Whether your dog is a couch potato or a bruiser, a pup or a senior, dog games and puzzles help to keep boredom at bay and mental alertness at peak.
Dog puzzle manufacturers often characterize the difficulty of the puzzles in levels: 1, 2, and 3. The levels of difficulty don't necessarily coincide with a dog's age, even though you should probably start your puppy at level 1. But just as our ability to perform, say crossword puzzles, rises and wains depending on how sharp, healthy, and mentally alert we feel on any given day or period of time, so too does a dog's ability rise and wain from day to day and from year to year during his life. Once your dog masters the puzzle, put it away for a few months before you bring it out again; there will be some amount of re-learning required.
That's why it's good to hang on to all your pup's puzzles throughout her life, so she can re-discover them during times when she needs a mental re-boot.
I want to make the distinction between slow feeders and dog puzzles. Slow feeder dishes or bowls (see 15 Ergonomic Pet Bowls & Feeders) are meant to contain a dog's normal meal; any obstructions in the bowl are there simply to slow the dog down so he doesn't get sick from eating too fast. While some may resemble puzzles in their design, they don't attempt to hide the food. Dog puzzles use just a bit of food, usually a small treat or treats, and require the dog to do something special to obtain them; they are not intended to provide a meal. It always encourages a dog to play with her puzzle if she is hungry.
A Few Tips
- Make the treats special, different from what your dog eats at mealtime, so he'll be more interested in playing.
- Play with one dog at a time to keep dogs from fighting with each other over the toy or the treats.
Here are some of the most fun, challenging, sturdy and highly-rated dog puzzles at each difficulty level for your perusal.
Challenge Level 1 Dog Puzzles
Level 1 dog puzzles, as you probably guessed require the most simple actions of a dog to obtain a treat. Many of the Level 1 puzzles are balls that contain a number of treats and require that your dog push the ball until an opening in the ball releases the treat. Some require other simple actions, like manipulating the toy with a paw or pulling a treat out of a ridge or hole in the puzzle. Here I have chosen the most challenging Level 1 puzzles.
1. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 1: Kong Wobbler Treat Dispensing Toy
While many Level 1 gaming toys for dogs are round, making it almost too easy for a dog to obtain treats from them, the Kong Wobbler really needs to be manipulated beyond rolling, making it more stimulating and more fun for your dog. As a matter of fact, the Wobbler makes the world more fun for dogs at any level of gaming! The Wobbler twists apart so you can fill it with kibble or other very small treats. Then just leave in on the floor for your dog. You may want to throw it for her to catch, but the idea it for her to push it around. Customers say the small size is good enough for their medium and large pets, but make sure it's not too small for an extra large dog!
2. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 1: Trixie Gambling Tower
I know this looks like a playground for a small animal, and maybe it could be used as one, but the Trixie Gambling Tower is a very smart dog toy for a Level 1 challenge. Believe me, it's for dogs. Watch....
3. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 1: Nina Ottosson Treat Dispensing Dog Smart Brain Game
This Dog Smart Brain Game was designed by Nina Ottosson, the 'godmother' of attractively-designed, mentally stimulating toys for pets. Manufactured by Outward Hound, this Brain Game is made of a composite material to look and feel like wood. Your dog can certainly push this around like a ball, but it won't get him any treats. He'll need to develop his lifting skills to get these babies!
This video of a similar Ottosson toy, shown on YouTube, will show you how challenging it is for a Level 1 dog puzzle. You can see that lifting requires a new mindset for a dog.
Level 2 Dog Puzzles
Level 2 dog puzzles generally require more than one behavior from your dog gamer. It might require sliding one part of the puzzle to find the treat, and stomping on another part to get the treat, for example. Level 2, as you can guess, is an intermediate challenge to your dog.
4. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 1 & 2: Trixie Game Bone
Trixie Game Bone: Level 1
This nifty challenger has two sides providing stimulation for dogs at Level 1 (beige side shown above) on one side and Level 2 (black side shown below) on the other. And I bet if you keep the Trixie Game Bone around when your pup graduates to Level 3, he'll still get joy by coming back to it after a few months at the hard stuff. The Trixie Game Bone involves sliders and removable pegs, which can be used separately or together for more challenge. Additionally, of course, you can vary where the treats are placed to give pups more challenge.
