The best puzzle toys for dogs encourage your pet to use nosework, problem-solving, and foraging to access their food. Aside from being more mentally engaging, feeders slow down your pet’s eating and can make mealtimes more enjoyable.
Puzzle dog feeders come in a range of sizes, difficulties, and types. In this article, we’ve listed 10 of our favorites to help you choose the right option for your dog. To test these products, we also enlisted the help of IMDT-accredited dog trainer, Rebecca Morello, and her beautiful Cavapoo called Nutmeg. Let’s get straight to our top picks!
1. Kong Wobbler (Our Top Pick)VIEW PRICE
If you’re looking for a simple and durable food toy, the Kong Wobbler is our top recommendation.
It’s a simple toy that wobbles and rolls around the floor, occasionally releasing a treat or piece of kibble. While it’s not the most challenging toy, our tests found that it provides plenty of mental stimulation that most dogs love. We also think it’s great for dogs that have a habit of destroying their toys, due to the strong plastic design (although it still won’t withstand aggressive chewers.)
Filling the wobbler is easy, as you can unscrew the head rather than threading kibble via the exit hole. It’s also dishwasher-safe and made from a durable, food-grade polymer.
If we have one complaint about the Wobbler, it’s that you can’t adjust the size of the hole (and hence the difficulty). Even the smallest size Wobbler may also be too big for tiny dog breeds, such as chihuahuas, as it’s bigger than it looks in the promotional photos. For the price, it’s an excellent and almost chew-proof puzzle toy though.
“Nutmeg loves the Wobbler – it’s her favorite food toy, and she could throw it around for hours. Many of the shelter dogs I’ve worked with also enjoy it.
The only problem is that it’s quite heavy and bulky – even if you get the smallest size. I wouldn’t use it with a chihuahua or other tiny dog, nor an over-enthusiastic bigger dog who might throw it around and damage walls. Nervous dogs might also be put off by the self-righting design.
It’s pretty tough though, so it’s great for dogs that might chew. I’d definitely recommend it for medium or large breeds who are confident with toys.”
The Kong Wobbler may not be the most challenging toy, but it’s an affordable way to make mealtimes more interesting. It’s also a great choice for big and strong chewers.
2. PETBABA Slow Bowl (Our Favorite Puzzle Food Bowl)VIEW PRICE
The PETBABA is on the boundary between a true puzzle toy and a slow feeder. Your dog still needs to hunt around for treats, but it’s not as mentally stimulating as more advanced toys.
We’re still fans of this puzzle toy, though. During our tests, we found that the simple maze design does a good job of slowing down eating and forcing the dog to forage. It’s also made with food-grade silicone, so it’s soft and safe for your pet.
Additionally, we found that the PETBABA is one of the few puzzle bowls that’s great for breeds with flat faces. The spaces between the mini-walls are relatively wide and shallow, so it could be a good option for Pugs and French Bulldogs.
It’s not a chew-proof maze feeder though. If your pet is a chewer, the silicone won’t withstand their teeth for long!
“I’ve used this slow feeder with many dogs at the shelter – and it’s usually a hit. The silicone is easy for a strong chewer to rip up though, so I wouldn’t use it for destructive dogs.”
The PETBABA Slow Bowl is a slow feeder that stops your dog scoffing his food. The varying mini-wall heights force your pet to scavenge and use his brain – although it’s not as challenging as other puzzles on this list.
3. Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball (Our Favorite Puzzle Ball)VIEW PRICE
Treat or kibble dispensing balls are one of the best types of puzzle dog feeder – and the Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball is our top pick in this category. It’s a relatively cheap ball with a soft exterior and easy-to-refill design, so it’s great for dispensing kibble or small treats.
Unlike many puzzle balls, which are made with hard plastic, we like that the Omega Paw has a soft vinyl surface. This is easy to grip and much quieter for your dog to throw around, especially on hard floors (particularly in comparison to toys like the Kong Wobbler.) During our testing, we found that the first few bits of kibble are easy for the dog to get out, but it becomes progressively harder to get those last few bits.
