If you have a smart pooch in need of entertainment, then you’re probably looking for the best dog puzzle toys available!
Dogs need toys for a number of reasons, and dog puzzle games and toys are designed to fulfill those needs. The best dog puzzle toys will offer hours of entertainment, mental stimulation, exercise, and overall fun!
These toys can be made from a variety of materials, but are usually chewable without being easily destroyed. And they come in different forms, as well, from dog puzzle bowls and feeders to chew toys to dog puzzle balls.
Make sure you also take a look at our guide to the best dog nail polish!
The Five Best Dog Puzzle Toys
Let’s jump right in with our top five favorite dog puzzle games and toys, and why we like them!
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball
This bright orange treat ball is a great place to start introducing your Lab to puzzle toys.
Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom
This fun, interactive puzzle dog toy is shaped for play, and dispenses treats.
This puzzle dog bowl is a slow feeder and made of eco-friendly bamboo.
It’s also great for slowing down dogs who have a tendency to gobble down their dinners!
Slow Feed Interactive Bowl
This slow feeder from Outward Hound comes in several sizes, colors, and shapes.
The highly-rated KONG Wobbler is an interactive puzzle toy that also dispenses treats.
It’s a firm favorite with our Labs!
Dog Puzzle Toy Quick Links
Why Dogs Love Puzzle Toys
Puzzle toys for dogs are big news. What the headlines prove is that if you have struggled to keep your smart, active pup gainfully entertained on a daily basis, you are definitely not alone!
In fact, if you rewind canis familiaris’ family lineage back far enough, you will find hard-working wolves and coyotes who spent most of each day busily engaged in a hunt for food.
Now fast forward again about a dozen centuries. What you find in place of these hard-working canine ancestors is a semi-retired pooch. Often, his biggest responsibility right from puppyhood is to nearly faint with excitement when he hears you come home at the end of the day.
For most pet dogs, this can add up to a lot of boredom, loneliness, and a whole lot of fundamentally altered household furnishings. And the bigger and stronger and smarter and more energetic your dog is, the more the issue gets compounded.
So puzzle toys of all kinds are beloved by dogs and owners alike.
A Dog’s Perspective On Puzzle Toys?
Taking you for a walk. Constant barking at nothing. Remodeling the couch legs. Piddling (or worse) on the carpet. Inhaling food and then vomiting at dinner time. Wanting to play at 3 am.
These are just a few of the many behavioral issues that puzzle toys for dogs can potentially solve!
For many dog owners, the very best way to understand the appeal of puzzle dog toys is to try to put yourself in your dog’s shoes. Maybe you, like many dog owners today, have the kind of hectic daily schedule that makes you feel envious of your dog’s all day naps.
But think back to the last time you were under the weather and housebound. How quickly did you get bored?
In other words, a day of napping is great. But a lifetime is boring! In this environment, any opportunity for activity needs to be improved, extended or enhanced in some way to keep your dog busy and engaged in that activity for as long as possible.
What Do Puzzle Toys Do For Dogs?
On a side note, did you know that zookeepers also employ puzzles and games to keep their wild charges happy and healthy?
For example, bear handlers at the zoo hide the bears’ lunches to encourage foraging behaviors, which takes more time and which the bears also enjoy. This also greatly decreases problematic behaviors like pacing, which upsets the keepers, the bears, and the zoo visitors.
Along the same lines, dog puzzle toys naturally encourage interactive play. This can be its own motivation for your Lab to keep working to solve the puzzles.
In fact, research studies support that the best results from the use of puzzle toys for dogs comes when the owner is also involved in playing with and using the toys with their dog.
Whether your principal motive arises from efforts to save the couch cushions or tire out your energetic lab before bedtime, committing to interactive play with the puzzle toys you choose will both improve results and enhance your dog’s enjoyment of these toys.
While the trend towards environmental enrichment definitely began with domesticated pet animals such as dogs and then zoo animals, today researchers have identified applications across increasingly diverse animal groups.
These include farm animals, laboratory animals, and feral colony animals.
One of the biggest issues that dog puzzle toys are designed to address is anxiety.
We mention this because becoming more aware of your Lab’s specific behavioral issues can really help when choosing the best puzzle toys for dogs. Here are two common examples.
Your Lab whimpers, paces, whines and then (when you leave) howls.
Here, introducing a puzzle feeder for dogs can redirect her focus to getting the tasty treat out of the puzzle toy so she isn’t as aware that you are leaving.
This distracts her behavior and refocuses it to something active and positive.
