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Work out your dog's brain

Build Your Puzzle Toy Chest

Your firecracker dog needs mental stimulation every day.  Using the same puzzle toy is going to work for several days, but once your dog figures it out, he's not going to get the same brain exercise.  It's important to switch up the puzzles and not let your dog get used to anything.

Our store carries about 50 different puzzle toys for your dog, but most of us do not have the funds (or storage space) to go out and buy 50 different toys for our dogs.

This article is a how-to guide on building your puzzle toy chest most efficiently.  Be sure to also check out our information on free, do-it-yourself puzzles.

Puzzles have two main category uses - mealtime feeding puzzles and interactive puzzles to work your dog's mind while strenthening your bond.  You'll want to have some puzzles in both of these categories, but will probably want to start with and have more of the mealtime feeding puzzles.

Mealtime feeding puzzles

These are puzzle toys that you fill with your dog's food and give to him to work by himself while you supervise.  After a few supervised sessions with each puzzle toy, you will find which ones you can leave your dog home alone with and which ones you should continue lightly supervising.

The very first mealtime feeding puzzle we recommend is the Kong.  Most dogs can be left alone with the Kong.  You can start off by making it ridiculously easy, so that your dog doesn't get frustrated and give up, and work up to ridiculously difficult, requiring your dog to spend over an hour getting out the food.  Learn more about how to stuff Kongs.

After the Kong, there are lots of good options.  Look around in our store and check out the reviews and ratings for difficulty and toughness (how well it holds up to chewing).  Or make your own!

You'll want a balance of puzzle toys that can be unsupervised versus ones that need light supervision.

In the morning when you leave for work, leave your dog with a puzzle toy that doesn't need supervision for breakfast.  When you get home in the evening, feed your dog dinner with a puzzle toy that requires light supervision. 

Interactive Puzzles to work your dog's mind while strengthening your bond

For the most part, these are the Nina Ottosson brand puzzle toys we carry.  With these puzzle toys, you work with your dog on solving the puzzles, actively supervising.  They are usually very difficult and your dog is going to need guidance from you. 

Patience is key when using these puzzle toys.  Start small and work up.  It's ok if your dog doesn't get it right away.  Let his brain try to solve it, even it it takes awhile.  The longer the puzzle toy takes and the longer you can keep your dog engaged, the more tired he's going to get! 

Once he figures out a step, praise!

Once it starts getting easy, make it harder! 

If it's too difficult and he gets frustrated and gives up, you can give him a little encouragement and some hints.  Keep it positive!  This is about having fun together while working as a team on a challenge.

These puzzle toys usually have less room to store lots of food and are not ideal for mealtime feeding.  We recommend using really yummy treats, especially at the beginning, so that your dog is extra-motivated to work on them!

All of these puzzles come with instructions, plus we have instructions and videos on our website for each product.

Toughness and Difficulty Levels

In our store, we have a rating for the toughness - how well the toy holds up to most dog's chewing - and difficulty.  Every dog is different, so there's no one toy that is perfect for all (except, perhaps, the Kong).

You want the toy to be difficult for your dog and for a mealtime puzzle, you'll want one that takes at least 30 minutes to finish.  But if you get one that is too difficult, your dog may get frustrated and give up.

The toughness levels can help if you need more puzzle toys to keep your dog occupied when you can't be around to supervise.  The Kong is the toughest, but we do have a few options that are almost as tough.

Sample Plans

Assuming you have a real firecracker (and that's why you're here, right?), a good starting plan would be:

If your dog gets frustrated easily, you may want to adjust the difficulty level down a bit.  But both the Kibble Nibble and Magic Mushroom are good puzzle toys that work for multiple levels of dogs.

Then once you have built up enough variety in your mealtime puzzle toys, you can start to branch out to the Nina Ottosson interactive toys or puzzle toys that don't hold an entire meal, but can be a fun game in the middle of the day, like the IQ Treat Ball or Nina Ottosson Dog Maze.

There's nothing more we like to talk about than puzzle toys for dogs!  If you'd like to discuss options with us and get help finding the best puzzle toys for your dog, please contact us!

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