Playing with your dog doesn’t just feel good for you — it is good for you. Studies show that playing with dogs releases feel-good oxytocin in our brains, but it’s not just us. Dogs also reap many benefits from playing with their favorite humans.
However, most people can’t play with their furry friends all the time. So how do you make sure your dog is getting enough mental stimulation?
When used under your supervision, puzzle toys and food puzzles are some of the best tools to keep your dog’s brain just as full as their stomach. So we’ve made a guide to help you choose the best dog puzzle toys and treats for your pup!
The Benefits of Interactive Dog Puzzle Toys and Treats
When you are busy around the house or getting work done, puzzles and toys are a great way to solve your dog's boredom. But dog puzzle toys have many more benefits than simply keeping your dog from getting bored. They’re also great tools for:
Boosting Mental Stimulation and Cognitive Development
One challenge of keeping a dog’s mind active and stimulated is the fact that food is one of their most powerful motivators.
So, while they may love playtime with you, they’ll be less likely to engage in stimulating activities while you’re busy around the house if it’s not mealtime. Treat puzzles give dogs the motivation to engage in enrichment activities between play sessions with you.
Reducing Destructive Behaviors
While some dogs need encouragement to interact with their surroundings, others need distractions to keep them from getting bored and destroying things they shouldn’t.
Many dogs will benefit from being able to focus their energy on interactive dog toys. These toys let them use their problem-solving skills to solve food puzzles — instead of figuring out how to get into the garbage can. A puzzle toy filled with their favorite dog treats can promote mental stimulation in a safe, supervised way.
Think about the sense of pride and satisfaction you feel after you solve a challenge at work. Your dog gets a similar boost after they use their problem-solving skills to figure out a food puzzle and get a tasty treat as a reward.
Staying Full Throughout the Day
Eating too fast can not only cause dogs to vomit, choke, or in the worst cases, bloat, but it can also cause them to miss essential nutrients in their food. Plus, if a dog eats slowly or even throughout the day instead of once or twice, then they’ll feel full all day instead of craving their meals.
Slow feeder puzzle toys are an easy and enriching way to slow down your dog at mealtime.
Key Features To Look for in Dog Puzzle Toys that Dispense Treats
Now you know why dog enrichment toys are important for your dog’s physical and psychological health. But you can’t choose the right dog game or toy if you don’t know which features are right for your dog. So here are some factors to consider.
Size and Design
The design and size of an interactive dog toy go beyond simply the level of difficulty. The toy's design will determine how it makes your dog feel when they play with it. Whether you have a small dog or a giant breed, there’s a puzzle option out there to fit your dog’s preferences, needs, and motivations.
For example, there are toys like the simple but well-rounded classic Kong that can be filled with different types of food to match your dog's dietary needs.
Then there are more advanced toys like the Outward Hound Brick Puzzle, which is best suited for a dog that needs to be mentally stimulated. Soft snuffle mats can also be a great choice if your pup is into plush dog toys.
Some dogs may enjoy knocking their toys around, but the main way their toys break is from excessive chewing.
If a toy breaks while your dog is chewing it, then there is a chance they may swallow the broken pieces and choke. They can also be seriously injured as those pieces pass through their digestive system, or the pieces can get stuck and require emergency surgery to remove them.
Choosing which difficulty level is right for your dog can be complex.
To start, there are sub-categories of treat dispensing toys and chewers designed for flat-nosed dogs, dogs who like to be rough with their toys, and even injured or blind dogs.
Plus, many toys are designed to have parts removed or added to make them more difficult. Pay attention to how quickly your dog solves their puzzle toy. If they quickly figure it out, then you may need one with a higher difficulty level or one that you can make harder without buying a new toy altogether.
Easy to Clean
A mess is inevitable when you mix dog food, saliva, and treats like peanut butter. While your dog may not mind a little residue on their toys, it’s important to pay close attention because it can harbor germs that could potentially make your dog ill.
That’s why toys that are easy to clean (or dishwasher safe) should be a priority when choosing an interactive dog toy.
When you think of safe materials, you may think only of components that a dog can’t swallow or break apart. But it also means they’re non-toxic and safe to touch your dog's mouth and food.
You can start by looking for natural pet-safe materials like bamboo, cotton, wool, or rubber from rubber trees in your dog’s toys. Next, look for and avoid harmful chemicals like PVC and BPA, which are found in many low-quality dog toys.
Choosing the Right Treats for Your Dog Puzzle Toys
Would you want to solve a puzzle if the reward you received was a food you didn’t like? Of course not! That’s why choosing the right treats, in terms of preference and nutrition, to put inside your dog’s puzzle toy is essential for their long-term health and happiness.
