Ease of Use: 20/20
Dog Approval: 20/20
When our company instituted a work from home order, I was thrilled that I got to spend more time with my favorite person in the world: My dog Oakley. A 13-pound Pekinese-dachshund mix (plus a lot of other stuff), Oakley is independent, intelligent, food-driven and sometimes, a little snobby. But after weeks upon weeks of 24/7 time together in a small apartment, I began to notice some behavioral changes—she would bark at my husband and I at 6:59 p.m. on the dot if we weren’t sitting on the couch watching TV. She would howl at the moon if we left to get the mail downstairs. She would even stop dead in her tracks at the beginning of a walk and hustle me all the way home, just to make sure the three of us were all together.
It was cute and endearing, at first. But as I’ve learned through writing about dogs in quarantine, our pets are highly sensitive to changes in routines, and spending all this time together can actually lead to increased separation anxiety. I knew I had to change things up, while encouraging Oakley to get more physical and mental exercise. Unfortunately, quality outside time wasn’t exactly a choice in Brooklyn, New York. Puzzles, on the other hand, were definitely something we could do inside.
After a little research online, I kept coming back to one dog puzzle maker: Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound. Ottosson, the Swedish founder of the brand, has been committed to physically and mentally stimulating dogs with interactive toys since 1990. She’s literally the dog puzzle wiz. So, I ordered three of her games at different levels—1 being the easiest; 3 being the hardest—and Oakley went to town testing them.
Now, the puzzles aren’t dogsitters. These aren’t something you toss at your dog and forget about. If you want the most out of these challenges, the folks at Nina Ottosson say to always supervise and teach your dog the rules—like no chewing allowed. You should plan to play for short periods of time and stop if your dog gets frustrated. You can also help out a little, until your pup understands what to do.
I’ll break down the individual puzzles I tested below, but overall, I absolutely love these toys. The brand promises that they can help prevent and reduce behavior, boredom and weight problems and strengthen your bond with your dog. And the toys live up to that promise. The gist of almost all the puzzles is simple: Find the hidden treats—whether that means sliding, pivoting or lifting pieces. It is so fun to watch my dog snap into detective mode to get her hands (er, paws) on some treats. You can actually see her brain light up as her eyes focus in and her snout twitches during her investigations. On the days when I do a Nina Ottosson puzzle with Oakley, she is noticeably less needy and more of her pre-quarantine self.
There are extremely smart things about Nina Ottosson toys as well. Like, how the plastic ones (as opposed to wooden) are dishwasher-safe. And, if your dog eats too fast, you can swap your usual bowl for a puzzle. (Genius). On hot summer days, you can fill the hollows with a mixture of water and treats, freeze them, and serve it up like doggie ice cream in a puzzle cone. There are other tips and tricks on Ottoson’s website too, which I really appreciate. If you’re dedicated, the toys aren’t a one-time thing (like human puzzles tend to be). There are several ways to re-invent them as your dog gets wise to the puzzles.