Inhaling Food And Then Vomiting
If your dog is bored all day, she may get so excited when dinnertime comes that she literally inhales and then throws up her dinner.
Introducing a puzzle bowl for dogs can force her to slow down, take small bites, and really work for her supper.
This gives her digestive system the chance to break down her food while she figures out how to get the last remaining morsels out of the puzzle toy.
Puzzling It Out
Dog puzzle games and toys are designed to be a little complicated. So if you feel a little overwhelmed by these interactive puzzle dog toys, there’s a good chance that your Lab will, too!
So you shouldn’t expect that, upon first sight of a dog toy puzzle, the “puzzle toy” light bulb will go on inside your Lab’s head and he will hop to it to solve the mystery. He may totally get it, or he may look at it like, “Um, yeah.”
Don’t get discouraged if your puppy doesn’t understand that the new puppy puzzles you have just brought home are supposed to supply him with hours of enriching entertainment.
In the same way, if you have an adult or senior Lab who has never seen a dog puzzle feeder before, for instance, he may not immediately grasp the concept.
But with a little trial, error and effort (plus some help from you), your smart Lab will puzzle out what to do.
Important Features Of The Best Dog Puzzle Toys
Dog puzzle toys often involve some chewing. Whether it’s a dog puzzle feeder, or a puzzle ball for dogs, or a puzzle treat dog toy, it’s likely that your Lab’s teeth will come into play.
So the best dog puzzle toys will definitely be made of durable, chew-resistant materials like heavy-duty rubber. And all dog puzzle bowls and feeders will be made of food safe materials.
Dog puzzle bowls will also be the correct size for your dog to be able to get food from them.
Best Dog Puzzle Bowls
While some Labs may be more food-centric than others, it is rare to meet a Lab who doesn’t get at least a little bit excited when the food comes out!
If your Lab spends most of her day on her own, the excitement can reach peak levels at the dinner hour, when you come home and it is time to eat, all at the same time.
Dinner time can also be danger time for Labs who tend to inhale their dinners. This can cause dangerous belly bloat, intestinal distension and discomfort, vomiting and choking.
The design of each of the following puzzle dog bowl options ensures your Lab will have to eat slowly to get every last morsel of his delicious dinner out of the bowl.
As a bonus, the attention these puzzle feeding bowls require will also keep him happily occupied while you unwind from your day and fix your own dinner!
Slow Feed Interactive Bloat Stop Bowl
To start with, there is this Outward Hound Fun Feeder Slow Feed Interactive Bloat Stop Dog Bowl.
This means you can actually rotate bowls so your Lab never knows what his challenge will be at a given meal. Each bowl can hold a maximum of four cups of food.
Simply Pets Online provides this A-Maze-In-A-Bowl Eco-friendly Bamboo Fiber Slow Feed Dog Bowl.
This unique orange bowl is made of all eco-friendly materials (bamboo fiber, rice husk) and is designed for use by medium to large-size dogs.
So it would be good for your Labrador puppy as well as an adult dog!
Fun Feeder Interactive Bowl
Siensync offers this Fun Feeder Interactive Bloat Stop. This is billed as an “Eco-friendly Durable Non Toxic Bamboo Fiber Slow Feed Dog Bowl.”
The manufacturer also offers a 100 percent money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with this puzzle dog bowl.
Best Dog Puzzle Feeders
Along the same lines as the bowls listed above, dog puzzle feeders are designed to both entertain your dog and keep him from eating too quickly at the same time.
And some of these listed below are also created with the goal of lessening anxious behaviors, such as what might be exhibited during a thunderstorm.
Overall, using a slow feeder in addition to dog puzzle bowls and toys can have a great impact on your dog’s behavior.
Hyper Pet Lickimat Slow Feeder
This slow feeder from Hyper Pet comes in a two pack.
These mats are deeply grooved to make sure that your dog eats — or licks— his food or treats slowly.
Wisedom IQ Pet Treat Dispenser
This treat and food dispenser from Wisedom is another one of the most popular interactive puzzle dog toys.
It can be filled with kibble or with treats, and promotes both activity and healthy feeding for your Lab.
Best Dog Treat Puzzle Toys
Food puzzles for dogs offer a great way to keep your lab engaged and active in between meals.
If you have a sometimes inconsistent evening schedule, using dog treat puzzle toys can also help to keep your Lab from getting too impatient when dinner time draws near and you are still not home.
These wonderful dog treat puzzles make a small caloric impact for a big enrichment impact.
Outward Hound Star Spinner
The Star Spinner is an interactive dog toy puzzle.
