Wild dogs spend about half of each day foraging/scavenging for food. Domestic dogs, as pet parents know, have retained this urge. Handing meals over in a bowl reduces this primary activity to about 12 seconds per meal, leaving a lot of time left in the day for Fido to get bored or into trouble. Using food puzzles increases both mental and physical exertion for dogs, can slow down meal consumption, and can be helpful in decreasing nuisance behaviours. Many dogs relish the increased challenge, swelling their joy in the already pleasurable activity of eating. Puzzles are appropriate for most dogs, but any with geriatric complications, physical disabilities, or severe behavioural problems, particularly resource guarding, should clear use with a veterinarian and/or trainer first. In some of these specific instances feeding from puzzles may bring more harm than good.
Note regarding retailers: many of these products can be found in a myriad of stores. I list only locations that I am 100% confident carry the merchandise.
by Jolly Pets
Challenge level: Easy
The Monster Mouth is my go-to for fosters or young puppies – dogs who haven’t learned to master a Kong yet or who may have limited experience in extracting food from a toy. It’s a great learning toy to work up to more challenging units. Dispensing requires flipping the toy with a nose, which is a behaviour universally offered by dogs. This is best used with dry treats/kibble, as the toy’s teeth impede serious licking. Filling is easy; just squeeze the mouth open and pour in kibble. It cleans well in a dishwasher, provided the opening is faced to a water jet. The material is a medium-density rubber: not super hard but not especially pliable. It will be durable for all but power-chewers. The Monster Mouth comes in different sizes; the largest size will hold 3/4 cup of kibble. Monster Mouth is sold at No Bowdaries and The Barking Lot. (https://calgarycanine.com/no-boundaries-pet-world/)
Well-used Monster Mouth with many years of chew marks . . . this product endures over time.
Kong Genius Mike
Challenge level: Easy
The Mike is a standard dry-food dispenser. It can be combined with Kong’s Leo models for additional challenge. I love the shape for stuffing bully sticks, Whimzees, sweet potato strips or other long narrow chews into. Material is softer than original Kong rubber, but still seems durable. This toy does not open, so thorough cleaning is evasive. Mikes are widely available in most any pet store.
Hol-Ee Treat Ball
Challenge level: Easy
Dogs who love balls may enjoy the double spin of the Hol-Ee ball-within-a-ball. The soft, flexible rubber of the outer hexagon sphere is forgiving to walls and quiet on floors, though the hard plastic interior ball moves from side to side and generates some clacking. Dispensing is easy to trigger. Capacity is a half cup of kibble. Washing is tough, as the sole access cap is quite small. I do love that the toy is blue and yellow - the two colours that dogs can see!
Hol-Ee Treat Ball
Busy Buddy Twist n’ Treat
Challenge Level: Adjustable
The Twist n’ Treat can be used for dry or wet snacks. The toy is adjustable – close it tight for dry kibble or open it a bit more for tongue-washing sticky stuff. The two halves twist completely apart for easy cleaning and filling. Material is hard rubber – it is durable for all but power-chewers and it will not mar floors/walls when being batted about. Twist n’ Treats are offered in multiple sizes. The largest size holds a half cup of kibble. The Busy Buddy line is available at the Pet Gear Store. (https://calgarycanine.com/pet-gear-store/)
Twist n' Treat Adjusted for kibble dispensing
Adjusted for licking gooey treats Opens completely for easy filling & cleaning
Challenge Level: Moderate
Folks with a bit of patina may remember a childhood toy: a blow-up clown weighted on the bottom that dutifully popped back into standing position each and every time it was punched. That clown must have been the inspiration for the Wobbler. Just like the clown, the Wobbler is weighted on the bottom and pops back into standing position when batted with a paw. This is a vessel for dry materials only. The opening will allow only one or two pieces out at a time, making the Wobbler a terrific choice to slow down food guzzlers. It’s also a great toy to use when you want a meal to last a long time – i.e.: you’re off to work and you want pooch to be occupied for a while. Genius dogs will master the mechanics quickly and look bored while they half-heartedly swipe, but there are no short cuts with the Wobbler. The paw has to lift for dispensing. Challenge increases as the toy empties – food below the opening level is harder to get out. Parents of giant breeds love this dispenser because it can hold a whole meal. The large Wobbler has a capacity of 4 cups. Cleaning and filling is a cinch as the base unscrews. Material is very hard plastic - walls will dent with dogs who are enthusiastic and slam it against one. It is however unlikely to disintegrate unless a dog has a taste for hard plastic and some determination. Wobblers come in small and large sizes. They are easy to find in almost any pet store.
