12 Dog Toys That Will Keep Your Energetic Dog Mentally Busy
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Yep, that’s what I said, MENTALLY busy.
Those of you with calm, mellow, plug and play dogs are probably scrunching up your nose and tilting your head sideways saying “huh? What’s a mentally stimulating dog toy?”
Here’s the scoop: if you have a puppy, an anxious dog, an older dog that acts like a puppy, a barky dog, a reactive dog…you get the picture…there are times you can’t drain all their physical energy.
These dogs literally have this bottomless pit of energy they seem to be able to pull from (permanently caffeinated as we say in our house) and sometimes it’s just plain overwhelming.
Enter mental exercise. Mental exercise is when you keep a dog’s brain occupied and help to “tire” the brain out.
Kind of like giving the kids puzzle books when it’s raining and they are bouncing off the walls but you can’t send them outside to burn off energy. The point being to avoid scenarios such as this:
Other types of dogs helped by mentally stimulating dog toys are dogs with reactivity issues, fear issues, and overstimulation issues.
Having a toy that tires their mind out, and occupies their mind for a prolonged time period, can come in handy in a variety of scenarios.
Instead of giving you the typical “5 best mentally stimulating dog toys” you might find somewhere else, I’m going to list some highly rated mental dog toys grouped by type.
I think this is easier for people to look at because different dogs like different toys. As you look through each toy type you will have gut reactions of which you think would appeal to your dog.
Go with your gut – remember, you have the best feel for what your dog will like. I’ve spent too much money on toys with 5 star reviews thinking “it seems like mine wouldn’t like it but with so many 5 star reviews maybe he will!”
Nope. Should’ve listened to my gut; my dog had no interest.
CHECK OUT THE TOYS BELOW TO FIND THE PERFECT ACTIVITY TO KEEP YOUR PUP BUSY*
*Clicking these links won’t affect the price you pay, but it does help support our website so we can bring you more helpful information!
Stuffed/squeaky toys for dogs
This category is for the non-destructo dogs who can actually enjoy a squeaky toy without immediately performing a dissection to extract the squeaker.
My old dog used to love these, he would actually bring me the empty toy when it needed the animals stuffed back in! Here are 2 of my favorite:
Dog Dinner dispensing toys
This category is for actually feeding your dog his dinner. It makes mealtime a challenge for your dog, mentally stimulating him to keep working to get all the food out.
It also slows down how fast they eat, which some dogs need.
Bonus feature: this toy buys you time to work on making dinner for the humans in your house – score!
Put your dog’s dinner in the Our Pets IQ Treat Ball Interactive Food Dispensing Dog Toy and let them roll the ball around to get it out a few pieces at a time!
The Bob-A-Lot makes dinner time a challenge for your dog; just fille the toy with kibble and they will bop it around with their paw to get the food to drop out.
Food & Treat Hiding Toys for Dogs
These toys are great for the food motivated dog, and the stuffed toy shredded. I’m highlighting some of my favorites below.
The Kong Wobbler is like a miniature Bob-a-Lot.
You can put a handful of dog kibble in it and the dog moves it around the room,chasing it and pouncing on random pieces of kibble that fall out.
It comes in 2 sizes so make sure you order the one that will be best for your dog.
The snuffle mat may possibly be the best thing since sliced bread.
You bury dog treats or kibble deep in down in the mat yarn, and your dog has to sniff each one out and get it out of the mat.
Not only does this keep your dog busy, but the sniffing the dog does helps calm it down.
My daughter’s agility trainer has seen fabulous results using this mat in places like agility trials and pet training classes for dogs that get too amped up by the surrounding stimulation.
I’ve also used it for foster dogs to buy me time when I need to get something done or make their dinner.
Chewing (rubber) Toys
I separated these out because of their happiness potential for destructo-chewer-dogs.
This special class of dog owners single-handedly supports the dog toy industry for the rest of us through buying multitudes of toys (thinking, THIS one will last, I’m sure of it!) only to find said new toy in pieces within minutes of arrival.
My daughter got this to entertain her dog when she has to study for a long time.
You can fill it with treats, peanut butter, or even a bully stick! Her dog loves it, and reviewers say it is amazing. Available in 2 sizes.
This is similar to the standard Kong toy, but has a clever, more chewable shape.
Fill it with treats or some paste-like mixture (peanut butter, or our favorite – canned sweet potato and canned salmon mixed together to make a dog delicacy). Freeze it for even longer lasting stimulation for your dog. Available in 2 sizes.
Puzzle toys for dogs
This one is somewhat self-explanatory, but for those of you new to puzzle toys the gist is that you hide treats or kibble in and under things and your dog has to figure out what needs to be done to get to the treat.
They may have to lift something, slide something, or do some other maneuver for the treat to be exposed. The trial and error they use to figure it out is great mental stimulation.
Both of these puzzles have really clever ways of hiding the treat, and each one has a video you can watch to see how the dog gets to the treats.
I appreciate the video, it’s helpful in gauging if you think it would be a good toy for your dog.
This company has a number of really innovative mentally stimulating dog toys, some of them are going on my Holiday list!
Super cool automatic toys
If you are not on a strict budget with 2 kids in college like yours truly, these toys are so unbelievably cool!
I would just love to have them both to help keep my OCD fear reactive border collie mentally tired out, which would pay off in better behavior.
Also included is one toy that is not electronic (ie for the budget minded) but is self-rewarding (just has a manual mechanism).
The Puppod not only automatically dispenses treats when your dog does certain things, but it increases the difficulty as the dog gets smarter to keep the dog thinking and problem solving – how cool is THAT?
Watch the video on their website to see how it works.
The ifetch Interactive Fetch-N-Treat Pet Ball Play Toy Game your dog both mentally and physically entertained by throwing the ball for eternity.
Those of us with ball obsessed dogs appreciate the beauty of this – ‘nuff said. (Note: comes in 3 sizes which throw a small or normal sized tennis ball)
The Fetch-n-Treat is a great compromise if you can’t afford the automatic toys above. When the dog puts the ball into the hole at the top, it rolls out the bottom, triggering a lever that releases a few kibble treats.
Granted it does sometimes miss the treat release occasionally, but our is pretty spot on. The balls rolls out regardless and my dog is happy to keep putting it in until it starts spitting out treats again!
Are Mentally Stimulating Dog Toys Worth it?
Don’t underestimate the power of mental stimulation for your dogs.
More and more trainers are realizing the importance of this tool, and are encouraging clients to invest in mentally stimulating dog toys like those mentioned in this blog.
Trainers are also encouraging owners to give dogs time on their walks to sniff and mentally engage in the environment. Decompression walks for dogs pay off in increased calm behavior and greater ability to focus on training and counterconditioning.
If your dog likes mentally stimulating dog toys, they will also love enrichment activities for dogs. Read about these fun activities (some you can make yourself!) that provide cognitive enrichment for your dog, resulting in calmer and more balanced behavior.
Remember to switch up what interactive toys you use so your dog doesn’t get bored; if you rotate them the excitement and engagement will be much higher.
Still not sure about if an interactive dog toy is worth the expense? Read more endorsements of this kind of toy by England’s nationally known dog trainer Victoria Stilwell and in the highly respected Whole Dog Journal.
What toys have you found that entertain your dog? Post them in the comments section with a link if possible so we can all benefit from each other’s discoveries!