Did you know that lack of mental enrichment can cause serious health issues in your dog?
Studies have proven that a lack of mental stimulation can damage “neural, cognitive and behavioral flexibility.”
And with our busy schedules, finding the time and ways to mentally stimulate our dogs can be a juggling act.
But with the right tools, anyone can mentally enrich their dog’s life, boost their cognitive health and stave away depression and stress.
And that’s where puzzle toys save the day!
In this post, I’m going to share 6 of the best puzzle toys for dogs. My dogs and I have thoroughly tested each puzzle toy. So you’ll get the low down on each one, including which ones are our favorites, so keep reading…
And be sure to check out the video at the end of this article to see just how easy it is to teach your dog how to use puzzle a puzzle toy.
Nina Ottosson Dog Magic
Nina Ottosson’s Dog Magic was one of the first puzzle games I introduced my dogs to. That was more than five years ago, and this game is still going strong in our house.
This puzzle game has a skill level of easy, so it’s perfect for dogs who are new to enrichment games. I’ll share with you shortly how you can raise the skill level of this puzzle, so keep reading…
The Dog Magic game is made from hard and durable plastic. Considering my dogs are large with powerful claws and the age of our puzzle, it’s tough as nails and looks new!
The puzzle comes with nine separate compartments and a plastic bone to cover each compartment. The idea is for your dog to find ways to dislodge each bone to reveal a treat.
I love watching how my dogs work out this game; Ze likes to use his paws to get to the treats. And Lexi prefers to remove the bones with her mouth. You’ll see your dog’s thinking skills shine through as each dog has their own way of problem-solving.
This game has four evenly spaced non-slip feet which offer stability but still allows enough movement to keep things interesting.
And this game is super easy to clean which is a benefit for me. It can be submerged in water, rinsed under running water or give it a whirl in the dishwasher. Then leave it to drip dry. What could be easier!?
Storage is also a breeze, by placing the bones in the slots and store. I stack all our puzzle toys on top of each other.
There’s nothing I don’t like about Nina Ottosson’s Dog Magic puzzle game. Except that once your dog figures it out, it can be too easy to keep them stimulated.
So as I promised earlier, here are two ways you can raise the criteria and make things more challenging…
Place the puzzle on a chair, or low table is one way. Doing this will encourage your dog to use only their mouth making the game more demanding.
The other way you can up the ante is to tie a piece of string through the holes in each bone and then train your dog to use only the string to dislodge the bones.
This method also works well for older dogs who might have joint pain. And it works well for bully-breeds and short-nosed dogs too.
Dog Magic is an excellent starter puzzle game. I love its durability and the fact that it’s so easy to clean. I highly recommend this puzzle, and so it’s definitely on the list of best puzzle toy for dogs.
Here’s a short video clip of my crew enjoying their Dog Magic Puzzle together – so sweet!
Nina Ottosson Dog Twister
The Dog Twister is another offering from Nina Ottosson that my dogs adore. It’s the newest addition to their puzzle collection.
Dog Twister has a skill level of advanced and requires a sequence of steps to get to the treats.
The game has nine sections to hide treats. And nine handles to lock each section along with eight sliding paw panels. So one section will always be uncovered.
In step one your dog will need to unlock the handles by figuring how to pull them open. My crew uses a combination of their paws and mouths to make this happen.
Step two requires your dog to slide the paw panels to reveal the treats. The paw panels can’t be removed, so your pooch has to figure out how to slide or push them open.
Like other puzzle toys from Nina Ottosson, this one is made from hardwearing plastic. Although my dogs have left a few scuff marks, the game is durable and can withstand the punches.
This puzzle also has the handy non-slip rubber feet and the easy-to-clean design. Although the paw panels can’t be removed, so you will need to dry out each section with a cloth, which is what I do.
It’s also easy to store. And since it’s flat and there are no removable parts, it’s easy to stack on top of other toys.
My dogs are still learning how the Dog Twister works. So to make things easier, I don’t lock all the sections while they learn.
And although they haven’t nailed it yet, it is a worthwhile puzzle toy to add to your dog’s collection. Keep in mind that it is a challenging game, so it will take time for your pooch to learn the steps to win.
Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramid
My dogs love it when I bring out their Dog Pyramids! And they are my go-to toys when I need to distract my bunch for an extended time. These are times when I need to focus like when I’m cooking, working on a big project or productively binging on Netflix!
The game has a skill level of two which means your dog will have to paw and nuzzle at the toy to release the treats.
The toy comes in two sizes, small and large. And no matter what the age of your dog, the Pyramid is a cool toy.
The toy has a pyramid-like shape with a heavy base, making the toy move in unpredictable ways. This equals plenty of fun because after each action the toy pops back upright to encourage and excite your dog.
Like all Nina Ottosson toys, the Pyramid is made from tough plastic meaning these toys can take a severe beating. And washing it is rinsing it under running water or popping it in the dishwasher.
Preparing the toy is super simple, fill it with your dog’s favorite treats, place it on the ground and let the fun begin.
Keep in mind that this is a level two game, so if your pooch is new to it, you’ll need to spend some time showing them how treats magically appear when they nuzzle and paw the toy.
