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Dogs need shelter and a comfortable, familiar place to sleep. They need good, nutritious dog food. They need human companionship. Dog also require a lot of pet supplies and investments of both time and money. Your canines need pet food, dog crates, dog beds, and of course dog toys. Since dogs cannot go shopping for themselves, it is up to us, as dog owners, to make wise purchases for them and choose interactive puzzle toys for dogs that need some brain exercise.

What do you think your dog would say if you could ask him what type of dog toy he would like? He’d probably tell you that he wanted something fun that would peak his interest and keep him entertained while you were away, right? Most dog toys are great for fetch or tugging, but when you’re not around they aren’t very much fun for your Fido to play with on his own.

Not all of us think very much about the specific needs of our particular dog when it comes to purchasing toys. We buy cute toys or toys that we think fit our dogs personality and style.

Some dogs have more energy than others and some dogs are more clever than others. Somewhere in the back of our mind, we know our dog needs exercise. We’ll start that daily walk tomorrow … and then we’re off thinking about something else and tomorrow never comes.

Dogs need mental and physical exercise, and interactive puzzle toys for dogs are the perfect way to exercise your pet’s mind and his body. These types of dog toys encourage your companion to get up and get active, while also challenging him to figure out the puzzle to earn his reward. These types of toys are far more entertaining for your pet than a simple plush or chew toy.

Interactive Puzzle Toys for Dogs as a Brain Exercise

Interactive Puzzle Toys for Dogs
Photo: Amazon / Outward Hound

Although physical exercise is important, it’s not all that our dogs need. Mental stimulation is important too. A bored dog can cause a great deal of damage.

Studies have shown that a short time playing with something that makes a dog think and use abilities he already has in a new way will tire him as much as that walk you never get around to taking.

The basics of interactive puzzle toys

Interactive puzzle toys for dogs were created to entertain and teach problem-solving skills to canines. They fill the gap caused by a lack of mental stimulation, and in our busy lives, they can give us a little breathing room.

If occasionally we’re unable to take time to play with our dogs, these toys offer a way to give our pet’s supervised playtime while leaving us free to do something else nearby.

Interactive puzzle toys fulfill many of the instinctual needs dogs have. Although we provide their food, they still have a need to forage and to hunt and kill their prey.

A toy that makes noise gives your dog a chance to locate prey through sound, and one that moves allows your dog to pretend he’s on the hunt. Something he can pick up and shake fulfills the need to kill prey, and something he can paw at and bat around helps fulfill his need to play with his prey.

Dogs also need to exercise their cognitive skills, and this is where interactive puzzle toys shine. Not only are they something new and fun to play with — either with you or alone — they help develop your dog’s memory and problem-solving skills.

For the dog who is very smart or easily bored, most of the puzzle toys can be adjusted for difficulty. This usually cures the boredom problem and saves you the money you would have spent on new toys to interest your dog.

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Types and functions of interactive puzzle toys

Interactive puzzle toys for dogs require the animal to solve a puzzle in order to win some kind of reward, usually a dog treat. They are a great opportunity to play with your dog while increasing his mental and cognitive skills.

In some cases, the toy can be left with your dog to entertain him while you’re away (but always watch him play with the toy first to make sure he can’t hurt himself with it if unsupervised — see Safety Precautions below).

Depending on how your dog prefers to play and the way in which he learns the best, you can find a toy to fit every dog. If toys don’t interest your dog but he does like treats, you can motivate him by giving him a puzzle toy that dispenses a treat when he solves the puzzle.

Interactive Puzzle Toys for Dogs
Photo: Amazon / Nina Ottosson

Nina Ottosson Puzzle Toys are probably the best known. They are made from bright, colorful plastic or from wood, which will stand up to aggressive play for a long time.

These toys require the dog to figure out how to get to the treat — slide panels, nose open doors, or paw at the toy — and have multiple compartments in which to hide treats.

Difficulty levels are assigned to each toy so you can be certain you’re buying the appropriate one for your dog.

There are other interactive puzzle toys for dogs that have to be batted around until the treat exits through a hole. Kong toys are a good example of this type. They can be filled with different kinds of treats and even frozen with the treat mixture inside, giving your dog an all-day supply of rewards.

These toys are almost always designed with the heavy chewer in mind, but be sure to check. Because there is a treat inside, your dog will be tempted to chew or tear at the toy, perhaps breaking off part of it. You don’t want your dog to choke on anything while attempting to get to the treat.

For the dog who prefers stuffed animals, there are toys that require him to locate and pull small stuffed toys out of a larger one. For instance, I saw a stuffed “tree trunk” with holes in which to hide smaller “squirrels.” Treats can be added to many of them to make it even more fun for your dog.

Toys in which the play itself is the reward are another type of interactive toy. There are tug toys mounted on tetherball poles for more active dogs. I also saw a bubble machine that releases bacon-scented bubbles. To get to the bubbles, a dog will run, jump, and try to bite at them. It’s fun to watch and a good way to make sure your dog gets the exercise he needs.

As an added benefit, interactive toys that reward with a treat can be used to slow a dog who wolfs down his food. With his daily dog food allowance inside the toy, the treats dispensed are actually his food, forcing him to eat more slowly and learn new skills at the same time.

RELATED: How to Choose the Right Dog Toys by Age

Safety precautions with dog toys

Interactive Puzzle Toys for Dogs
Photo: Alex Matravers

Some interactive puzzle toys are safe to leave with your dog while he’s alone, but I would not leave a dog unsupervised while playing with a new toy of any toy until you’re satisfied that it’s safe.

Be aware that some toys are decidedly not safe for unsupervised play. Be sure to do some research and read the packaging thoroughly beside choosing a toy that your dog will use while unsupervised.

When buying a new toy for my dog, I first look for ones that I would consider safe for a child less than three years old. The toy should have no parts that can come loose and be swallowed, nothing hard that can break, nothing sharp, and nothing smaller than your dog’s mouth. Dogs’ habits differ, so make sure you have your dog’s habits in mind, in addition to those of dogs in general, before you give him the toy you just bought.

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