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Nina Ottosson Talks How to Provide Mental Stimulation for Dogs (and Cats!)

Sometimes we forget that our dogs need mental exercise as much as they need their physical exercise and walkies each day. What can we do as pet owners to provide mental stimulation for dogs? That’s where Nina Ottosson dog puzzles come in.

Nina Ottosson’s philosophy is that dogs and cats have four legs and one head, and all five need exercise in different ways daily, both physically and mentally. Some require more than others, but everyone needs it.

All dogs and cats regardless of size, breed, or age (you can teach an old dog new tricks!) can play with our brain games. We have four different difficulty levels, so there is a suitable interactive game level for everyone.

The motivation to solve them is what you put in the games. Some dogs and cats are very food-motivated and can eat their regular meals in the puzzle games, while some are pickier and like something extra tasty to work for.

Puzzle toys are mentally challenging. It’s fun problem-solving rewarded with treats! Puzzle-solving exercises your pet’s mind and body, which prevents and reduces boredom and destructive behavior.

Mental Stimulation for Dogs & Other Pets: Categories

Three dogs sitting in front of Outward Hound Dog Puzzles mental stimulation for dogs

These are the following categories of dogs and other pets I’m going to cover. If you are unsure which puzzle to choose, I can recommend 5 suitable games, depending on which category your dog or cat belongs to.

Click on one of the links below to jump to a specific category.

I will also go over which games are suitable for cats and other pets. Birds, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, pigs, and pet rats can benefit from enrichment games, too!

Interactive Dog Toy Levels Explained

interactive dog toys for mental stimuation for dogs

Wondering which difficulty level to choose for your doggy? Mental stimulation for dogs isn’t all that different from human learning.

Think about crossword puzzles for us humans. We need to start easier to understand the concept, and step by step advance to more difficult versions. If we start too difficult, we will be frustrated and give up.

A dog who doesn’t understand how a puzzle works can by instinct start chewing their way into the treats instead of working for them. This is completely normal for a dog if we don’t teach them the playing rules and how the puzzle works.

Dog owners should choose a dog toy at a level for their dog’s mind where they can teach them how it’s done in order to help them succeed.

  • Easy – Level 1:  Suits beginners, puppies, and dogs who have never played before, and if you are unsure if your dog likes puzzle solving for treats. Perfect as slow feeders for dogs too.
  • Medium – Level 2: Suits all kinds of dogs, in all sizes and ages.
  • Advanced – Level 3: When your dog has mastered level 2 puzzles, you can move up to a more advanced, challenging level 3 puzzle.
  • Expert – Level 4: When your dog has mastered level 3 puzzles, you can move up to the expert level. Congratulations and good luck!

Note: These are just general suggestions to help you get started, and they are suitable for most pets in these categories. However, all pets are different, and there are of course other games that are a good fit as well.

Interactive Toys for Mental Stimulation by Pet Type

a dog and a cat. pet microchip cost

Puppies

For puppies, I recommend games that do not have loose parts or large parts. Puppies do not know the rules of the game, so you’ll have to show them how the game works. Play together!

When you play and have fun, you can at the same time get some dog training in with the usual commands such as, sit, wait, go ahead, which puppies learn very quickly during positive learning.

Puppy Smart – Level 1

best dog puzzles puppy smart

Nina’s Tip: Tie strings in the white blocks to make it easier for your pooch to lift them up.

Wobble Bowl – Level 1

wobble bowl and dog

The Wobble Bowl is perfect for puppies as it has no removable parts. It’s a slow feeder and a puzzle, so you can use it for treats or dry kibble at mealtime.

Nina’s Tip: Make it more difficult by placing scotch tape over a couple of the openings so it takes longer for the food and treats to come out.

Treat Tumble – Level 1

dog playing with treat dispensing ball toy

Just like the Wobble Bowl, the Treat Tumble is a treat dispensing toy that can also be used as a slow feeder.

Nina’s Tip: Adding a piece of paper in the Treat Tumble makes it harder to get the treats out. You can remove the paper by filling the Treat Tumble with water and pour it out.

Puppy Tornado – Level 2

puppy tornado dog toy

Without the locking white blocks, it’s an easier game. Adding the white locking blocks makes it more difficult.