Nutritional Value Over Novelty
Peanut butter is one of the most popular treats to put inside a Kong. However, if you only use peanut butter or another simple treat, then you’re missing out on a chance to take care of your dog’s unique nutritional needs. Plus, peanut butter is extremely high in calories, so it’s not the best option for regular treats.
Instead of filling a Kong with peanut butter, try pureed pumpkin for a digestive boost. Or you can add a need-specific nutritional supplement, like The Honest Kitchen’s Hip & Joint Chicken Stew.
Diversity for Mental Stimulation
Eating the same flavors, textures, and ingredients can make mealtime and snacks dull for a dog.
Mix up their treats so that they’re always mentally stimulated while eating. It can be as simple as freezing their favorite foods so they get the sensation of eating cold food and are forced to slow down, or you can mix up their main ingredients for unique flavors.
Need some mental stimulation yourself? Try building your dog’s favorite new game on your own!
Treat Longevity for Extended Play
Puzzle toys and chew toys like the Kong make it more challenging for a dog to eat, which has the obvious benefit of prolonged mental stimulation and slower eating.
You can extend that playtime further by choosing a hard, durable treat that lasts much longer than a wet treat like peanut butter. Or you can combine the two so your dog has to slow down to eat all the wet components before they get to the hard one.
Caloric Intake and Portion Control
It’s easy to combine food and treats into the same category. However, treats are called “treats” for a reason, and if you're constantly adding calories to your dog's diet, then they may gain unnecessary weight.
You can avoid weight gain by taking a part of your dog’s regular portion and putting that inside a puzzle toy instead of treats.
Overall, treats should account for 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake, at most. If you’re having trouble staying below that number, you can get creative with low-calorie treats. For example, you can freeze The Honest Kitchen’s Pour Over Dog Toppers into cubes that your dog can eat like a regular treat — without all the extra calories.
Special Dietary Recommendations
Finally, even though your dog can’t tell you their food or treats make them feel ill, the signs can show in their skin, digestion, and behavior. Common ingredients like dairy, gluten, soy, and even specific proteins could be allergens for your dog.
If your dog has digestive issues with regular food, then a high-fiber food or treat can help them digest their meals smoothly.
The Honest Kitchen’s Best Options for Dog Puzzle Toys
If you want to make sure your dog gets the maximum amount of nutrition and enrichment from their puzzle toys, then you should reward them with high-quality food and treats.
Fortunately, The Honest Kitchen has healthy, human grade treats and food for dogs of all tastes and needs.
Our Clusters Dry Dog Food
Putting a portion of your dog’s dry food inside a puzzle toy is a great way to engage them without adding extra calories to their daily intake. And The Honest Kitchen’s Clusters dry dog food options have more than enough variety to meet your pup’s tastes and unique nutritional needs.
Grain Free Dog Food
Avoiding grains in your dog kibble can be difficult, as it’s a common ingredient, but our Grain Free Chicken Clusters dog food helps you do just that. Plus, it’s made with human grade ingredients that your dog will love.
Whole Grain Dog Food
If your dog doesn’t have any grain sensitivities, then whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates for energy and overall wellness. Our Whole Grain Chicken Clusters dry dog food is a tasty (and healthy) alternative to puzzle game treats.
Sometimes texture is just as important as flavor, which is why treats like dry biscuits are a great choice for dogs (in moderation).
Treats packed with meat appeal to a dog’s natural tastes. Still, meaty treats need to balance out with a healthy diet, and The Honest Kitchen’s Bone Broth Bites do just that.
They offer strong meat flavors while remaining nutrient-rich, so you can confidently reward your dog, knowing they’re getting a healthy bite each time.
Treat Recipes to Try
It’s hard to beat a homemade meal, and dogs think so, too. So roll up your sleeves and check out The Honest Kitchen’s favorite DIY recipes.
Some of our favorite homemade treats can combine with other ingredients for an extremely nutritious snack — like our Bone Broth Pour Over Dog Treats. Or, if you want to give your dog plenty of vitamins and minerals, give our Cheesy Cranberry Dog Treats or Golden Milk Pumpkin and Cranberry Treats a try.
Smaller treats, like our Orange and Cranberry Dog Treats, are also great options for puzzle games since they easily fit inside the compartments. Last, our Hope Dog Treats are simple to make and perfect for puzzle toys.
Give Your Dog Extra Fun With The Honest Kitchen
Puzzle toys and chew toys are a great way to help your dog’s mind and body stay healthy, especially if you don’t have time to play with them whenever they want.
Of course, they’ll only be as healthy as what they eat. So when you find the perfect puzzle toy for your pup, combine it with healthy dog treats and food from The Honest Kitchen to keep your dog happy and healthy!
*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.