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Choosing the Right Puzzle for Your Animal

Choosing the Right Puzzle for Your Animal

IQ Puzzles, Treat Dispensers, Enrichment Toys... They go by a lot of names & there sure are a LOT to choose from. So how do you go about choosing the correct puzzle or treat dispenser for your pet? Toby & I (Owen) have had the opportunity to test tons of these and think we've got a pretty good understanding of how you should go about choosing your pet's next IQ toy. So here are a few steps for choosing the best puzzle or treat dispenser for your pet!
First... Do you want something that you can "set & forget"? By this we mean do you want a treat dispenser that your pet can use without you directly by their side. Something that will last a while and not take a lot of effort or monitoring from your end. *Please note that we do not recommend dog's be left unattended while using treat dispensers. All toys, especially treat dispensers, should be used under moderate supervision.* 
If this is the case, then the standard "puzzle" may not be the best solution for you and your pet. Puzzles, especially the harder ones, can get frustrating for certain dogs & when this happens there's a tendency to try and chew through the puzzle instead of solve it (Toby is amazing at this method of "solving" puzzles). Instead of using a puzzle as your "set and forget" method of entertaining your dog try utilizing a Lickimat to entertain your pet for longer periods of time. Lickimats can be filled with tons of different treats, checkout our post on what to put in a lickimat for more ideas.  They can be used for almost any animal & provide great boredom busting stimulation for your pet. Along with this, using treat dispensers like the Tricky Treat ball & the Tug a Jug are great toys that take little effort from your end to keep your pet happy. A few other great options for low effort treat dispensing toys for your pet include...
For dogs
For Cats & Smaller Animals
Now, if you're looking for a fun experience with your pet. Where mental stimulation and family bonding come together into one great activity.  Then a puzzle for your pet is definitely the right next step.  Puzzles, especially with an animal who's never done one, require direct attention from you while your pet uses it.  Treat the puzzle as a toy that is only taken out when you're ready to play with your pet.  This will bring an entirely new level of excitement to your animal as they start to recognize when you pull out their puzzles for play.  While watching your pet, if you notice them start to get frustrated with the puzzle show them how to solve the next step. If your pet starts to chew or bite at the puzzle, quickly uncover and recover one of the treats in front of them.  This will get them reengaged in the task of finding the treat with logic, rather than with force.  
Each puzzle is unique and requires a different set of motions & problem solving skills to figure out.  So picking the right one for your pet is important. When purchasing your pet's puzzle, be sure to think about their body size & shape to determine whether they can complete the puzzle. Typically I recommend going for a puzzle that primarily uses sliding pieces to solve.  This type of puzzle works well for any animal as they can use their paws or nose to move each slider. A few great beginner puzzles that primarily use sliders include...
Looking for something a bit more challenging for your pet? The Outward Hound Challenge Slider is by far our most popular puzzle.  I actually recommend this puzzle for pets starting out with puzzles too! The reason this is such a great puzzle is because it can be setup at multiple challenge levels.  If your pet is new to puzzles, try hiding treats really close to the start of the puzzle. Giving your pet the opportunity to learn how to solve the puzzle without numerous steps involved. Then as they start to get the hang of solving the puzzle, start moving the treats further and further from the starting point. This adds multiple steps to the puzzle before it's solved, creating a much more challenging solve. The versatility of this puzzle gives it way more flexibility in terms of being easy or hard. Versus some of the other slider puzzles which, once your pet solves them, tend to become too easy & repetitive.
Has your pet conquered sliding puzzles? Or maybe you want something with a few more actions to solve.  Either way, these next puzzles are fantastic for teasing your pet's brain and testing their problem solving skills.  We've labelled these puzzles as "Pull" puzzles.  Pull puzzles are ones that involve a drawer or unlocking mechanism that needs to be pulled with either your pet's paw or snout. Because of the nature of these puzzles, larger dogs may have a harder time with them. However it doesn't mean they won't be able to figure them out. 
The first pull puzzle I would recommend is the Dog Twister. The Dog Twister uses a standard slide method on top, which works great as a beginner puzzle.  But it also includes locks along the side of the puzzle, which lock up each of the sliders. Leaving each lock open will give your pet the chance to learn how to use the sliders. Then as your pet starts to figure out solving the puzzle, start locking some of the sliders in place.  This will add another step and challenge to the puzzle, which your pet will have to figure out before solving it. As your pet progressively gets better and better, lock more of the sliders to add more and more of a challenge.
The next pull puzzle is called the Dog Casino.  The Dog Casino relies heavily on the pulling drawers in order to solve the puzzle.  Starting off, you can hide your pet's treats inside the drawers and allow them to figure out the drawers open.  Once they've figure out how to open each drawer, you can add an extra level of difficulty to the puzzle.  By turning the bones on top of the puzzle, the drawers will become locked.  Now your pet will have to turn each bone on the top of the puzzle before they can access the drawers for their treats. This puzzle is a great intermediate puzzle that works well for small to medium sized dogs.  Unfortunately dogs around Toby's size (95 lbs) start to struggle opening the drawers, which can be frustrating or demotivating for them.
Finally, if your pet is ready for the most challenging puzzle in our collection you can try the Nina Ottosson Multi Puzzle.  The multi-puzzle combines several different challenges into one complicated and mind bending puzzle.  Featuring sliders around the outside, similar to the Challenge Slider. However it also contains small locking mechanisms that will lock up the sliders to create an even harder solve.  Then contained in the middle is a spinner that allows your pet to access one treat compartment at a time. Meaning they will need to open and close each treat compartment before getting to the next. This challenging puzzle can be quite versatile in how difficult you make it, meaning even an intermediate puzzle solver (or really smart pet) will be able to enjoy it. 
The key when choosing a puzzle for your pet is to seek out one with a bit of versatility, but that you're confident your pet will be able to figure out (eventually). Finding a puzzle that can be made harder as your pet learns is a great way to build their problem solving and logic skills.  Plus it's a fantastic way to bond with your pet as you encourage them and show them how to solve the puzzle. Just remember that you should not leave your pet alone with a puzzle, they are plastic and if a dog wants to they can definitely chew through it. Instead treat the time as a way to connect with your dog, while stimulating their mind at the same time.
Still have more questions about the puzzles? Stop by our store to check out each on in person and see how they all work. We're always happy to meet new animal lovers & will gladly answer any questions about our line of puzzle toys for you.