Kong Wobbler Opens completely for easy filling & cleaning
By Nina Ottosson
Challenge Level: Moderate
The Treat Maze is frisbee-sized and shaped, and requires nosing for dispensing. The moderate challenge comes from small dispensing holes, which means the toy has to be tossed for each dispense. You can see some scratch marks on our unit, but the materials are fairly durable. The Treat Maze is appropriate for dry food only. Thorough washing is not possible, as this puzzle does not disassemble. Filling is a bit tedious, as kibble has to be fed through the small dispensing openings. Nina Ottosson toys can be found at Tail Blazers Northmount Drive. A video of the Treat Maze in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsguChcw0Gk
Tricky Treat Ball
By Omega Paw
Challenge level: Advanced
The Tricky Treat Ball handles dry food on the inside, and has divots all around the ball that can be filled with soft food. Consistency of soft food needs to be thick, or you’ll have a mess all over your floors. No special skills are required for dispensing; all dogs will roll a ball. The advanced challenge of this toy is derived from skill at controlling speed. If the ball spins too quickly, centrifugal forces keep the kibble in. It must be rolled slowly to dispense. Dogs who can not master spin control can find this toy frustrating. Cleaning is likewise infuriating. There is only the dispensing hole to clean through, and the long food tube inside the ball makes emptying it of water a tedious task. The ball is available in small, medium and large sizes, and is widely sold in most pet shops.
Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom
Challenge level: Moderate – Advanced
The Magic Mushroom requires two tippings per treat, making this toy a great choice for dogs experienced with food puzzles. The first tip dispenses treats from the interior, and then another turn is required to release food from the mushroom cap. A fantastic feature is an adjustable window dial, for different sized kibble or to make dispensing more challenging. Filling is a breeze with a large removable stem. The top also twists completely off, making this toy easy to wash. Material is hard plastic: this is not a chew toy. My pooch loves his Mushroom, but I will warn that this dispenser is noisy on hard flooring. Magic Mushrooms are offered in small and medium sizes. Medium holds 2 cups of kibble. The Busy Buddy line is available at the Pet Gear Store. (https://calgarycanine.com/pet-gear-store/)
Magic Mushroom Stem twists open for easy filling & cleaning
Windows fully open for easy dispensing Windows have variable adjustments for more challenge
By Smart Animal Training Systems
Challenge level: Adjustable
Pet Tutor is the Cadillac of all food puzzles. This isn’t a toy to be tossed by your dog; dispensing is controlled by a person with a remote control or via a smart phone app. Alternatively, the machine can be programmed to dispense with various schedules. It can, for instance, dispense once every 30 seconds to REALLY slow down meal consumption. Pet Tutor comes with a bowl attachment for sitting on flat surfaces or a kennel mount. Pet Tutor has a ‘bark’ mode that dispenses only when your dog is quiet – a fantastic tool to change the behaviour of excessively noisy dogs. A mode is also incorporated for training in conjunction with the sound of a clicker. Pet Tutor shines most brightly for behaviour modification with separation anxiety, as the machine allows treating at a distance. Pet Tutor is superior to its ancestor dispensers like the Manners Minder because it uses fine rubber-spoked wheels instead of a turnstile. The wheels eliminate the startling sound of the turnstile, and they allow for different sizes and shapes of treats. Washing is easy as the unit disassembles and is top-rack safe in dishwashers. Price is reflective of the complexity of this tool, but if you have need, the investment is worthy. Uses are too many to list; a good overview of applications is provided on the company’s site: https://smartanimaltraining.com
Many of the commercial puzzles listed above are pricey. Options for increasing variety and stimulation without breaking the bank include:
Muffin Tins: disperse food in each of the muffin cups and top each with a tennis ball
Clean Socks: finally a use for singleton socks produced by the dryer! Socks are great for tucking a bully stick or raw bone into. Up the ante for genius dogs by tying the opening closed with a knot. Caution: not for sock-eaters! Yes, I’m talking to you, Labradors!
Plastic Bottles: water or washed soda bottles can be filled with kibble and tossed to the dog with cap removed. If they step on them and crush the bottle, dispense challenge increases. Supervise to ensure your dog is not inclined to inhale plastic bits if they chew the bottle.
PVC Pipe: Great for power-chewers. Use a 12” length for larger dogs. Drill a few holes into the sides for dispensing and add end caps, keeping one removable for washing & filling.
Cardboard Boxes: some pooches love to shred. If you can tolerate the mess, and are sure your dog will not eat cardboard, this can be a fun and easy puzzle. Increase challenge by nesting one box inside of another. Egg cartons are an easy option, as are cereal or cracker boxes. Corrugated cardboard increases shredding challenge.
Paper Towel/Toilet Tissue inserts: Like a cardboard box, these are fun but messy. Pour kibble inside the tube and seal ends with tape.
Towel: use an old, clean towel to wrap a bully stick or raw bone. Increase challenge by knotting it together. Or, simply chuck kibble on the floor and cover it with the towel.
Hide & Seek: hide each piece of kibble in a different spot around the house. My guy LOVES this game!