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My favorite interactive food toys and puzzles for dogs

Updated: Jul 6

Entertain your dog, prolong their mealtime enjoyment, help them relax and prevent mischief by serving their meals in toys they can enjoy licking or moving to release the food.

Part 3 in our series on interactive food toys

photograph of two Australian Shepherds rolling a toy that drops treats from a hole
Working a puzzle can be so satisfying in itself that some dogs don't mind a buddy following to share in the treats


 


It's fun to watch our dogs having fun!

Part 1 described tips for getting started with games and toys to fulfill your dog's instinctive desire to forage.

Part 2 presented some simple DIY approaches.

Now you'll learn about our favorite interactive food toys that are commercially available. There are many choices to offer a range of challenges for your dog and food delivery options for you.


Contents


 


Interactive toys that can dispense either wet or dry food


Kong: An enduring classic


Benefits of Kongs

Kongs provide a range of challenges:

Fill it with loose kibble for beginner dogs

Increase the challenge by moistening the kibble with something that makes it stick together, such as plain yogurt, cottage cheese, mashed sweet potato or wet food.

For the calorie conscious, mix in some mashed canned green beans or canned 100% pumpkin (NOT pie filling)

For maximum challenge, stuff it with food moistened as above and freeze it.

TIP: you never know when a frozen food toy will come in handy

Savvy dog owners stuff and freeze a week's worth at a time for maximum convenience.

Kongs come in styles and sizes optimized for different life stages and chewing strength

The puppy (pink or blue) and senior (purple) versions are a little softer – dogs that are less assertive chewers may find them more enjoyable.

TIP: Size up for safety!

Be sure your Kong is big enough that your dog won't choke on it, and so their tongue can fit into the hole. Replace your puppy's Kong as they grow.

If your dog can damage an Extreme Kong (black), try a larger size that they can’t fit behind their molars.


Additional benefits

Providing wet food in a Kong provides the soothing benefits of licking

You can smear peanut butter or soft cheese inside the lip for a quick distraction

Empty Kongs are fun for playing fetch or Find It games


Cautions

They are hard for short-muzzled dogs to empty

Dogs with low tolerance for frustration tend to leave the food at the narrow end and then you have to dig it out.

They have a chemical odor




Kong Wishbone - Good for a snack or brief distraction

You can fill the channel with soft food, or with large pellets.

TIP:

Stella and Chewy freeze dried meal mixer pellets fit beautifully.

Benefits of Wishbone

Good for dogs with low frustration tolerance.

Cautions

It won't keep your dog busy for as long as the more challenging toys.




West Paw Toppl and Tux - Great for dogs with short muzzles, and for dogs that just aren’t up for the challenge of a Kong.

photographs of Tux and Toppl toys
Each toy comes in a variety of sizes and colors

Benefits of Toppl and Tux

They come in variety of sizes to deliver the desired amount of food
Wide opening and shallow depth

Dogs with short muzzles can easily empty them.

It's easier for beginner dogs and dogs with low frustration tolerance to learn to use them.

There are vanes in the bottom of the Toppl to provide some challenge, but even my anxious, easily frutstrated dog is usually willing to clean it out.

Licking wet food out of them has a soothing effect

Odor-free
They double as toys

Cautions

The hole in the side is inconvenient if you want to fill it with something runny.

It is there for safety reasons, so a dog can't accidentally create a vacuum-lock on their face (do you remember sticking Solo cups onto your face as a kid?)

TIP: prevent a mess in your freezer

You can plug the safety hole with a chunk of solid food, and they now sell a cute plug for it.


Photograph of the stoppers for filling the hole in Toppls
Stoppers for Toppls



 




Bowls and trays to slow down eating


Photographs of the front and back sides of a Feaast Mat
The Feast Mat from West Paw

Benefits of the Feast Mat:

Designed to deliver a meal sized amount of food (unlike the LickiMats described below)

Easier to clean than other styles (fewer crevices that your dog might fail to clear out).

Repetitive licking is an intrinsically soothing activity

Licking can be helpful for relieving boredom

Cautions:

They require more supervision than a bowl

You have to be watchful and retrieve them as soon as your dog is done, so they don't get chewed up

Potentially a bother to clean

If your dog doesn't lick it very thoroughly, there is food jammed into numerous corners that can be a pain to scrub out, depending on the efficiency of your dishwasher.

TIP from West Paw:

If food accidentally dries in a mat, fill the mat with water, freeze it, and then pop out the ice. It is likely to bring the food residue along when the ice fragments pop out.




Photograph of three different slo-bowl designs
Slo bowls come in a variety of sizes and designs

My dogs eat most of their meals out of a slow bowl.

They come in a variety of sizes to accomodate dogs of all sizes.


Benefits of the Slo Bowl:

Easy to load and clean

Reasonably durable - I don't have to worry about the puppy chewing up the bowl after she finishes her meal if I get distracted while she's eating.

I feed wet (home-made) food; it takes my dogs several minutes to lick it all out...and then llick it some more to get every molecule of flavor.

Drawbacks:

I haven't found any



 


Products designed to promote repetitive licking


These come in a dazzling variety of styles - flexible, hard-backed, some have suction cups for helping make bathing or grooming easier


Photograph of three styles of LickiMat
LickiMats come in a variety of textures

My mats are square - I don't know why the website photos are shaped like this.


