental stimulation toy

I’ve heard lots of great things about this pet toy. It’s one of the best dog puzzle toys for large dogs. It has a large chamber on the bottom where you can put kibble or treats in. When your dog interacts with it, it wobbles back and forth, dispensing the food in the process. The weighted, anti-slip bottom allows it to always sit upright again.

Filling this toy with training treats is great for keeping dogs busy, but it also works as a slow-feeder. If a dog eats too fast and gets sick as a result, they need to slow down their meals. By dispensing kibble slowly, this toy can make meals take longer to promote healthy digestion.

plush snail mental stimulation dog toy

This is one of the cutest dog puzzle toys out there. The plush snail has multiple pockets that you can hide treats in. Then, you can roll it up into the snail’s shell, requiring your dog to figure out how to unroll it to get to the treats. Like the Starmark Bob-a-Lot, it can also work as a slow-feeding toy.

Even without food inside, this toy is interesting to most dogs because of its built-in squeaker. Plus, the soft fleece is easy on your dog’s teeth as they chew.

West Paw Zogoflex Toppl toy

West Paw offers a lot of durable dog toys that are perfect for heavy chewers. This one is more than just a chew toy. It also offers mental stimulation for dogs because you can hide treats inside, similar to a KONG. However, since this toy is weighted on the bottom, your dog needs to tilt the toy back and forth to get the treats to come out. You can also get two Toppls of different sizes to interlock them for an added challenge.

I love West Paw toys because they’re recyclable and made from non-toxic materials. They’re also dishwasher-safe, making them easy to clean.

dog puzzle activity mat

This is the ultimate snuffle mat, filled with various activities to keep your dog busy. It includes lots of fabric pieces that you can hide treats or kibble in, requiring your dog to have to sniff around to find them. There's also a large carrot that you can hide squeaky toys inside.

Even though this is only one product, it acts as several puzzle toys built in one. It’s one of the best food puzzle toys for dogs because there are lots of spots to scatter kibble pieces to slow down meals. Then, when your dog is done eating, they can play with the attached squeaky toys.

dog puzzle snuffle ball

With this unique puzzle toy, you can roll kibble or treats into pieces of fabric and then stuff them in a durable ball. Your dog will be able to smell the treats, causing them to figure out how to get the food out of the rolls of fabric. One end of each fabric roll is attached to the inside of the ball so it doesn’t have loose pieces.

This snuffle ball comes in a variety of vibrant colors, including some blue ones that are easy for dogs to see. If this puzzle toy gets dirty, you can throw it in the washing machine for easy cleaning.

treat dispensing dog toy balls

Puzzle balls are popular products for slow-feeding and mental stimulation. My dog loves when she gets her meals in a puzzle ball like one of these. This specific product is unique because it comes with two distinctive balls. One just has a hole for dispensing treats while the other has grooves you can hide treats in. The teeth in the grooves are great for teething or cleaning teeth.

Both puzzle balls are made with extra-tough rubber to help them withstand heavy chewers. When there aren’t any treats inside, your dog can still enjoy them by playing fetch or gnawing on them.

Trixie dog mental stimulation puzzle toy

TRIXIE offers a variety of complex dog puzzle toys. The pictured product is an intermediate puzzle that you can hide treats inside. Your dog needs to figure out how to reveal the treats by moving certain objects around on the puzzle.

While this is a popular choice, TRIXIE has several intermediate puzzles, along with some designs that are easier or harder. If your dog loves one of the easy puzzles, you should consider getting them a more challenging one for even better mental stimulation.

FAQs About Mental Stimulation for Dogs

Are Puzzle Toys Good for Dogs?

Yes, puzzle toys are great for your dog. They provide mental stimulation while reducing boredom. Just make sure you’re near your dog while they’re using a mental stimulation toy so they don’t accidentally rip pieces off and ingest them.

Are Car Rides Mental Stimulation for Dogs?

Yes, car rides can provide mental stimulation for dogs. Looking out the window and feeling the movement of the car can keep your dog engaged. However, for some dogs, car rides are more scary than exciting.

Is Chewing a Bone Mental Stimulation for Dogs?

Yes, chewing is a form of mental stimulation for dogs. It gives them something to focus on to prevent boredom. If you offer your dog an edible chew, make sure it’s a chew that’s safe for dogs, such as a bully stick or collagen stick.

Is Licking Mentally Stimulating for Dogs?

Yes, licking can provide mental stimulation for dogs. It gives them something to focus on, which is why dogs might lick their paws when they’re bored. A lick mat is a great product for encouraging licking in a healthy way.

Shih Tzu with colorful snuffle mat

Mental Stimulation for Dogs is Important

Dog puzzle toys are one of the best ways to provide mental stimulation for dogs. Having a variety of mental stimulation toys to set up is a great way to keep your dog busy and active even when cooped up at home.

As much as we love our dogs, we can’t play with them every second of every day. So, if you’re ever busy working on something and don’t want your dog to be bored, put some treats in a puzzle toy so they can keep themselves occupied and have a great time.


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