Another advantage of the soft design is that your dog’s jaw can’t get caught in the opening. We’ve seen some distressing pictures of small dogs with trapped lower jaws, so this is a major concern with other puzzle balls.
The only downside of the soft design is that you can’t adjust the difficulty. We also found that you need to use relatively small bits of kibble, as even medium-size treats were too difficult for our test dogs to get out the single opening. Even so, we think the Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball is an excellent feeder puzzle that can provide hours of safe entertainment.
Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball provides all the advantages of a ball puzzle but without the hard exterior. This makes it safer, quieter and easier for your dog to grip.
4. PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat (Our Favorite Snuffle Mat)VIEW PRICE
The PAW5 Wooly is our top pick for a snuffle mat. It’s soft, easy to clean, and we found it to be suitable for almost any dog – including brachycephalic breeds with flat faces.
The PAW5 is designed with lots of small fabric tubes. Treats or kibble can be sprinkled inside the tubes, so the dog needs to sniff through the mat for his meal. This also makes it harder for your dog to eat too quickly while mimicking foraging conditions in the wild.
During our testing, we liked that the PAW5 is machine washable. This is important, as snuffle mats tend to smell after repeated use. We also found that it suits dogs of any size, age, and breed.
A drawback is that we found the fabric tubes are easy to rip off if your dog is a chewer. Most dogs are more interested in the food, but keep this in mind if your pet has a habit of destroying toys. Some dogs also work out they can just shake kibble out of snuffle mats, but that’s a problem with all products in this category, not just the PAW5.
Note: This snuffle mat also appears on our list of the best toys for blind dogs, as it’s a great tool for activating a visually impaired dog’s sense of smell.
“Snuffle mats are amazing for making meals more fun. We use them all the time at the shelter, as studies show that the act of seeking food is more satisfying for dogs than just eating from a bowl.
Activating a dog’s natural senses is also important for both a puppy’s development and keeping an older dog’s neural pathways active. Puzzle feeders can even help build confidence and independence!
I liked this mat a lot – and so did Nutmeg. Her tail was wagging the entire time she was searching, and when she’d found all the kibble she was desperate to keep looking for more.
If I had a complaint, it’s that the mat doesn’t include different types of pockets like some of the others I’ve used. I’m sure most dogs will love it though – and it feels well-made and built to last.”
The PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat is great for getting your dog to forage for his food. It has a soft design, is machine washable, and can provide plenty of mental stimulation using kibble or treats.
5. Northmate Green Interactive FeederVIEW PRICE
The Northmate Green Interactive Feeder is another excellent dog puzzle bowl. It’s not as difficult as a snuffle mat or puzzle ball, but we found that it slows down feeding and makes finding food more challenging than a regular bowl.
There’s only one size available, but during our tests we found that the “blades” should be suitable for any breed aside from the smallest dogs. It’s also dishwasher-safe, has a sticky bottom, and is suitable for both wet and dry foods, which makes it a versatile option.
We don’t think the Northmate Green is the best choice if you have a flat-faced breed though. The blades are taller than alternatives, so they are great for dogs with long snouts but tricky for those with a flatter face. If you have a Pug, Bulldog, or similar breed, we think the PETBABA Slow Bowl is a better choice.
The Green Interactive Feeder is a great puzzle toy for slowing down feeding and providing an extra challenge at meal-time. It’s not as mentally demanding as a ball or activity puzzle, but we found that it’s easy to use and clean.
6. StarMark Treat Dispensing Chew BallVIEW PRICE
During our tests, we really liked the StarMark treat dispensing ball – and our dogs enjoyed it too! We found that the ball is durable, easy to clean, and perfect for keeping dogs entertained.
One of the great things about this ball is the soft rubber design. As mentioned earlier in this article, we prefer soft puzzle balls as they are safer and quieter than harder alternatives. However, during our testing, we did find that anything other than small kibble became very tricky for dogs to access.
