Our favorite games and toys to provide lasting mental enrichment from puppies to senior dogs
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘a tired dog is a happy dog.’ I would agree with that. However, that statement doesn’t quite represent the full picture. A mentally-stimulated, tired dog is a happy dog.
Physical exercise is great and very necessary for a dog but it’s really only half of the equation. Your dog, intelligent creature that he or she is, also needs mental exercise. And right now, with limited or no access to the usual high-energy options like the dog park, having some stimulating stay-at-home games is more important than ever.
Here are some of my favorite mental enrichment games and puzzles for our canine companions. Keep in mind that while I use the word ‘treat’ for these games. I recommend using a mixture of both your dog’s treats and his regular food.
Also, when my dogs aren’t playing with these toys they get put away. This makes them even more exciting when they come out again. These are the toys you keep in the closet or toybox to bring out for extra special fun occasions. Want more ideas? Check out our blog on DIY enrichment games.
- iFetch – This is one of Maggie’s favorite toys. For those of you with bigger dogs, the iFetch Too launches regular sized tennis balls for safe play.
- The Wobble Ball by Pet PLAY – The wobble ball is huge hit with both of my pups. With different size openings, I can decide how hard to make it – larger treats are harder to get out -and best of all, it comes apart so cleaning is a breeze. With code Maggierossi you can get 20% off your order!
- Nova Treat ball – The Nova Treat Ball is also from Pet Play. My dogs love balls but they love treats even more. They bounce, chase, chew and generally go crazy over the Nova ball. With code Maggierossi you can also get 20% off your order!).
- Snoop Treat ball – Similar but oh so different the Snoop is another absolute favorite in our house and among clients! Rossi gives these 2 paws up! I fill with different sized treats as well as some dinner and it keeps all the pup’s busy!
- Snuffle Mat – While you can make this yourself (check out our DIY post), I’m not that handy. I got mine on Amazon, similar to forging for grass, you can use your dogs dinner or some treats and let them sniff and search using their brains working for their dinner. Plus, it’s machine washable making clean up super easy for me. While this is the one I have, there are other options out there such as this one and this one. The biggest difference I see is the bottom, the one I have is a fabric bottom.
- Kong – I use Kong and West Paw (see below) a LOT and highly recommend them both. Smear some peanut butter, yogurt, goats milk, cheese, mix in some treats, their dinner, fruit and let your pup enjoy! To make it last longer try freezing it. But first be sure to buy the correct one, black kong’s for strong chewers, blue and pink for puppies and red for everything in between!
- West Paw ZogoFlex: Like the kong I love this one to stuff it, I use the size small to often freeze Rossi’s dinner and he has fun working for that. I also take a large Zugo Flex and the small one and they pop together, creating a fun toy to get treats out of. I find this is really durable and great for all dogs!
- Ballistic Hide n’ Treat by Kong – While this isn’t a super difficult treat toy, the pups love it. I would NOT give it to a strong chewer but for the small dog crew and puppies it’s a huge hit!
- Lock-It by Kong – This is probably our only treat toy that Rossi struggles with to get the out – which I love because it keeps him busy. Usually, he takes about 5 minutes to liberate all the treats from a toy but with this one, he has to keep working at it.
- The Kong Replay – I wasn’t sure if my dogs would like this one – they can be picky – but this has been a real winner. As your dog paws at the toy, it rolls forwards then backwards. I love this because it really keep them interested and motivated to keep on playing.
- Nina Ottosen puzzles by Outward Hound – Our favorite is the Brick Game. It’s a Level 2 in terms of difficulty but I recommend starting with this one rather than an easier Level 1 puzzle. This puzzle is very versatile and adjustable in complexity so it will occupy the mind and paws of a beginner as well as a canine puzzlemaster.
- iDig – Rossi loves to dig. I stuff it with is food, his toys, his blankets and even when he’s got it all out, he keeps on digging till he falls asleep. I think we both love this toy! See #1 for the current sale on the iDig from iFetch.
- Game Changer – Maggie and Rossi love this but each of them plays with it in a totally different way. That’s part of the appeal of the Game Changer – you can make it easier or more difficult for your dog as they flip, roll, throw and dig at the the toy to free treats from its holes. This is one of the stronger toys we have that’s holding up well with years of use. Pro tip: be sure to use treats or kibble small enough to fit through the holes or you will have a very frustrated pup. I break up their Ziwi into pieces and it works great!
- Varram – This is a newer ‘robot’ tech toy on the market. It swivels, it makes sounds, it shakes – all to get your dog’s attention and then it occasionally, unpredictably shoots out treats. Fantastic idea, except that Rossi can’t stop barking at it and hence we don’t use it. Maggie does seem to enjoy it on a quieter level but she doesn’t play with it much, she prefers to interact and bite her toys and Rossi is too busy yelling at his robot most of the time. While it’s not a fit for our household maybe it’s something your pet would enjoy.
|Snuffle Mat||I’ve used snuffle mats with all my clients and with Rossi. You can easily make one, for me this was easier. It’s machine washable too! I often put their dog food in the mat and the dogs have to work to find their food with their noses, this not only helps tire them out, use their minds, but helps dogs eat slowly to prevent bloat. Not to mention they love it.||$39.50|
|Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff||Super easy to fill and keeps the pups entertained for a long time! It's quiet which is something I personally enjoy while they chase it around the house.||$16.99|
|Stuff-A-Ball||Stuff with your pets favorite treats, a great way to keep them occupied and busy!||$14.99|
|WestPaw Zogoflex Toppl||Super durable and great for all ages. You can freeze your pups food in it, throw in a few treats and even snap the large and small together.||$21.95|
|KONG||We probably have 8 Kongs in our home. You can never have enough. It keeps our dogs busy, keeps them engaged, and tires them out. Also they love it so I love giving it to them. Sneak some peanut butter, cheese, or plain yogurt inside and mix it up with kibble or treats and your pups will be so happy! To make it last longer throw it in the freezer for a few hours.||$12.99|
|Bark Busters Game Changer||How to keep my pets busy for hours? Throw a few treats in here, they paw, dig, bark, throw it, roll on it and everything possible to get the treats out. Pro tip, make sure the treats are small enough to fit through the hole, otherwise you may get a very frustrated dog. Ziwi and Zukes treats fit great! You can use it with your kibble as well if it fits.|
|Nina Ottosson Dog Brick Puzzle Game||I love the puzzle games by Nina Ottosson, don’t waste your money on level one (I promise), Level 2 and 3 are perfect!! Both Rossi and Maggie love these games, they both have different methods of playing, just like us.||$14.32|
|iFetch Idig Digging Toy||Rossi’s favorite toy! Hide some treats OR toys and let your pet dig away. This is the first and only digging toy for dogs, instead of reprimanding them for an innate desire let them dig (in an appropriate place).||$79.99|