Nina’s Tip: Tie strings in the white blocks to make them easier to lift up. Teach your puppy that the white blocks are not interesting, it’s what is underneath them that is interesting.

Puppy Hide´N Slide – Level 2

puppy hide n slide mental stimulation for dogs

This brain game has no removable parts so it’s safer for curious puppies who like to put things in their mouths.

Nina’s Tip: For an easier game place treats in all base compartments, and cover with cups or flaps. To make it more difficult, place treats INSIDE the sliding cups through the top holes. The dog should push the cups until the treat falls out in a base compartment.

Small dogs

All small dogs can handle all games regardless of size. It’s usually us humans who set the limits for them, but the following games will be the easiest for them to handle.

Dog Treat Maze – Level 2

dog and treat maze interactive dog toy

Fill with dry kibble/food or treats in the center hole on both sides.

Nina’s Tip: Make it easier by placing some treats in the outgoing holes for an immediate reward.

Dog Hide N Slide – Level 2

hide n slide mental stimulation for dogs

This game has no removable parts so pieces can’t cause obstruction in smaller dogs. Not only do dogs have to push the cups until the treat falls out in a base compartment, but they also have to push the cup back to reveal the treat. So it’s the back and forth motion that makes it a little tricky.

Nina’s Tip: For an easier game place treats in all base compartments, and cover with cups or flaps. To make it more difficult, place treats INSIDE the sliding cups through the top holes. The dog should push the cups until the treat falls out in a base compartment.

Dog Brick – Level 2

dog brick puzzle game

For an easier game, remove the white blocks and hide treats only under the sliding bricks.

Nina’s Tip: To increase the challenge, hide treats under the sliding bricks, the white blocks, and inside the open/close flip lids.

Challenge Slider – Level 3

challenge slider interactive dog game

The Challenge Slider is an easy-filling tray that you can make more challenging by only placing treats in a few compartments.

Dog Worker – Level 3

dog worker interactive dog puzzles

No removable parts. For an easier game, place your dog’s favorite treats in all base compartments, under the spinning wheel, and cover with cups or flaps.

Nina’s Tip: To make it more difficult place treats also inside the sliding cups through the top holes. The dog should rotate the spinning wheel and push the cups until the treats fall out into a base compartment. 

Medium-sized dogs

puppy enrichment toys nina ottosson dog maze interactive dog toys

Medium-sized dogs can use all our games, but these are the ones that are good to start within our different levels of difficulty.

Dog Tornado – Level 2

interactive dog toy

Without the locking white blocks, it’s an easier game. Adding the white locking blocks makes it more difficult.

Nina’s DIY Tip: Tie strings in the white blocks to make them easier to lift up. Teach your puppy that the white blocks are not interesting, it’s what is underneath them that is interesting.

Dog Twister – Level 3

dog twister treat dispenser

For an easier game place treats in all compartments. To make it more difficult push in the white handles to lock all sliding bricks on top.

Nina’s Tip: Tie strings in the white handles to make it easier for your dog to pull them out.

MultiPuzzle – Level 4

multipuzzle

There are no removable parts on this treat puzzle. For a little easier game, place treats or food only under the sliders in the outer tray.

Nina’s Tip: Make it a more difficult hide-and-seek game by also placing treats in the center treat compartments, hide the treats with the sliding covers. Lift the lock OVER the sliders to increase the challenge. The lock will fall down and lock the sliders.

Also:

  • Wobble Bowl – Level 1
  • Challenge Slider – Level 3

Large dogs

best-toys-for-gold

Big dogs can use all our games, but what usually matters is their strength at playtime. Are they gentle or tough?

These games are the ones that are good to start within our different levels of difficulty if you don’t know how your dog will work with the games.

The best puzzles for large dogs are:

  • Wobble Bowl – Level 1
  • Dog Hide N Slide – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2
  • Dog Worker – Level 3
Dog Casino – Level 3

mental stimulation for dogs puzzle game

No removable parts. For an easier game, place treats in the drawers and leave the white bones in the unlocked position.

Nina’s Tip: To make it more difficult, place treats in the drawers and twist the bones on top to lock the drawers. Tie strings in the orange handles to make them easier to pull out.