The plastic also doesn’t include vinyl, latex, or phthalates, which is important for your dog’s safety. A bonus is that the soft rubber is dishwasher safe, making it much easier to clean.
Keep in mind that this ball isn’t designed for strong or aggressive chewers. The internal hooks are breakable by a determined dog, which makes getting treats much easier. It’s certainly strong enough for the average dog’s play though.
The StarMark Chew Ball is a treat dispensing ball with a soft rubber exterior and dishwasher safe design. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap puzzle toy to keep your pet entertained, it’s hard to beat.
7. Trixie Flip BoardVIEW PRICE
If you’re looking for a toy that’s more challenging than the average ball or slow feeder, the Flip Board is one of our favorite options for small dogs. It’s an intermediate-level puzzle toy with a combination of flip lids, lift cones, and sliding disks, which we found provides a serious mental workout for dogs.
During our research, we loved how the Flip Board provides a variety of challenges in a single game. Once your pet has got the hang of simple puzzles, this is one of the best toys to stretch their inquisitive mind. We also found that you can increase the difficulty by only putting treats in a few compartments, so your pet needs to explore to find their rewards.
The only downside is that a clever dog may eventually learn how to access the compartments – but we think they’ll still have fun getting to this point. We also like that it’s dishwasher safe, has a non-slip rim, and is built with strong plastic.
We don’t think the Flip Board is the best option for meals though. The compartments are small, so you would need to refill it several times for a single meal. We also don’t recommend it for big dogs, as the smaller sliders and cones could be frustrating for breeds with larger paws and jaws.
The Trixie Flip Board is an intermediate dog puzzle that forces your dog to use his brain in several different ways. It’s great for small dogs, but will probably frustrate larger breeds.
8. Trixie Mad Scientist for DogsVIEW PRICE
If you’re looking for a more advanced option, then The Mad Scientist for Dogs is a unique and engaging puzzle feeder that we love. It’s a bit more expensive than the Flip Board, but during our testing, we found that it provides a real mental challenge for clever dogs.
There are three food compartments (or “test tubes”). Your dog needs to use his paw or nose to flip them over so treats or kibble fall out. We found that this can be a surprisingly difficult concept for many dogs, which is why Trixie recommends starting with the lids off to make it easier. Even so, we found this isn’t the best toy if your pet hasn’t solved easier puzzle feeders.
Once your dog has mastered the idea, you can add the holed lids to make it more challenging. Trixie supplies two lid sets with different size holes, so you can use the Mad Scientist with various types of treats or kibble. It also has non-slip feet and a sturdy design.
Keep in mind that the Mad Scientist isn’t as big as it looks in the promotional photo (see the photo with Nutmeg below for a more accurate representation – she weighs around 8kg), so we found big dogs may knock it over rather than spin the test tubes. We also found some small dogs find it difficult to hit the tubes with enough force. But for confident medium-size dogs it’s an interesting game that requires a lot of concentration.
“This is a really cool toy, but it takes practice for a dog to use it. Nutmeg is a clever dog, but she still hasn’t worked it out after a couple of sessions (I’m sure she’ll get there though). Be prepared to engage with your dog to make sure they don’t get frustrated, otherwise they might give up.
It’s definitely not a toy you can leave with your pet unsupervised either. If I’m using it with a shelter dog, I always sit with him and hold the base, otherwise it’s likely to fall over (especially with larger dogs).
If you need something more difficult than the average feeder toy, it’s one to try though.”
If you’re looking for a unique puzzler that’s more challenging than simple toys, we found that the Mad Scientist for Dogs is a great option. It’s best suited for medium-size breeds that have experience with puzzles though.
9. Nina Ottosson’s Lickin’ Layers Dog PuzzleVIEW PRICE
We’re big fans of the “Nina Ottosson” range of puzzle toys for dogs. They tend to be more expensive than other brands, but we’ve found most of the puzzles to be well-designed and provide long-term play opportunities. We also like that the range includes puzzles with a variety of difficulties, so there is something for every dog.
