Interactive Mental Stimulation Toys for Dogs – Puzzles for Pups!

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interactive dog toys - puzzles for pups

I’m no stranger to getting creative about helping my dogs expend energy.

For the last 12 years, I have shared my home with two insanely active herding pups. Interactive dog toys have been a lifesaver! Why? There are many things that I have learned—like, you can’t pretend to hide a tennis ball behind the couch cushion. They were watching. They know. 

Never show them two treats and only give them one. They were counting. They know. And never assume that there’s a magical amount of exercise to get them tired and keep them happy. It’s not that simple... 

Why Dogs Need Mentally Stimulating Toys

Of course, exercise is important. You should and must exercise your dog. If I had avoided exercise with my two, I’d have track marks in the walls from where they climbed them as youngsters! But over-exercising can actually have the opposite effect of calming and tiring out a dog. More exercise, in humans or dogs, means increased physical fitness, and, ultimately, the need for even MORE exercise. It’s easier than you think to create a super-powered athlete who will never again let you miss a walk.

In addition to a reasonable amount of exercise, you need to also train your dog’s brain to relax and find a more constructive activity to do. Enter, mental stimulation toys for dogs. With my own experience, teaching five puppy classes a week for the past 20 years and a weakness for shopping on Amazon, I’ve become quite the interactive dog toy aficionado. I’ve tried just about every mental stimulation toy for dogs imaginable, and I’ve learned some tricks along the way for finding the best mental stimulation toys for dogs based on their personality.


Mental Stimulation Toys for The Power Chewer Pup

He needs to constantly have something in his mouth (I’m looking at you, golden retrievers!). He likes to greet you after a long day at work with what I call “the offering”—this can be a toy, a sock, a pillow, even a wooden spoon. He just loves you so much and wants to bring you the first thing that fits in his mouth. If he doesn’t get the appropriate training, even couch cushions and chair legs might fall prey.

dog puzzles



  • Himalayan Chews
  • Cow Hooves
  • Jumbo-sized Bully Sticks
  • Frozen Marrow Bones - Never cook the bone. This will make it brittle and apt to splinter. Stick to the larger beef bones and avoid giving this messy treat on a carpeted area.

When selecting edible interactive dog toys for mental stimulation, err on the side of things that are edible, and buy chews at least one size larger than the package recommends to avoid foreign body surgery if it goes down the hatch.

Interactive Toys for the Distressed Doggo

He’s a ball of nervous energy. He might get anxious when left alone or doesn’t know what to do when visitors come over. He copes with his stress by bottling it up and suffering silently, becoming hyper-focused on something he can control, or going on the offensive by growling at something that intimidates him in hopes of getting some space. He needs an outlet, and simple mental stimulation puzzles for dogs help keep his brain busy without adding more stress.



  • Petsafe Manners Minder. This interactive dog toy provides movement and a sense of place help a nervous dog move away from a stressful stimulus, like a person they would like to avoid.
  • Snuffle Mat. This is an easy DIY to have your dog work for his meals. Using fabric swatches of various lengths, it encourages your dog to work for his food while staying in one place (traditional food puzzles roll around). Buy one on Etsy or try your paw at making your own interactive dog toy.
the brainiac dog toy

Puzzle Toys for the Brainiac

Get a border collie they said.  Having a smart dog will be great they said. But if you don’t find a way to work that brain, your dog will. And let me tell you, his idea of fun very rarely matches up with your idea of a good time. These dogs can go straight into the college level puzzling. Look for the mental stimulation toys that ask your dog to make correct decisions in order to uncover treats or toys; or puzzle toys with various chambers which can keep him busy for a good long while.

dog toys, puzzles


  • Buster Cube
  • Tug-a-Jug
  • CleverPet's Video Game System promises an interactive experience for your dog that can change games to alleviate boredom, advance the levels as your dog becomes more proficient in using it, and offers an app that lets you know your dog’s preferences and activity. At $250+/system, it comes with a hefty price tag, but teaching your dog to work smarter instead of harder is worth it.

Enrichment Toys for the Baby Dog

The baby dog is going to explore every inch of this wonderful new world with his mouth, and dog toys for mental exercise can be a great way to provide them with something safe to chew on. Whether it's your hand, your pant leg, the edge of the carpet, or an actual dog toy, baby dogs seem to be equal-opportunity chewers. Puppy chewing usually subsides by the time they lose their baby teeth, around 6-8 months. But after the initial excitement of your new bundle of joy wears off, you’ll have questions about whether that rescue organization gave you the beagle mix that you applied for, or if they actually switched that darling puppy out for a baby honey badger.


  • You can’t go wrong with the classic interactive dog toy! Kongs are the king of puzzle toys. Just stuff with food, and snacks and allow your puppy to work for their food and provide mental stimulation while doing so! Click here for some awesome Kong recipes.
  • This easy DIY option calls for filling an ice cube tray or Dixie cup with kibble, treats, and water (as if you were making ice cubes). Freeze them until they are solid, and let your pup go to town! Not only will it take more time for your puppy to eat a pupsicle than it will to eat breakfast out of their bowl, but the cold ice will also soothe your puppy’s sensitive gums.  That’s a win/win!
leisure dog toy

Mentally Stimulating Toys for the Leisurely Pup

For the leisurely pup who may not be able to handle physical activity at the moment, or who is aging and needs some brain exercise, or who is recovering from surgery or an illness and is on crate rest, mental stimulation toys can be a great way to provide some brain-boosting benefits without empty calories.


  • Foraging Box. This DIY interactive dog toy has some brain-boosting benefits without empty calories. This will help him physically unwrap his breakfast and snacks.
  • Snuffle Mats (under Distressed Doggo). Also great for dogs with limited mobility!


It's important to remember that dogs have four legs and a brain which all need to be exercised equally. Find the best mental stimulation toys for your dog that fit their needs and personality, and get to work!

Article By Nicole Skeehan

1 comment

  • Thanks for your informative and awesome article. Keep it up. We should never forget to investigate if there any items that cause sensitivity, or any allergic condition for our dog. Better we consult it with the vet, then make a decision.


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