This interactive and colorful blue and yellow spinner toy offers three levels of treat access options.
You can use the knob to adjust how difficult the puzzle becomes, which is great for beginners as well as advanced canine puzzlers.
Interactive Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone
Spot Ethical Pet Interactive Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone Dog Toy Puzzle offers a great chance for both enrichment and treats.
This particular toy calls to mind popular shuffle board games for humans! It is designed to be used for enriching play and training. It is made of eco-friendly, sturdy wood.
Dog Activity Flip Board
From Trixie Pet Products comes this Dog Activity Flip Board.
This fun and engaging activity flip board is a treat puzzle and a real puzzle all in one. The toy features disks, cones, and lids with knobs that require your Lab to really work for his rewards.
You can change up where you put the treats to change the level of puzzle difficulty for your dog.
The popular KONG Wobbler Treat Dispensing Dog Toy is a firm favorite.
Kong is a trusted global name in canine pet products, including treat puzzle toys. This particular Kong puzzle toy is a variation on the original Kong Classic.
Best Dog Puzzle Balls
If there is one dog toy that will never, ever go out of style, it is the good old-fashioned ball.
Rare indeed is the Lab who sees even an ordinary tennis ball and shows no interest. In fact, if you were free all day, every day, to throw the ball and play “fetch,” your Lab would likely need no other enrichment!.
These dog puzzle balls take the time-honored tennis ball to a whole new level.
You will find plenty of enrichment options in this list, including treats, squeaks, talking and even laughing!
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball
The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball is a favorite. This bright orange treat ball comes in three sizes (small, medium, large).
It is made of safe vinyl that is soft enough to grip but durable against strong jaws. All you have to do is fill the ball with small treats like kibble and your dog has the challenge of rolling the ball about to figure out how to get the treats out.
Kong Stuff-a-Ball Toy
This Kong Stuff-a-Ball Toy offers another choice option. Another favorite courtesy of Kong, this ball toy looks different than its better-known Classic and Wubba cousins.
Pet Qwerks Talking Babbly Ball
Pet Qwerks Talking Babble Ball Dog Toy is a fun choice.
This uniquely entertaining ball toy actually talks to your dog as she plays. It makes more than 20 sounds.
The ball comes in three sizes (small, medium, large) in a bright blue color. The batteries are in the interior so your dog can’t get to them.
The toy is motion-activated and also has an auto shut-off to conserve battery life.
OurPets IQ Treat Ball
OurPets IQ Treat Ball Interactive Food Dispensing Dog Toy is another fun option. This wonderful orange translucent dog puzzle ball comes in three-inch and four-inch sizes.
Best Puppy Puzzles
It is never too early to get your lab puppy started on puzzle toys. The key with picking the best puppy puzzles is to remember some of the unique needs and issues that puppies face:
- Puppies have a shorter attention span than adult dogs.
- They tire more quickly during play.
- Puppies may be teething and in pain, which can result in a strong need to chew.
- They are not as strong or coordinated as adult Labs.
- Puppies’ strict diets may or may not accommodate most adult dog treat food.
So long as you keep each of these factors in mind, your puppy should have a blast playing with these puppy puzzle toys.
Each toy was designed in some way with large breed puppies in mind, whether in size, durability, teething/chewing needs, dental health and enrichment.
Hide A Squirrel and Puzzle Plush
Outward Hound offers this Hide-A-Squirrel and Puzzle Plush Squeaking Toys for Dogs.
It also comes in four game types (bee, bird, squirrel, hedgehog). The goal is to get the smaller squeak toys out of the main body of the toy.
The toys are durable yet soft enough not to cause discomfort to a puppy’s sensitive teeth and gums during the teething stage.
Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat
PetSafe manufactures this Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat Puppy Puzzle Toy.
This fun interactive puppy puzzle toy comes in three sizes (X-small, small, medium) and is rated for young puppies up to six months old and up to 20 pounds.
You can vary your Lab puppy’s challenge level by twisting the toy to be more open or more closed. The material of the toy is gentle on your puppy’s developing teeth and gums.
However, use of this toy will require supervision if your puppy is shaping up to be a “power chewer.”
Wobble Wag Giggle Ball
The Wobble Wag Giggle Ball Dog Toy is another favorite talking dog ball toy.
One unique benefit is that the toy operates without batteries. It makes sounds using a series of unique inner tubes that emit noises when your dog picks it up, shakes it, tosses or rolls it.
There are six different places on the ball that are designed for your pup to easily pick it up to make it produce sounds.