Benefits of the LickiMat:

They promote calm behavior

Repetitive licking is an intrinsically soothing activity

Licking can be helpful for relieving boredom and anxiety

They are useful for promoting cooperation with grooming and health care

The ones with suction cups can be stuck onto a bathtub wall or fridge to help distract your dog while you bathe or groom them

Several of my clients use a peanut butter-loaded LickiMat while brushing their dog or grinding toenails

They are portable. I took the stiff-backed one to the vet clinic and squeezed baby food onto it for my fearful dog to lick. We completed an exam, blood draw and vaccinations with no struggle and no restraint! And no baby food dripped on the floor. Thanks to some previous training and practice visits, her constant licking was sufficient to help her remain calm and cooperative.

TIPS:

Spread your treat and then freeze the loaded mat for longer licking time.

For use as a distraction, use the style with the biggest pockets. You want the food to be very easy for your dog to access.

Cautions

Supervision is important so your dog doesn't chew up the mat after they're done licking.

IMPORTANT!

Only use a LickiMat or other food distraction for grooming and health care if the procedure is not scary or painful.

If you pair food with a frightening or painful experience, you risk making your dog afraid when they see the food.

I'm happy to help teach your dog to overcome learned fears. We encourage you to contact us to help give your dog peace of mind.





Photograph of a loaded Pupsicle, a bag of treats, and a silicone freezer tray
Buy pre-made room temperature pops, or freeze your own custom recipes

We love the simplicity and versatility of Pupsicle. The lickable treat is inserted into a durable cage that you screw closed.

They offer three sizes and a wide variety of lickable inserts

You can use their silicone tray to freeze your own custom treats.

Benefits of Pupsicle:

Simple to use and requires less supervision than a lickable mat.

I like to freeze broth inserts for my older dog who needs her calories watched.

I can freeze a complete wet food insert for a growing puppy.

Cautions:

Be careful if you have a dog with beef allergies. As far as I can tell all of their flavors, even the "chicken" pops contain beef-derived ingredients (beef tallow and gelatin).

They aren't transparent on the website about the full ingredient lists, though I was able to find ingredient lists on their Amazon offerings.

TIP:

A client warned me that if you get peanut butter on the threads, it can get stuck in the closed position. She was able to free hers by numerous lengthy soaks in hot soapy water.




 


Interactive toys that dispense dry treats


Snuffle mats


dog eating treats from a snuffle mat
Molly enjoys a decompressing snack from her snuffle mat

You can find many vendors selling snuffle mats on Etsy - some of them are works of art.

You can find snuffle bowls that have a drawstring so you can easily load it and take it on the road.

Or you can make one yourself.

Benefits of snuffle mats:

Snuffle mats are a great soothing activity to help dogs decompress when you don't have a lawn available.

You can feed a whole meal or a sprinkle of treats.

Cautions:

They require close supervision with dogs who like to shred things.

Impatient dogs will pick it up and shake it.

TIPS:

Help these rowdy dogs develop more patience by making it very easy at first: sprinkle the food or treats right on top. Only tuck them deeper as your dog learns to enjoy the soothing beneftis of snuffling.

Teach your impatient dog to snuffle and search for the hidden treats by pointing some out.




Photograph of a Kong Wobbler
Kong Wobbler

A hard plastic toy that stands back up every time the dog knocks it over.

Benefits

Whacking it is a good outlet for assertive, energetic dogs.

It can keep a persistent dog occupied for quite a while.

Cautions

It can be a challenging toy for quieter, less assertive dogs.

TIP:

Fill it up to the hole until your dog learns how to work it. Then you can add a measured amount.





photograph of a Corgi rolling a Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble toy
The Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble drops treats out of a hole as the dog rolls it around

Another toy that encourages movement by dispensing food or treats as your dog rolls it around.

Benefits of the Busy Buddy

It encourages vigorous physical activity

The rubber bumpers make it less noisy than other rolling feeding toys

It's difficult to get a grip to chew on it.

TIP: prevent chewing damage

The Busy Buddy comes in two sizes. Get the size that's too big for your dog to get their jaws around it.

Cautions

Depending on the height of our furniture, you may spend a lot of time fishing it out from underneath places your dog can't reach. In that case it may be better to use it on the lawn.




Photograph of 3 different Nina Otteson puzzles for dogs
These are just 3 of the wide assortment of puzzles available

These are true puzzles that require some learning to enable proficient emptying.

They are ranked in levels of difficulty: from Level 1 for beginners to Level 5 for dogs who have learned to perform sequences of complex actions to open the treat-containing compartments.

My adolescent dog has learned the word "puzzle" and gets very excited when I ask, "Do you want to do a puzzle?"

Benefits of puzzles

Many dogs derive pleasure from solving puzzles to obtain good things. Giving them opportunities to solve puzzles you provide can keep them from pusuing the dismantling of your house to exercise their desire to overcome a challenge.

Working puzzles is a good way to tire out your dog when the weather is too hot or stormy for outdoor exercise.

TIP for tiny dogs:

If you have a very tiny dog, consider getting puzzles made for cats. I had a teacup Yorkie client who loved her cat puzzles and often would eat most or all of a meal in the course of working one.



Cautions

Close supervision is required for all of these puzzles with moveable parts. The puzzles are not designed to be chew-proof, and many have removable parts that you won't want to lose.



 

I hope you and your dog enjoy these opportunities to have fun and exercise their minds!

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