Trixie Game Bone: Level 2
Watch this pup take on the Trixie Game Bone....
5. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 2: Trixie Dog Activity Flip Board
A very popular Trixie puzzle, the Dog Activity Flip Board involves three different movements: lifting whole objects straight up off the frame, sliding buttons, and raising lids from an angle using a knob. The company suggests that you can mix up treats and selectively fill the food cavities so some areas have treats contained and others don't. This can help refine your dog's sense of smell.
6. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 2: Trixie Mad Scientist Puzzle For Dogs
Here is another dog puzzle that is more difficult than it looks. The Trixie Mad Scientist Puzzle requires that your dog tip the vials upside down so that they will dispense treats when they tip. Not that easy though. First there are different tops for the vials which have various sizes and numbers of holes. In fact, they require not only tipping but various tipping movement and different levels of energy to make the treats fall out. You can see its action in the Trixie video here, as I am unable to transfer it to this page.
Level 3 Dog Puzzles
When your dog can conquer Levels 1 and 2 puzzles, no problem, it's time to step up to Level 3. (Remember to keep the other puzzles for variety later in your pup's life.) Level 3 has more than two required behaviors to get at treats. Slide, lift, twist, pull... you name it, these dog puzzle toys have it. Just remember, they need treats hidden in them to encourage your dog to solve the puzzles.
7. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 3: The Busy Buddy Jack Puzzle Toy
The Busy Buddy Toys are great puzzles for dogs who love to chew. Made by Pet Safe, the Busy Buddy Jack Puzzle comes with its own brand of rawhide treats that fit easily into the puzzle. Hmm. Guess you'll have to refresh them (here). Level 3 demands a bit of twisting, chewing, and pulling on the Jack puzzle. Dog parents love this toy as a cure for boredom and an acceptable chew device, but warn that even though the Jack Puzzle comes in three sizes, dogs that are 10 - 15 pounds may not be able to chew hard enough to manage the toy. The company does warn customers not to give the toy to dogs under 6 months of age. (You need some mature teeth for this Jack).
Active Dog Toys (video above) says you don't have to worry about your pup scarfing up the treats - as the Jack is a Level 3 puzzles, the treats are not that accessible!
8. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 3: Nina Ottosson Dog Casino Puzzle Toy
Deceptively simple-looking, the Dog Casino involves first lifting a 2 inch dog bone and then pulling out the corresponding treat drawer. Dog parents are really positive about the Dog Casino, many saying it keeps their dogs occupied for hours at a time. I'd get some really tasty items for this puzzle. Use dry food though - easier to clean the toy.
You can watch "Saki" here who has managed to master the Casino Puzzle, but the video is almost 4 minutes long. At any rate, you can see what a master Casino dog looks like! (Saki makes this look easy; I can tell you it's not!)
9. Dog Gaming Challenge Level 3: Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Squeaky Puzzle Toy
Finally, one of the most popular and loved dog puzzles ever, the Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Squeaky Puzzle Toy! The Hide-A-Squirrel Ginormous Size, seen here, is a Level 3 dog puzzle, but there are actually Level 1 - 2 squeaky animal toy puzzles at the same link, featuring birds, bees, hedgehogs and, of course, squirrels, all hiding in their 'natural' environments. (See some Kyjen's smaller puzzles here.) The challenges are to remove all the squeaky toys before finding the yummy treat inside their environments. The toys are pretty sturdy, good for all size dogs, but if you've got a destroyer, choose one of the harder surface puzzles.
I don't think this little gal even has a treat hidden in her Hide-A-Squirrel, but she has the most fun with the squirrels!
Yup, you're going to have so much fun watching your dog learning to solve her puzzles... Puzzles are fun, stimulating, and a cure for boredom. Get some for your dog and let her get her groove back!
That's the buzz for today!