No one wants their furry friend to develop bad habits. But in order to stay healthy, dogs need mental exercise as much as they need physical activity.
Luckily, toys are one of the many great ways to improve your dog’s mental stimulation. This includes food puzzles, snuffle mats and even chew toys!
Benefits of Dog Toys for Mental Stimulation
- They Control Aggressions: Dogs that are active tend to be less aggressive to other dogs and humans. This is extremely important if you have multiple pets and small kids.
- They Decrease Stress: In dogs, stress can create anxiety disorders and other emotional and behavioral issues. Toys help to redirect this negative energy.
- They Increase Confidence: Like us, dogs feel proud of their achievements. Solving problems may lead to better overall confidence and reduce unhealthy habits caused by timidity.
- They Prevent Boredom: Toys, like the ones in our review, help keep dogs busy. In fact, they are often recommended by dog trainers and behaviorists.
- They Combat Depression: Keeping our dogs’ brains working is crucial. Otherwise, they’re more likely to suffer from depression or other mental disorders.
- They Promote Brain Health: Though the brain is not a muscle, it can be trained to improve cognitive functions. Nose work and brain games for dogs can help stimulate the mind.
- They Reduce Hyperactivity: Dogs that don’t get enough exercise have lots of excess energy. Combining dog walks with the right dog toys is a good way to calm them down.
Below are the best dog toys for mental stimulation.
Best Dog Toys for Mental Stimulation
1. Arf Pets Dog Treat Dispenser
Not only does this treat dispenser give you a chance to spend some one on one time interacting with your best friend, but it will also keep him happily occupied in your absence.
Simply load it with your dog’s favorite treats or even some kibble, and you’re good to go.
This toy teaches your dog reward-based behavior, as he will quickly learn to push the button with his nose or paw to activate the release of treats.
While it may get a little boring for some dogs, particularly those who require more mental stimulation, there’s an unpredictable element, as the dispenser releases either a lot or a little bit at a time.
As an added bonus, there’s also a pleasing sound component to the button being pushed. This provides your dog with another area of entertainment.
- Easy to learn
- Keeps dogs occupied
- Actual number of treats dispensed varies
- Encouraging sound effects
- May be too easy for some dogs
- Requires multiple batteries
2. Kruuse BUSTER ActivityMat
This is basically a snuffle mat, and although it doesn’t look like it, you’d be surprised at how challenging and entertaining it can be.
The top layer is made of strong nylon, and the bottom is rubber to prevent it from moving around during playtime.
When it’s open, the mat size is 27″ x 19″. It is, however, comes rolled inside a carrier bag for easy storage, along with three basic activities to start with.
These can be attached to the mat using up to thirty-five press studs, and there are more additional activities sold separately, some of which are more advanced and fit dogs who need more of a challenge.
Each activity has a number of pockets where you can hide dog food or treats. Your dog, for example, will have to figure out how to open up Velcro or slide out a wooden dowl in order to win his prize.
Both the mat and the activities are durable against wear and tear and should last for a long time, even if your dog is a bit aggressive and trying to get to the treats using his paws, snout or teeth.
For best results, you should introduce the mat to your dog gradually by leaving the parts open, and folding them once he’s starting to get the hang of it.
Unlike other dog toys, this one is very dynamic, so it’s unlikely that your pup will get bored with it anytime soon.
- Easy to store
- Three activities included
- Different levels
- Durable materials
- Additional add-ons sold separately
3. Outward Hound Hide N’ Slide
Nina Ottosson is famous for designing many different types of dog puzzles, and her treat dispensers can challenge bored and energetic dogs.
This toy is just what it sounds like: you hide dog treats or kibbles inside the different compartments, and then let your dog figure out how to release them by sliding the cups and rotating the flaps.
While it may look like wood, the product is actually made from a stronger food-safe material that’s more durable and easy to clean with just warm soapy water.
Also, unlike wood, it won’t splinter or break while your dog is playing, and there are no removable parts that he can pull out. Just be sure to not let him chew on it.
Level 2 toys, such as this one, requires dogs to solve more complex tasks. This is great if your pup is ready for new challenges and needs more mental stimulation.
However, keep in mind that it may become easier over time.
If you have a short-nosed dog, such as a Pug or Boxer, the Hide N’ Slide is perfect because it has elevated play parts that will help him slide around the pieces and get to the treats easily.
- Durable design
- Level 2 puzzle
- Good for short-nosed dogs
- Can get easy after a while
4. Outward Hound Dog Tornado
This toy provides lots of physical and mental exercise, as well as pure fun!
It has twelve treat compartments, which can be quite challenging, but at the same time, it keeps your dog’s mind active to reduce boredom and unwanted behavior.
Also, this is a level 2 puzzle, meaning your pup will have to work a bit harder to solve it and retrieve the treats. In this case, he will have to spin the pieces and take out the white bone covers to find his food.
Note that you can use this game with or without the white bones, although it would probably be easy for some dogs, as the bone blocks make it a bit tougher.
That said, they’re made of plastic, so they may be a problem if your dog likes to chew.
As with many of these toys, you can also use it to feed your dog his kibbles (especially if he tends to eat fast), as it’s BPA, PVC & phthalate-free, and quite easy to clean afterward, too.
- Level 2 puzzle
- Increasing difficulty
- Suitable for feeding dry food
- Not the best for chewers
5. Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel
This Hide and seek game is perfect for dogs with very strong hunting and chasing instincts.
You can hide the squeaky squirrels inside the soft tree trunk, add more removable plush animals to increase the challenge, or even use them to play a game of fetch.
However, be aware that they are not suitable for chewers or those that play rough, as the material is very thin and can easily tear open.
The toy is available in four sizes to fit different breeds, so take a look at the measurements of the squirrels and the stump to decide what size is best for your dog.
- Works on hunting instinct
- Can also be used to play fetch
- Sold in different sizes
- Not the most durable
6. West Paw Zogoflex Qwizl
This tough toy is a wonderful choice for dogs who like to chew.
It’s quite durable and guaranteed against damage (at least to some extent), and it can help satisfy your pup’s natural instinct to chew.
On top of that, it prolongs playtime, which is excellent for separation anxiety!
Of course, you can even take it a step further and fill it with just about anything – from plain kibbles to dog biscuits to carrot sticks, and even cheese strings.
Another great option would be to stuff peanut butter, canned pumpkin or canned food inside the holes and freeze it to help soothe teething puppies.
The product is non-toxic and doesn’t contain latex, BPA and phthalates. Additionally, it’s dishwasher safe for easy cleaning, and can be recycled once it’s time to get a replacement.
Likewise, it comes in several different sizes and color options to choose from.
- Good for chewers
- Can be freezed
- Made in the USA
- Not for tough chewers
As long as you pick toys that won’t be too easy to figure out, and switch things up to prevent boredom, your dog should be able to get plenty of mental stimulation.
We especially love the Kruuse BUSTER ActivityMat.
It ships with three starter activities, however, you can always order more if your pup likes the mat and you decide to increase the difficulty.
Plus, it’s a fantastic option if you have two (or more) dogs that can play together!