9 Dog Puzzle Toys That Improve Cognitive Development

Nothing gives a dog lover a greater sense of relief than discovering the ideal toy that keeps their pup mentally stimulated, engaged, and entertained. It’s like hiring an extra baby-sitter that you can keep in a drawer.

But, if you want to get the most mileage out of your doggie toys in terms of benefiting your dog, then you’ll want to search for puzzle toys. Some of the absolute best dog toys for smart dogs, puzzles will challenge your dogs mentally which will gradually improve their cognitive development.

Whether you want to use puzzle toys to make your dog smarter, or already have a canine-genius who likes to get into everything, these toys can help to keep them occupied. 

Research shows that the average dog has a cognitive structure similar to that of a human:

Some dogs can solve problems quickly and with high accuracy.

You can test a dog quickly (similar to how you can quickly test people).

Pups need mental stimulation as much as they need physical stimulation, which makes sense if you think about it. Most dog breeds were initially bred for specific tasks, such as hunting, retrieving, and pulling snow carts, all requiring a certain level of intelligence.

Even Stanley Coren, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, says our furry companions have a higher ability to solve complex problems and are much more intelligent than we previously thought.

The icing on the cake is that a little brain stimulation can help develop your furry friend’s intelligence. It doesn’t take much effort.

Toys include:

  • IQ balls
  • Puzzles
  • Snuffles mats

In addition to being great mental stimulants, puzzle toys for smart dogs are a great way to engage your pup in play and stop the boredom that could be detrimental.

1. Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Plush Dog Puzzle Toy

Hide A Squirrel Plush Dog toy puzzle

This is one ultra-cute plush puzzle toy that is not only soft and plush but also provides a fun hide-and-seek experience for a squirrel-obsessed canine—focusing on prey instincts.

It was designed around the idea of chasing squirrels outside. The toy is designed as a soft tree trunk stuffed with tiny, adorable squeaky squirrels, and at 17” high, this cute plush is one of our favorite dog puzzles for large breeds. Hide the little animals inside the oh-so-soft tree trunk, let your pup burrow in, and retrieve them. Check it out.

dog playing Hide A Squirrel Plush Dog toy puzzle
Source: amazon.com

It provides a great way to keep the dog engaged and work their cognitive abilities as they try to retrieve the little animals.

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In addition, hiding treats inside makes the game fun and keeps the pup focused and motivated.

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5-star review from a satisfied customer

2. Hide-And-Slide Dog Puzzle Toy

dog Hide N' Slide Interactive Treat puzzle dog toy

Interactive toys for smart dogs need to present some level of difficulty, since these pups can figure out the secret to even the most difficult puzzle toys for dogs in just minutes. This puzzle helps engage your dog’s mind and activates their dormant problem-solving skills.

With compartments to hide treats, your dog must actively maneuver four different tasks before unlocking the snacks inside.

Made by a Swedish dog puzzle toy company, Nina Ottosson, the toy has different difficulty levels that you can adjust accordingly to increase the challenge—making it perfect for both mental stimulation and the dog’s entertainment.

dog playing with Hide N' Slide Interactive Treat puzzle
Source: amazon.com

3. Starmark Bob-A-Lot Treat Dispenser

Starmark Treat Dispensing Bob-a-Lot dog toy
Source: Amazon

Do you remember those fun blow-up bop bags you punched when growing up? This dog’s bob-a-lot treat dispenser is similar. It’s a puzzle toy that can be filled with treats for your pooch to retrieve.

Use this toy as entertainment or as a way to control your dog’s eating habits—especially if your dog tends to “inhale” their food without chewing properly.

The toy’s other benefits include:

  • It’s adjustable to match your dog’s cognitive level—it can be easier or more complex, depending on how intelligent your dog is.
  • It has dual treat chambers that are easy to fill and easy to clean.

Durable puzzle toys for dogs like this one are also a nice option for big dogs, since they are specifically designed to be knocked around, and won’t crack or break after your Lab or Pitbull gets ahold of them. 

Here is what a happy customer had to say:

5-star review from a satisfied customer
Source: chewy.com

4. Dog Snuffle Mats

dog playing on a Dog Snuffle Mat

This rug might look like a piece of art made  by a small child, but it is a lot more than that.

It’s a puzzle toy meant to hone your dog’s power of:

  • Smell
  • Concentration
  • Dexterity.

The mat has various flaps, compartments, and layers to hide kibble treats and let the pup follow their sense of smell to retrieve the treats.

The mat is soft but sturdy enough to allow your dog to grab and bite without causing damage to its teeth or the rug. In addition, it’s versatile and portable, so you can take it with you when you’re traveling. Check it out.

Snuffle mats are also a fun puzzle toy for dogs to DIY, since you can create your own one-of-a-kind puzzle for your dog using an older shirt, towels, pieces of cloth, scarves, or any other fabric you have laying around. We like the option of making homemade dog toys for smart dogs since they can easily get bored of using the same toy over and over again, and crave new challenges and tasks all the time. 

5. Trixie Flower Tower Activity Strategy Game Dog Toy

Trixie Flower Tower Activity Strategy Game dog toy

One of the best toys for smart dogs, this puzzle offers both excellent mental and physical stimulation for your dog. It has a tower with four spinning levels, each with slots, sliders, compartments, and cones to hide treats. Difficult to memorize, this is a top-tier option for any doggy geniuses out there. 

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5 star review from a satisfied customer

As the review from this satisfied customer suggests, each level requires different tricks and techniques to find hidden treats. The toy itself is also pretty heavy-duty and durable, making it one of our favorite dog treat puzzles for large dogs. 

