Interactive dog toys, also known as puzzle toys, can be lifesavers in many situations.

Have a dog with separation anxiety? Get a puzzle toy.

How about a dog chewing up everything in your house? Get a puzzle toy.

What about a dog who barks non-stop? You guessed it, a puzzle toy can help.

For those who aren’t sure what I mean by a puzzle or interactive dog toy, these toys are ones you can fill with treats or dog food and your dog has to problem solve to get the treats out of the toy. Kong toys are the most common and well-known example.

These brain game toys provide the dog with needed mental stimulation, which is just as important as physical stimulation, like walks.

Most people have heard that if your dog isn’t being walked enough, certain behavioral problems can arise, which is true. However there are dogs that will get bored of those walks or need something to keep them from getting bored around the house. The saying, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop”, comes to mind when I think about bored dogs sitting at home alone.

If you do not give your dog something to keep their mind busy, they will do it themselves. While our dogs are not seeking “revenge” when we leave them alone like some may think, their normal canine behavior can be quite troublesome for us humans. Puzzle toys are a great answer to these problems and I find myself suggesting them to clients left and right for a variety of problems.

So, how can you use these toys with your dog?

The first step is learning how to properly fill such a toy and knowing when to use it. Behaviors like chewing, continued barking, and destruction of household items can mean your dog is not mentally stimulated enough or experiencing anxiety. For dogs, the act of chewing can be a stress reliever, so we need to make sure we provide our dog with appropriate toys to chew on. Your puzzle toy can be used in this situation, as well as many other situations.

When filling your puzzle toy with treats, you should consider the situation you are using the toy in. If your dog has anxiety in their crate and you want to use the puzzle toy to help them enjoy their crate, you would fill it with the best, high value treats you could find, place it in the crate, and let your dog go in by themselves and enjoy their treats. Once they are done, you let them out and repeat this process a few times until your dog is checking the crate themselves for yummy treats.

I prefer to layer my bigger puzzle toys with a variety of treats by putting the best treats at the very end of the toy, so my dog has to work all the way to the end to get their favorites. However, there are situations that you could get away with using your dog kibble or lower value treats, like just general mental stimulation upkeep or when you are surfing the internet and just want some alone time.

Using the puzzle toys before the unwanted behavior starts can help prevent many troublesome incidents and misunderstandings between you and your dog. So, get out the puzzle toys and treat your little Einstein to mental challenge!

Lauren Parks, CPDT-KA

Lauren Parks is originally from Nashville, TN and currently lives in Jackson, MS with her Novice Trick Dog Australian Kelpie, Beretta and her retired agility Corgi mix, Booski. Lauren Parks is Mississippi’s only Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and trains using positive, humane methods. Lauren has been interested in dog training since childhood and has been training dogs for twelve years. She is the owner of Faithfully Yours Dog Training, a dog training business that serves the Jackson Metro area.