This article is about picking out a puzzle feeder toy for your dog
Puzzle feeder toy. What is it?
This is a contraption you load food into and then your dog needs to figure out how to extract the food out of the puzzle design.
A puzzle feeder toy is a very good way to keep your dog’s mind stimulated and healthy. If you search your local store or online, there are many products out there trying to cover this market. With so much variation in design, finding the right one can pose a challenge to pinpointing one that fits you and your dog.
When selecting a feeder device there are a numerous factors that one should consider. We will cover them here, but first let’s start off by describing the types of puzzle feeder toys.
Puzzle feeder toy types:
- Rolling dispenser
- Food stuffed inside a toy
- Stationary puzzle
Do note, there may be other categories or hybrids that are not listed.
Rolling dispenser are typically used with kibbles, but not limited to just kibbles. The dog will then roll it around on the floor. By doing so, the kibbles inside move around and by chance some will come out through a hole. The dog keeps rolling and eating until all the kibbles or treats tumble out.
Food stuffed inside a toy device is designed for you to stick some food inside and the dog needs to pull it out and/or lick it.
A Stationary puzzle is a plastic container or tray with things that require the dog to push/pull, slide, rotate, open/close lids or doors, etc.. in order to unlock/access the food inside.
Now let’s look at the factors that you should consider when shopping for a puzzle feeder toy.
Factors discussed include the following:
- Durability & Reliability
- Difficulty level for the dog
- Surface used on
- Release rate of food
Below we will go further in depth on these factors. Each section will being with a few key points and/or words.
- Small pieces that maybe ingested (doors, cup covers, etc..)
- Batteries that maybe ingested
- Watching your dog use the puzzle feeder toy
This is perhaps the most important factor. As you may be familiar with, some dog like to eat non-edible objects. If your dog is on the destructive side and may eat non-edible objects, then you need to consider a puzzle feeder toy that does not have pieces that the dog may consume. Feeder toys that contain batteries is a critical factor to consider, where consumption of such an item could pose serious health risks.
For dogs that are high risk of consuming any of the puzzle toy pieces, you may need to watch your dog all the time when deploying the feeder puzzle toy.
For any dog, the first few times you use the puzzle feeder toy, it is a good idea to watch them to catch any potential risks and behavior that are unforeseen.
2) Durability & Reliability
- Robustness against chewing
- Toy flung around by your dog
Some dogs are very destructive, and some puzzle toys are fragile, have poor material selection, and/or just plain flimsy in their design. Either one single factor or the combination of them may lead to a short life span of the puzzle feeder toy. Some dogs are destructive enough to rip apart even the toughest toy, which in this case you need to keep your expectation low if you try to find a feeder toy for the brute.
Designs that have doors or many moving parts including those involved in disassembly and reassembly may wear out soon that you’d like.
- Ease of disassembly/reassembly
- Ease of washing and drying
Despite a dog’s strong immune system, it is important to keep the puzzle feeder toy clean and free of any harmful bacteria and parasite growth. The reason is there may be some potential for new or unusual growth that the dog is not normally exposed to and becomes a health risk. Thus, the ability to take apart the feeder toy, wash it, and allow it to dry without trapped moisture is important. It appears there are numerous designs on the market that fail to address this factor effectively.
4) Difficulty level for dog
- How smart is your dog at puzzles?
- Too easy and it becomes boring
- Too hard and your dog may not be able to get to the food
- How does repetition change the difficulty level?
This factor can easily misjudged. Why? On the market there are numerous puzzle feeder toys and majority of them are too easy, even if the manufacturer considers them to be one of their relatively more challenging puzzle toys. When examining the puzzle feeder, trust your gut feeling, ask a clerk at the store, and/or go by online reviews first before purchase. Do not trust the manufacture’s rating on difficulty because that is based on some scale they came up with that may not be applicable to your situation and dog.
The level of difficulty should partially reflect on the minimal approximate time you have in mind for your dog to empty the food from puzzle. As an example, I typically aim for a feeder toy that keeps my dogs entertained for 15 mins or more. If the toy is not challenging enough, then the dog will complete the puzzle too quickly and may be bored with the weak challenge. If it’s too hard, the dog may not be able to extract the food or just partial amounts before giving up. This is especially no good if the food was budgeted as part of their meal.
Making your own puzzle feeder toy first can also help you understand what you dog is capable of before buying a puzzle toy.
5) Surface used on
- Smooth slippery surfaces vs surfaces with friction
- Example of smooth surface: Wood, Vinyl, tile flooring
- Example of non-smooth surface: Carpet
For some puzzles, the surface is a factor to consider. For feeder toys that roll or slide, the surface maybe too slippery and your dog will have a hard time getting the food to come out properly. Also, for smooth surfaces the toy may spend most of the time rolling against something or getting jammed against something, since the toy quickly rolls away from the open area.. Thus, the surface can impact the difficult, which may be desired or not.
The area you plan on deploying the puzzle is important too. For both toys that roll around and stationary toy that can still possibly slide, your dog may push the toy under some furniture piece and get it stuck.
For some stationary puzzle, a smooth surface may make it difficult for the dog to use the puzzle where pushing and pulling to open a food door may result in sliding the puzzle instead. Of course, in such a case, the toy may slide until it pushes against something, such as furniture or a wall to hold it in the place for the dog. You may also want to consider scratches that the toy may potentially cause on surfaces such as hardware flooring.
6) Release rate of food
- Some feeder toys can change the release rate by varying the hole size
- Release rate depends on the kibble size too
For rolling or shaker dispenser type puzzles, one variable you may be to adjust the flow that kibbles exit the toy. Some toys allow you to adjust a hole size that controls the food release. The other variable that you have control over is the kibble size or other food size that you select. Of course, if you feed your dog a specific brand or recipe, this may be more of a limiting factor.
- How much food can the puzzle hold?
- Some toys offer different sizes/food capacities
- For meals, is your goals to feed partial meal or full meal?
Some feeder toys come in different sizes for different capacities to better accommodate different size dogs or appetites, while others just offer one size. If a toy does not hold enough capacity for one full meal, one costly option is to buy more than one toy of the same type if that toy is the only one desired. In a more flexible situation with toy choice, one can buy different toys and use them at the same time. The other cost effective option is to refill the toy immediately after your dog empties it.
Thus, if you have a goal on how much you want the feed your dog through the feeder toy, you will need to look closely at the capacity specification.
Just like people, dog may get bored of the same thing all Some dogs may enjoy a different challenge than the same one. Having more than one puzzle food dispenser toy is a very good idea. Of course, having one is probably better than none.