Due to the need for a combination of different skills, the toy requires a higher level of intelligence to play. It’s, therefore, best suited for dogs that are already past the beginner-level puzzle games.

6. My Intelligent Dogs Sudoku Advanced Wooden Dog Toy

wooden Dog' SUDOKU toy

Speaking of puzzles, here is a fun dog puzzle based on the same idea as your favorite sudoku. It encourages your dog to use its sense of smell and intelligently move the squares into the correct position to unlock a treat.

The toy has tiles with holes at the top where you can hide treats, and the pooch has to sniff and figure out a way to retrieve the treats. It comes in various sizes and is a fun challenge for dogs already experienced with puzzle toys.

dog playing her Dog Sudoku Expert

7. Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball

Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball

This game is simple by design but dogs love it. Fill the ball up with treats and as your dog pushes it along the floor with their nose, the ball dispenses tiny treats which the dog can then snack on. The ball is available in two sizes.

8. Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Worker Composite Puzzle

dog playing with Outward Hound Dog Worker puzzle dog toy

Here is another puzzle toy that requires an advanced level of intelligence. Although it also has compartments and blocks to hide treats, the technique is a lot more complex.

You have to close the flippers and slide the blocks to conceal the treats, and your pooch has to navigate the same flippers and slides to retrieve them—you might need to guide him a few times.

top-rated infographic of an Outward Hound Worker Composite Puzzle

9.  Level 4 Interactive Puzzle Game Dog Toy

Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound - Interactive Puzzle dog toy

This puzzle game is perfect for a dog with advanced puzzle-solving skills—it takes hide-and-seek skills to a whole new level.

The game has an inner wheel that dispenses treats, and a win depends on how the treat covers are positioned to reveal the goodies. Therefore, high-level cognitive skills are required to play successfully.

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The game is perfect for dogs with advanced puzzle-solving skills.

Let’s quickly go over the products we discussed again:

Dog Puzzle ToyWhy It’s Great
Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Plush Toy

Hide A Squirrel Plush Dog toy puzzle

  • Soft and plush
  • Very engaging
  • Improves cognitive abilities
Hide-And-Slide Puzzle

Hide N' Slide Interactive Treat puzzle dog toy

  • Improves dormant problem-solving skills
  • Engaging and entertaining
Starmark Bob-A-Lot Treat Dispenser
Starmark Treat Dispensing Bob-a-Lot dog toy
  • Entertaining
  • Improves cognitive abilities
  • Helps regulate a dog’s eating speed
Dog Snuffle Mats

dog playing on a Dog Snuffle Mat

Helps train a dog’s power of

  • Smell
  • Concentration
  • Dexterity
Trixie Flower Tower Activity Strategy Game Dog Toy

Trixie Flower Tower Activity Strategy Game dog toy

  • Helps keep a dog mentally and physically stimulated
My Intelligent Dogs Sudoku Advanced Wooden Dog Toy

wooden dog's SUDOKU toy

  • Trains a dog’s power of smell and concentration
  • Helps improve cognitive abilities
Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball
dog puzzle dog treat ball
  • Helps sharpen a dog’s problem-solving skills, curiosity, and determination
  • Improves cognitive abilities
Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Worker Composite Puzzle
dog playing an Outward Hound Dog Worker puzzle dog toy
  • Improves cognitive abilities
  • Engaging and entertaining
Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Level 4 Interactive Puzzle Game Dog Toy
Outward Hound - Interactive Puzzle dog toy
  • Helps keep a dog mentally and physically stimulated
  • Improves cognitive abilities

Best Dog Puzzle Toys For Large Dogs

Our recommendations for the best dog puzzles for big dogs include Outward Hound’s Hide-A-Squirrel Plush, Startmark’s Bob-A-Lot Treat Dispenser, and Trixie’s Flower Tower! All made from durable material that won’t chip or shatter, these dog puzzles can handle even a mastiff’s eager play!

Homemade Dog Toys For Smart Dogs

If your dog goes through puzzle toys too quickly or ever gets bored of the things you buy them, try making DIY dog puzzles!

The easiest DIY dog puzzle to make is a DIY snuffle mat or snuffle knot. The easy version, good for dogs that are new to puzzles, is to crumple up a towel on the floor in a pile, then hide treats in the folds for your pup to find. The slightly more advanced version involves knotting the towel or folding it together to create tighter nooks and crannies where you can hide the treats.

Canines Need Fun, Too

Do you quickly get bored if you are not physically or mentally engaged? Well, so is your dog. However, choosing a toy that is suitable for your dog is not as easy as it sounds.

Thankfully, there are many fun puzzle toys available today to keep your dog both physically and mentally stimulated—more than a ball or frisbee for your dog to be rival with your kids. Games and toys that can easily mold your pup from a simple pooch into a furry Einstein.

cute dog in glasses reading a book
Source: tenor.com

In addition, they help with general training of your dog’s obedience, self-control, discipline, and diet management.

I always advocate good toys for all pets. But sometimes good pet toys are too expensive, or they are just not in your budget, especially for many goodwill pet shelters around the world.

That is why I do my best to help when I can. For example, here is a video of us having fun shopping for and distributing pet toys in Maui.

When I saw the Maui Humane Toy Shopping Cart handing out toys to the dogs and learned that they were getting low on toys, I knew I had to do something. Every little bit helps and if you want to find out more ways that you too can enrich the lives of animals in need, then you can visit my YouTube Channel to watch more of my videos.