Brachycephalic/flat-nosed dogs

frech bulldog getting squeaky toy

Featured above: Tootiez Hedgeog

Most short-nosed dogs can use all our games because it’s the tongue that will pick up the treats, not the nose. These games are the ones that are best for them to start within our different levels of difficulty.

The best dog puzzles for Frenchies, English bulldogs, and the like:

  • Treat Tumble – Level 1
  • Dog Smart – Level 1
  • Dog Tornado – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2
  • Dog Casino – Level 3

Beginners

If you are unsure if your dog likes to play brain games, then I recommend that you start with one of these. They are easier for the dog to use and can be modified to be both easier and a little harder.

The best Nina Ottosson dog puzzles for beginners:

  • Treat Tumble – Level 1
  • Dog Smart – Level 1
  • Dog Tornado – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2
  • Hide ‘N Slide – Level 2

Clever and food-motivated dogs

challenge slider dog game mental stimulation for dogs

These games are our most advanced, suitable for smart and highly food-motivated dogs. At the same time, it’s important that the dog understands how to work with the games, otherwise, the dog may become frustrated and try to bite through the puzzle to get to the treats, instead of working for them.

Play together, show, and teach the dog how the game works.

  • Dog Casino – Level 3
  • Dog Worker – Level 3
  • Challenge Slider – Level 3
  • Dog Twister – Level 3
  • MultiPuzzle – Level 4

Chewers

english bulldog chewing on a dog toy for chewing mental stimulation for dogs

For mental stimulation for dogs who have a habit of chewing new toys or love chew toys, I recommend pet parents get games without removable parts, or with few large parts.

The best way to prevent dogs from chewing on the game is to start as simple as possible and show them how it works, then make it harder step by step.

If the dog doesn´t understand how it works and gets a little frustrated because the game is too difficult, it´s natural for the dog to start chewing their way to the treats instead of working into it.

When giving providing mental stimulation for dogs that are chewers, always supervise. Watch closely for chewing, play together, and teach the dog how the game works. Once emptied of treats or kibble, the game should be stored until the next supervised use.

Best dog puzzles for chewers:

  • Treat Tumble – Level 1
  • Wobble Bowl – Level 1
  • Hide ‘N Slide – Level 2
  • Dog Casino – Level 3
  • Dog Worker – Level 3

Rough dogs

dog frolicking outside

If your dog is too rough with his paws and tries to push the puzzle game around or turn it upside down, I recommend popping it in the freezer!

No frozen treats or peanut butter can fall out if the dog is too rough with the game. The dog needs to continuously lick the treats up, and licking has a calming effect on dogs. You’ll have a tired dog on your hands afterward.

You can also place the game on a stool, box or similar, kids’ chairs work great, so the dog can only work with his nose, not the paws.

Nina’s Tip: To freeze the puzzle before play, place treats, kibble, a piece of sausage, or peanut butter in each compartment, pour a little water, put the game in the freezer, and let it set. This is perfect also for bored dogs who need some extra activity.

Best puzzles for rough dogs:

  • Wobble Bowl – Level 1
  • Treat Tumble – Level 1
  • Hide ‘N Slide – Level 2
  • Dog Casino – Level 3
  • Dog Worker – Level 3

Puzzle games as a slow feeder for speedy eaters

mental stimulation for dogs wobble bowl

The following puzzle games have large compartments to hold a full meal – dry or wet.

Best dog puzzles for fast eaters:

  • Wobble Bowl – Level 1
  • Treat Tumble – Level 1
  • Dog Smart – Level 1
  • Dog Tornado – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2
  • Dog Casino – Level 3
  • Dog Twister – Level 3
  • Challenge Slider – Level 3
  • MultiPuzzle – Level 4

Injured dogs

corgi tplo surgery and recovery tips

Puzzle games are a lifesaver when our dogs are injured and can´t move around freely or have other mobility restrictions. I recommend puzzle games that stay still on the floor or on a chair and can be handled by the nose. Mental stimulation for dogs that are injured is key to a safe recovery.

If you freeze the game, it becomes a calmer activation that takes a longer time to solve. The dog needs to lick the treats up continuously, and licking has a calming effect on dogs.

