Welcome to our complete guide to dog puzzle toys. Looking at the very best around, and how to choose the right ones for your Labrador.
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.
Why Do Dogs Love Puzzle Toys?
Now fast forward again about a dozen centuries and what you find in place of these hard-working canine ancestors is a semi-retired pooch.
Whose biggest responsibility right from puppyhood is to nearly faint with excitement when he hears your key turn in the lock at day’s end.
For most pet dogs, this can add up to a lot of boredom….a lot of 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.
In this post, we are going to explore dog puzzle toys from the perspective of why they are good for your Lab.
How dog puzzle feeder and dog puzzle games can relieve your pup’s boredom and loneliness while you are away, and how to choose the best puzzle toys for dogs!
Dog problems puzzle toys can solve
Taking you for a walk. Constant barking at nothing. Remodeling the couch legs. Piddling (or worse) on the carpet.
Inhaling 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. A couple of days of napping is nice. A week of napping is pushing it. A lifetime of napping is unsupportable.
Since your dog doesn’t have to forage for dinner, earn rent or pay the mortgage, cut the grass, pick up the kids from school, clean the bathroom or take out the trash, “unsupportable” is about what the average domestic dog’s daily life amounts to today.
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.
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.
Helping your dog puzzle out what to do
In this post, we are going to do our best to de-mystify your options for puppy puzzle toys and puzzles for dogs.
But what is important to know going in is that if you are a bit overwhelmed with these new dog toys, chances are good your Lab will be 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 lab 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, 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.
Is It Worth It?
The effort will be worth it in the end, because dog puzzle toys naturally encourage interactive play.
Which 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 or carer is also involved in playing with and using the toys with their dog.
Whether your principle 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, including 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. Separation anxiety and fast eating.
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.
Inhaling and then vomiting up dinner
If your dog is bored all day and then becomes 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.
Giving 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.
Now, without further delay, read on for our recommendations for some of the best dog puzzle toys on the market today!
Dog treat puzzles
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 puzzles 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.
OurPets IQ Treat Ball
OurPets IQ Treat Ball Interactive Food Dispensing Dog Toy. This wonderful orange translucent ball puzzle toy comes in three-inch and four-inch sizes.
You can just fill it with kibble or other favorite tiny treats and let your dog puzzle out how to get the tasty morsels out. When it is cleaning time, the ball twists apart easily.
Interactive Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone
Spot Ethical Pet Interactive Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone Dog Toy Puzzle.
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
Trixie Pet Products 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
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. The hole to insert the treats is on the side instead of on the end, and the toy twists apart for easy cleaning. It comes in two sizes (small, large).
Puzzle dog bowl
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
Outward Hound Fun Feeder Slow Feed Interactive Bloat Stop Dog Bowl.
This fantastic puzzle dog bowl comes in two sizes (small, large), three colors (teal, orange, purple) and three styles.
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 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(TM) Fun Feeder Interactive Bloat Stop. Eco-friendly Durable Non Toxic Bamboo Fiber Slow Feed Dog Bowl.
This popular dog bowl comes in two colors (red, blue) and is made of eco-friendly, food-safe materials.
The manufacturer also offers a 100 percent money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with this puzzle dog bowl.
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
StarMark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Dog Toy.
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 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 lbs. and over.
Paw Hide Toy Dog Scent Puzzle
Outward Hound Kyjen Paw Hide Treat Toy Dog Toys. Scent Puzzle Training Toy.
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.
Furry Fido Interactive Dog Toy
This innovative puzzle toy comes in three styles (barbell, calabash, football).
Each is like a toy within a toy, and pet owners say the toys are very durable even for strong and determined chewers. It works by wobbling to dispense the treats from the inside.
Nina Ottosson’s Interactive Dog Toy
The Company of Animals 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.
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
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball. This bright orange treat ball comes in three sizes (small, medium, large).
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
Kong Stuff-a-Ball Toy. Another perennial favorite courtesy of Kong, this ball toy looks different than its better-known Classic and Wubba cousins.
It comes in three sizes (small, medium, large) and has specially designed ridges designed to help clean your dog’s teeth and gums while she plays to get the treats out.
Pet Qwerks Talking Babbly Ball
Pet Qwerks Talking Babble Ball Dog Toy.
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.
Wobble Wag Giggle Ball
Wobble Wag Giggle Ball Dog Toy. This 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 dog to easily pick it up to make it produce sounds.
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 foods.
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 Hide-A-Squirrel and Puzzle Plush Squeaking Toys for Dogs.
This enduringly popular toy comes in four sizes (junior, large, jumbo, ginormous), making it suitable for puppies as well as adult and senior Labs.
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 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 lbs.
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.”
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.
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 lab, he may need a bit of extra encouragement and coaching to stick with it and really figure out where the fun lies.
So 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.
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.
For labs who need a slow-feeder program as well, some of the treat balls and puzzles listed here also double as slow feeders (based on the quantity of dog food they can hold). So if you need both features, go ahead and look at that list first!
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.
Resources and Further Reading
- 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