The Lickin’ Layers is a simple example suitable for dogs with intermediate puzzle toy experience. There are three layers, so the dog needs to spin the upper layers to access food on the lower layers. We found this makes it a great option for making meals more exciting without being too frustrating for the dog. It also acts as a fun slow feeder, which is helpful if your dog tends to eat their food too quickly.
Importantly, the plastic is BPA, phthalate, and PVC-free, so it’s safe for your dog. It’s also very simple to put together and we think it provides value for money.
We were disappointed to find out that the Lickin’ Layers is not dishwasher safe though, which is a shame considering other products in the Nina Ottosson range can be machine washed. Even so, we found it easy to hand clean using soap and water.
The Nina Ottosson’s Lickin’ Layers isn’t the most complex puzzle, but we found it’s a great option for making meals more mentally stimulating. If you want a puzzle feeder that will slow down your dog’s eating, this is certainly an option to consider.
10. SNiFFiz SmellyMattyVIEW PRICE
If you want a puzzle snuffle mat that’s more advanced than the PAW5 Wooly mat, the SNiFFIZ SmellyMatty is one of our top picks. It’s more expensive, but we love that it provides a variety of challenges to keep dogs entertained and mentally stimulated.
The basic mat is shaped like a flower, with longer petals surrounded by shorter green grass. There are hidden treat pockets behind the petals, plus we found the grass is great for scattering kibble. We also like that SNiFFIZ has included five “Tricky Feeder” games that can be attached to the edge of the mat, including a wallet, book, and puzzle board.
The combination of size and range of hiding places makes the SmellyMatty a brilliant way to keep your pet mentally stimulated at meal times. It also has an anti-slip bottom and machine-washable fabric design.
There aren’t many downsides to this mat. You get a lot for your money – especially with the five included puzzle toys. We also found that it’s well-made and should last a long time (although it’s not chew-proof). The biggest drawback is the price, but we think it’s worth the money.
The SmellyMatty is a relatively expensive snuffle mat, but we found that it has a brilliant design and includes five extra toys for mental stimulation. If you want a mat that can keep your pet busy for hours, this is the one to buy.
How We Chose and Tested Our Favorites
Our team has a huge amount of combined experience working with hundreds of dogs, so we’ve tested plenty of puzzle feeders over the years! We used a combination of this experience, buyer reviews, and product testing to narrow down a selection of our favorites.
Once selected, we then performed some tests with different dogs to see which puzzle feeders were a hit. We also wanted to include a variety of different types of puzzle feeders on this list. Varying your dog’s toys and puzzles is key to keeping them entertained and challenged.
Meal-times are a great time to provide extra mental enrichment, as most dogs are food-motivated and enjoy solving basic puzzles. Getting your dog to earn his food also mimics the wild, where they would need to forage, hunt, and scavenge for their dinner.
Keep in mind that you may need to try several puzzle feeders before finding one your pet enjoys. “Try to notice behaviors that come naturally to your dog, then match the feeder to these behaviors” says Morello. “For example, if your dog enjoys following scents and finding things with their nose, a snuffle mat would be a good option.”
She adds that it’s also essential to consider their prior experience with puzzle feeders, and to use high-value treats if your dog doesn’t seem interested in using the toy.
We hope this article has helped you choose the best dog puzzle toy. If you have any questions or comments, please use the comments form below.
Resources and References
- Reisen, J., “Play Some Brain Games With Your Dog!” American Kennel Club, 2017.
- Hubrecht, R. C., “A comparison of social and environmental enrichment methods for laboratory housed dogs” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 1993
- McGowan, T.S. Ragen, “Can you spare 15 min? The measurable positive impact of a 15-min petting session on shelter dog well-being” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2018
- Milgram, N.W., “Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study” Neurobiology of Aging, 2005
- German, A.J., “Dangerous trends in pet obesity” Small Animal Health 2018
- Stillwell, V., “Dog Enrichment” Positively, 2016