Guest post written by Stuart Luman
As someone who delights in finding new ways to entertain, dare I say indulge, my dog, the notion of a puzzle to challenge his wits was intriguing. A previous brush with interactive toys, however, had been a disappointment. My wife and I came back from our local pet store with Ethical Pet’s Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone, a wooden puzzle that our two-year-old hyperactive terrier mix Henry solved within minutes. Once our pup figured out how it worked, the game was worthless and our $20 burned.
As you can imagine, when I first heard about Nina Ottosson’s dog puzzles I was dubious. Ottosson, a platinum blonde Swede who has a passing resemblance to Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA, was inspired to start her line of toys in 1990 after her two children were born less than a year and a half apart and she no longer had time to exercise her two beloved Bouvier des Flandres. To keep them occupied and her conscious assuaged, she developed a collection of puzzle games specifically designed to exercise a dog’s brain.
Her line currently has more than 20 products that Ottosson rates on a difficulty scale from one to three. I tested out Dog Tornado, graded as one or two, and Dog Brick, a solid two for a couple weeks. With each, removable pieces change the puzzle and continually make the toy “new” each time your dog plays.
When Henry tried Tornado, he went full terrier OCD on it. The plastic contraption consists of three bone-shaped blue trays that pivot around a central axis and four troughs on each into which kibble or treats can be stashed. The trick is for your dog to move the trays enough to expose the treats, but not enough that it covers treats in another tray. As your dog gets more excited, the trays whip around, hence the name Tornado. Once your dog has figured out how to manipulate the trays just so, you can make the game more difficult by inserting a selection of three white plastic covers (in the shape of dog bones, of course!) that cover rewards or lock trays until pried loose.
It was great fun watching Henry learn to manipulate the toy to reveal the treats. From my experience, you should supervise while your dog plays with Tornado, and it’s wise to work slowly up to more complicated configurations so that he doesn’t get frustrated too quickly. That said, after a short time I was able to do other things while Henry tinkered, although he did realize pretty quickly that simply flipping the toy over was enough to make many of the treats fall out!
Brick is more difficult and requires more supervision, but the reward is greater. Ottosson sells two versions of Brick, a plastic one and a heavy wooden version, which we tested. The benefit of the latter is that Henry couldn’t simply flip it over. In essence, the toy is similar to the disappointing Shuffle Bone, in that both consist of four parallel tracks in which covers move up and down covering up holes where kibble can be hidden. The main difference, and why Brick wins, is the added pieces Ottosson gives you. She includes two large hollow pegs that can fit into the holes, covering kibble and blocking the square pieces of wood from moving until removed, as well as two round discs that also block movement of the covers. Both are challenging, since your dog must remove them with either a strong whack or jaw pull before the blocks can move and reveal treats.
The key with Brick, like Tornado, is to gradually work up to more complex configurations. Henry got so frustrated at one point, he decided to just eat the discs, partially destroying the toy! Ottosson herself advises slowly working up to more complicated puzzle play and to keep play sessions brief at first – no more than 10-minutes at a time – rather than epic puzzle marathons. I definitely agree.
During my testing, I let Henry play with these toys outside on a hard surface and inside on carpet. Although Tornado has rubber feet, it still makes noise as your dog moves the trays around or flings the toy. The wooden version of the Brick is so heavy that the only real noise is chewing and scraping, but it’s not what I would call a quiet device.
While the noise isn’t a showstopper, the price may be. While plastic versions of these toys cost $34, the wooden versions are $50 a pop, which is a tad expensive for a dog toy. Yet the fact that these toys, unlike cheaper versions, are changeable and can be made more complicated over time will ensure your dog stays interested for the long term and his brain stimulated. For that, I would consider it money well spent.
Images: Stuart Luman