One thing worth mentioning is that the Dog Pyramid can be noisy if you have tiled or hardwood floors. And if you have a dog that’s sensitive to loud sounds, like my dog Lexi you might want to consider making one small change to the toy…
I took a piece of fabric from another DIY project and glued it to the bottom of the toys. It’s an idea I got from another pooch parent on Amazon, and it works a treat to muffle the sound enough to keep Lexi comfortable to engage with the Pyramid.
Also, I’ve found that the Pyramid has to be at least half-full to ensure regular treats for a dog. I’ve found that as it becomes empty, my dogs”check out” at that point.
In my opinion, the Dog Pyramid is a must-have puzzle toy for any dog. It has a robust design and can handle even the roughest dogs. Considering its canine entertainment value and its very reasonable price, you can see why it made it onto my list for the best puzzle toy for dogs.
Trixie Game Bone Puzzle
When I first introduced my dogs to puzzle games years ago, the Trixie Game Bone Puzzle was one of the more challenging puzzles I chose. And today, years later my dogs still enjoy this game.
This puzzle game is a 2-in-1 combo needing a skill level of one and two. But if you stick around, I’ll share with you how to ramp it up to a level three in a minute…
Level one is a game of Solitaire and consists of six pegs that fit snuggly into six holes. Your dog will need to figure out how to remove the cones to reveal the treats.
Level two on the flip side of the puzzle game is advanced chess which has four discs that you can use in a variety of ways to hide treats.
But you can up the ante to a level three with the pegs from the Solitaire game. By placing them strategically, your dog has to remove the pegs first before they can slide the discs to find food rewards.
This puzzle game from Dog Activity is made with heavy wood and covered in lacquer giving it a hard and durable coating. Ours has been in regular use for years, and it’s still in perfect condition.
And it’s easy enough to clean with a damp cloth. I made a mistake recently of submerging it in water (what was I thinking!?). And the next day I found that the top and bottom pieces of the game had separated.
But this was easy enough to fix with some glue, clamps and a day or two to dry. But lesson learned, don’t submerge the Trixie Game Bone Puzzle in water!
This Trixie Game is my top pick as the best puzzle toy for dogs. It’s robust and still looks new even after years of rough handling. It’s also challenging enough for any dog, even pooches new to puzzle toys.
With levels one, two and the option to add an extra level without spending a dime extra, you’re getting three different games for the standard price. Totally worth it in my opinion!
PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat
Scent work is a great way to enrich a dog mentally and help them burn excess energy. So when we discovered snuffle mats, it was love at first sight for the dogs and me.
And the Snuffle Mat from Paw5 is regarded as the “original” snuffle mat. Although now there are a wide variety of different mats on the market.
Each mat is handmade and measures 12 x 18 inches. The material used is non-toxic, and the entire thing is machine washable.
The materials used are upcycled, so it has the benefit of being kind to the environment – which is rather neat!
Although a snuffle mat is technically not a puzzle toy, it works as well as any of the other puzzle games I’ve reviewed so far. And it’s super easy to use at that.
All you need is your dog’s favorite treats, or if you feed kibble, you can go as far as feeding on this snuffle mat.
The idea is that your dog will need to use their dazzling sense of smell to ferret out the treats or food. And the long material pieces make for some sneaky highing places.
This kind of game stimulates your dog’s instinct to forage for food – just like they would in the wild. So your dog will figure out the game quickly, but that won’t make it any less fun.
For the first few tries, scatter the food rewards over the top of the mat and let your dog at it.
As your dog becomes more experienced in foraging, make it more challenging by hiding the food rewards deeper down. Then ruffle up the material to better hide the rewards.
Dogs have a sense of smell 40 times more powerful than ours, so it makes sense that my dogs adore their snuffle mats. And so do I because they are so easy to use and provide tons of fun and entertainment for the dogs (and for me).
Because I have two large dogs who each need their own mat, I opted to go the DIY route and make my own. And I’ll be sharing my DIY project in another article, but to whet your appetite, here’s a video of my crew enjoying their mats.
As you can tell from these reviews, we have an extensive range of puzzle toys in our home. And I can highly recommend any of the puzzles on this page.
But if I had to pick only two games to start you and your pooch off on a puzzle-loving journey I’d have to say the Trixie Game Bone Puzzle (on Amazon) and a Snuffle Mat (on Amazon, or make your own) is a good place to start.
The Trixie is excellent value for money because you basically have three games in one. And you can take your pup from a beginner skill set all the way to advanced with just this game.
The Snuffle Mat is my second choice because it stimulates your dog’s natural instinct to forage. And it’s entertaining for dogs that are new to puzzle toys and even for those who are advanced gamers.
Quick Tips to Teach Your Dog How to Play Puzzle Games
Although your dog is super smart, sometimes they need a little help to learn a new puzzle game. So a few years back I made this video when Ze was learning how to play the Trixie Game Bone Puzzle.
These steps to priming your dog for puzzle games are so easy and actionable you can implement them right away even with a homemade puzzle toy consisting of a muffin pan and plastic cups.