Ever on the lookout for ways to engage the genius brain of our foster dog, Coop, we love trying out all kinds of doggie games and puzzles. As a hunting breed, he especially seems to enjoy ones that challenge him to locate and remove treats. His latest test came from Outward Hound in the form of Doggy Blocks. Outward Hound makes puzzles with varying degrees of difficulty. They range from Level 1 — easy games for puppies and your not-so-bright-but-oh-so-cute breeds — to Level 3 for uber-genius dogs like Coop.
Doggy Blocks is a Level 3 puzzle. The game has four blocks that sit atop four treat chambers. Once your dog removes the blocks to get at the treats, he can then rotate the base to find four more treat chambers. The blocks and base have plenty of holes for the delicious treat odors to escape from, tempting your dog into action.
We loaded up all eight chambers and let Coop at it. He was instantly fixated — a good sign. It took Coop a while to figure out the mechanism to get a block out. With many toys, Coop eventually resorts to what we call the “Hulk smash!” technique. When he thinks it has taken too long to get a reward, he picks up the entire toy and drops it on a hard surface in an attempt to force the treats out with gravity and inertia. (I told you — Coop is a genius. His grasp on physics far surpasses my own.) This toy, when placed on a hard, flat surface, does not allow for the Hulk smash.
After several minutes alternating between paw and mouth, Coop did finally free his first block and inhale the treat located beneath it. He then set out to replicate his success on block No. 2. It wasn’t long into that process, though, that he realized there was now a mouth-hold for Hulk smash. He picked up the entire toy, ran to another room, and promptly dropped it on the floor, sending all the blocks and treats in the top chambers flying.
While he hoovered up the carpet, I scooped up the blocks and made sure the lower chambers were still covered by the rotating top. I tried to keep him from a second Hulk smash, and he did use his nose to work out the rest of the treats. He nudged the rotating portion enough to get his tongue in and do the rest of the work. And so the puzzle was solved.
While I totally appreciate the multiple actions the toy is meant to inspire your dog to perform, as long as the whole thing is able to be picked up in your dog’s mouth, he’ll find his own way to prevail. I think this toy would work better for smaller geniuses who lack the ability to Hulk smash. I tried it with our terrier, Mama Dog, but it turns out she may be Level 1 material at best. She just lay next to the toy and growled at the other dogs who came to see what she had.
The other toy/accessory that Outward Hound sent us was its Fun Feeder Mat. It is basically a slow feeder but in a mat form instead of a bowl. The mat is thin and flexible, but still quite rugged, which makes it a good option for traveling with your dog. We don’t really have a problem with Coop eating too fast, but if you have one of those dogs, a slow feeder is a really great tool to help them eat at a healthier pace. We just used the mat as another treat-based toy for Coop.
I loaded a handful of kibble into the Fun Feeder and let him go. It took Coop much longer to get all of the food out than I would have thought. I also tried it out on Level 1 Mama Dog, but she cleaned it out like it was a regular bowl. It seems that slow feeders are designed for larger dogs. A small muzzle is not deterred by the obstacles. Hers fit nicely between the “waves” of this mat, and she could cleanly lift most pieces. Coop, however, used his tongue and snoot to push the “waves” apart to get every last kibble. He did not, I am proud to report, ever attempt the Hulk smash.
As far as toys go, the Doggy Blocks were a better exercise for Coop, but the mat is a decent way to change up his feeding routine and keep his brain engaged. Coop benefits from lots of brain engagement, and I imagine many working breeds do as well.
Quality: Both items are made of pretty sturdy plastic, but both should still be kept stored out of your dogs’ reach while not in use. The blocks would be a tempting chew toy for my dogs, for sure. And Coop would not be above shredding a feeding mat for giggles.
Style: I love the look of the Fun Feeder. It’s modern and sleek. It looks like a funky silicone trivet. I would totally keep it out if I didn’t think Coop would sneak it into the yard and chew it up. The Doggy Blocks are also pretty cute, as dog toys go.
Function: The doggy blocks would be perfect for a smaller (or slightly less genius) dog than Coop. The fact that it fits in a 45-pound dog’s mouth to be carried away after the first block is removed means it might not hold up to bigger or craftier pooches. This toy is definitely meant for food-motivated and clever dogs. It did not at all appeal to our small, “normal” dog. For the right dog, though, it’s a neat toy.
The Fun Feeder is the opposite. I think it is more functional for larger breeds. If you have a big food vacuum for a dog, this should slow them down a bit. And while Coop did not try to Hulk smash it, that does not mean a more food-motivated dog could not pick it up and shake the kibble out.
Creativity: The Doggy Blocks are really creative. The multi-step process is more engaging than many toys we have tried. If your dog doesn’t get it right away, you may have to show them how it works a couple times. I don’t think this is a negative at all.
Value: At $14.99, the Doggy Blocks are a pretty fairly priced toy, in my opinion. I guess it all depends on how engaging your dog finds it, but for the complexity and creativity of it, I think it’s priced well. The Fun Feeder Mat retails for $9.99 to $12.99. If you have a larger dog that could benefit from slowing down his eating pace, this is a good option. But as just a toy, I would pass.
Puzzle toys and slow feeders are great ways to engage active dogs, but not all will work for all dogs. Hopefully our experience will help you judge if these particular toys might be right for your dog. They are both good toys in search of the right kinds of dogs.
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About the author: Lisa Seger (who goes by Blue Heron Farm on most social media platforms) is a former office drone turned dairy farmer and cheesemaker. She found that cubicle jobs just didn’t allow for enough quality animal time and so made animals her work instead. Like all dairy farmers, she has virtually NO free time, but what little she gets is generally spent in pursuit of rescuing, fostering, and placing homeless dogs. Or being a smart-alec on the interwebs. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.