XUANRUS Puppy Puzzle Treat Dispenser
This Puppy Puzzle Treat Dispenser is suitable for puppies from medium to large size, which means Labs are just about ideal.
Best Interactive Puzzle Dog Toys
By offering your Lab a variety of interactive puzzle dog toys in a regular dog toy rotation, you reap several benefits:
- She will remain interested in each toy for a longer period of time before familiarity/boredom sets in.
- Your dog will face new and unexpected challenges each day, just as his wild ancestors would have done, making his life feel enriching and full.
- She will get a longer useful life out of each toy, helping to stretch your dog toy budget further.
- You can alter the difficulty settings for many of these toys. Increasing the interest factor and useful life even longer while your lab works to master the toy’s puzzles at all levels of difficulty.
You can also alternate solo and interactive play with each toy for even more enriching variety.
Starmark Bob A Lot
This StarMark Bob-A-Lot is an interactive dog toy with a difference.
Not quite a ball toy, not quite a Kong, this unique bobbing toy is weighted at the bottom.
The extra weight produces an erratic wobble motion that dogs can’t resist.
The toy is easy to fill and can also be used as a slow-pace meal feeder since it holds up to three cups of dog food.
Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom
Petsafe makes this Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom Dog Toy.
This toy comes in two sizes (small, medium/large) and is a vibrant purple color. The top is shaped like a mushroom and the bottom is like a ball, which makes the toy wobble and tip and roll as your dog works to get the treats out.
You can adjust the treat windows to vary the difficulty level. The medium/large size is rated for dogs 20 pounds and over.
Paw Hide Toy Dog Scent Puzzle
Outward Hound Kyjen Paw Hide Treat Scent Puzzle Training Toy is a blast for dogs of all sizes.
Outward Hound makes some pretty cool interactive puzzle toys, and this one is no exception.
It comes in two sizes (mini, large) and is shaped exactly like a dog paw.
Each area has a treat cup and your dog has to first figure out by sniffing where the treats are and then by action how to lift the lid to retrieve the treats.
Nina Ottosson’s Interactive Dog Toy
The Company of Animals presents Nina Ottosson’s Interactive Dog Toy.
You can choose from five different games (dog magic, tornado, dog brick, dog spinny, casino) made by master canine/feline puzzle toy maker Nina Ottosson.
These challenging interactive puzzles will keep your dog growing and learning and exercising and engaged for hours.
Best Dog Puzzle Toys
Admittedly, there are a LOT of dog puzzle toys in this post that you could choose from! If the list seems overwhelming, then perhaps just start with one interactive puzzle toy or ball and see how it goes.
We definitely recommend starting with our top five list at the top of the page.
A study published in 2015 showed that dogs need more encouragement than their wild wolf cousins to get involved in solving puzzles.
So the first few times you introduce a puzzle-based or interactive toy to your English or American Lab, he may need a bit of extra encouragement and coaching to stick with it and really figure out where the fun lies.
You and your dog can choose one puzzle toy and play with it together until he “gets it” and you see the light bulb go on. Then you can pick another and do the same thing. In time, you will be able to build up an enriching toy rotation your lab can look forward to each day.
A Starting Point For Puzzle Toys
If you aren’t sure which dog puzzle toys would be best to start with, we highly recommend treat-based puzzle balls. The familiar ball shape will shave off some of the learning curve. And the scent of the treats will give your lab a strong secondary incentive to keep at it until he figures out how this new ball works.
No matter which puzzle toys for dogs you decide to try, your simple presence during interactive play will likely make these puzzles an immediately fun and rewarding experience for your dog as well as for you.
Which of these toys are you leaning towards? And how does your dog do with puzzle toys in general? Leave us a comment below and let us know how it is going!
Make sure to also take a look at the best dog nail files to keep your dog happy and healthy!
References and Resources
- Becker, M., DVM, “Food Puzzles: Unleash Your Pet’s Wild Side,” ABC News, 2010.
- Reisen, J., “Play Some Brain Games With Your Dog!,” American Kennel Club, 2017.
- Hubrecht, R.C., “A comparison of social and environmental enrichment methods for laboratory housed dogs,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 1993.
- Overall, K.L., et al, “Enrichment Strategies for Laboratory Animals from the Viewpoint of Clinical Veterinary Behavioral Medicine: Emphasis on Cats and Dogs,” Institute for Laboratory Animal Research Journal, 2005.
- Udell, M “When dogs look back: inhibition of independent problem-solving behaviour in domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) compared with wolves (Canis lupus)” The Royal Society 2015
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.