Place the game on a stool, box or similar, kids’ chairs work great, so the dog only can work with the nose, not the paws.

Nina’s Tip: To freeze the puzzle before play, place treats, kibble, a piece of sausage, or peanut butter in each compartment, pour a little water, put the game in the freezer, and let it set. This is perfect also for bored dogs who need some extra activity.

Below are suggestions of puzzles that can be handled by the nose, which is suitable if your dog is not allowed to move freely.

Best dog puzzles for injured dogs:

  • Hide ‘N Slide – Level 2
  • Dog Tornado – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2
  • Challenge Slider – Level 3
  • Dog Worker – Level 3
  • MultiPuzzle – Level 4

Blind Dogs

Blind dogs are very good at playing brain games. Their sense of smell allows them to play almost any game if they get some help from us. But the best ones to start with that you can make both a little easier and harder are the following:

Best interactive games for blind dogs:

  • Wobble Bowl – Level 1
  • Dog Smart – Level 1
  • Hide ‘N Slide – Level 2
  • Dog Tornado – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2

Puzzle Toys for Cats


Cats are hunters, they decide for themselves when they want to play and when it’s time to eat.

The same applies to puzzle games: they play when they want, usually not when we want. So it is good to fill several games with something tasty and put them in different places every day. This makes it a simulated hunt for food and play, which often is in the middle of the night, especially with younger cats.

Below are our new puzzle games for cats and dog puzzles that are also perfect for cats.

Hunt ‘N Swat Treat Tumbler for cats – Level 1

hunt n swat treat tumbler for cats

This puzzle can be used as a slow feeder too.

Nina’s Tip: To adjust the level of difficulty, twist the base to adjust the size of the treat dispensing hole to make play easier or more challenging.

Buggin’ Out Puzzle & Play for cats – Level 2

buggin ou tpuzzle game for cats

For an easier game, place treats in all base compartments only, and cover with cups or flaps.

Nina’s Tip: To make it more difficult, place treats also INSIDE the sliding cups through the top holes. The cat should push the cups until the treats fall out in a base compartment.

Melon Madness Puzzle & Play for cats – Level 2

melon madness interactive cat toy

For an easier game, place treats in all base compartments only, and cover with cups or flaps.

Nina’s Tip: To make it more difficult, place treats also INSIDE the sliding cups through the top holes. The cat should push the cups until the treats fall out in a base compartment.

Rainy Day Puzzle & Play for cats – Level 3

For an easier game, place treats in all base compartments and under the spinning wheel, and cover with cups or flaps.

Nina’s Tip: To make it more difficult, place treats also INSIDE the sliding cups through the top holes, the cat should push the cups until the treats fall out into a base compartment.

Dog games that work as puzzles for cats:

  • Dog Tornado – Level 2
  • Dog Brick – Level 2
  • Challenge Slider – Level 3
  • Dog Worker – Level 3

Other pets

a pet horse and a dog

These games don’t just provide mental stimulation for dogs and cats! Puzzle games are great for other animal species as well, but it´s important to choose puzzles that suit their needs and capabilities. We always recommend supervising for chewing, etc.

Parrots & Birds like removable parts: Dog Smart, Dog Brick, Dog Tornado, Hide N Slide

Rabbits, Guinea pigs: Dog Smart, Dog Brick

Ferrets: Dog Smart, Dog Hide N Slide, Dog Tornado

Mini Pigs: Treat Tumble, Dog Brick

Rats: Dog Smart, Dog Hide N Slide

Horses: Treat Tumble

Monkeys, Wild Cats, etc: Dog Hide N Slide, Dog Worker, Dog Tornado, Dog Casino, Dog Twister, Buggin’ Out, Melon Madness, Rainy Day

Brain Games Are For Everyone!

best dog games for mental stimulation for dogs

Interactive toys for mental stimulation for dogs are like obstacle courses for your dog’s brain. They tire them out just as much as a physical agility course!

Exercise your dog’s brain! Remember that dogs and cats have four legs and one head, and all five need exercise in different ways daily. When you bring mental enrichment activities into your dog’s life, they are happy and healthy in the long run.

Check out all of the above interactive dog games, cat puzzles, and more at our website!

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