Brainy Puzzle Toys for a Brainy Dog


When she’s not eating in the car, Rain gets most of her meals inside a puzzle toy. It’s a pretty easy way of giving dogs mental exercise—figuring out how food comes out of each toy, and then checking the floor to find the food gets those smart Aussie brains working. If you’ve got a dog that eats too fast, it’s also a good way of slowing her down.

At one point we were alternating between the Buster Cube and the two Kong “Genius” toys locked together. Then for Christmas I got two more puzzle toys for both Rain and Skye to try—why buy two of something unless you know it’s good, right? That’s how the Magic Mushroom and the Bob-a-Lot came into our lives.

Here’s a round-up of our inventory of food-dispensing toys, and how well each one works for us.


Buster Cube

The Buster Cube seems to be the gold standard of food-dispensing toys for our family. My mom bought a red one one for Skye several years ago, and it’s still holding up nicely. Rain started using the same one last summer for most of her meals, but I bought her a new blue one at Doggie Dash last weekend.

There is one important difference between the old generation of Buster Cubes and the new one. First-generation Buster Cube customers struggled to open the toy’s core, the only movable part, in order to clean it. The newer Buster Cubes open fairly easily but the modified design appears to have sacrified the toy’s ability to adjust the difficulty. The core can be locked or unlocked, and there are small tabs inside the core to help humans turn the piece.

Instead of slowly feeding the kibble into the center and tilting the toy to feed it inside the chamber, with the new toy I’ve learned it’s easier to take the core out each time, distribute the kibble inside, then replace the core. It also seems to take Rain longer to get everything out using this method.

Since the Buster Cube is made of thin, hard plastic and kibble is dispensed by rolling the toy around, the Buster Cube is fairly noisy.


Kong “Genius” Toys

If you’re looking for a quiet kibble dispenser, the Kong “Genius” toys are a great pick. They’re made of a softer, more chewable rubbery plastic than the Buster Cube, and there’s less space inside for all that kibble to rattle around. There are mornings when I wake up with a headache and the Kong “Genius” toys are what I reach for. When the two toys are linked together, they can hold about a cup of kibble, perfect for Rain. She tends to pick up one end and drop it again and again in order for the kibble to come out.

One drawback about the Kong “Genius” toys: kibble has to be pushed in piece by piece, so it takes me several minutes to get it ready for Rain to use. This is probably another reason we don’t use it more frequently.


Regular Kong

An oldie, but a goodie. We use these less for meals and more for puppy pacifiers. The original Kong toys come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and durability levels for dogs of different sizes, activity levels, and chew levels. There are Puppy Kongs. There are Senior Kongs! There are big bones made of the toughest Kong rubber. There’s a Kong for everydog.

My mom has a basket filled with regular Kong toys. She used to stuff two Kongs in the morning (with carrots, a big cookie, or a combination) and give them to Rain and Skye to ease the pain of her leaving for work. Skye transitioned a few years ago to Senior Kongs. Both dogs have been pretty strong chewers, so each Kong inside the basket has a unique level of wear.



The Bob-a-Lot was one of the aforementioned Christmas presents to both Rain and Skye. It’s durable, pretty quiet, and easy to use—just unscrew the top and feed the kibble in through the narrow neck. The light bulb-shaped toy is bottom-heavy and bobs around when a dog moves it. Despite its large size, there’s only one door (about 1” square) where kibble comes out. In theory, that door is adjustable to make the toy more challenging, but I’ve found that the door is pretty easily moved when it’s in any position besides 100% open or 100% closed.

The Bob-a-Lot more or less just belongs to Skye now. It’s a good product, but Skye took to it more than Rain did.


Magic Mushroom

Rain took to the Magic Mushroom more than Skye did when I got both for the dogs for Christmas, so it all worked out! This dispenser is designed to bob similarly to the Bob-a-Lot, but it’s easier for Rain to move and she seems to enjoy using it more. Filling it with kibble is also easier for me—the bottom of the mushroom screws off, so kibble can be poured into the small dish all at once. The Magic Mushroom has adjustable doors like the Bob-a-Lot, but they’re protected by the mushroom hood meaning they’re less likely to open or close when the toy gets tossed around.

The down side of the Magic Mushroom is with the parts that can be screwed off. Make sure they’re fairly tight or your dog can unscrew them! At the pet store I bought them at, a woman told me her golden retriever quickly learned how to unscrew the bottom of the mushroom, rendering that toy unsuitable for her.

Do you think that’s enough treat dispensing toys for one dog to have? My personal philosophy is that regularly switching up between all the option will give Rain the maximum amount of mental stimulation. And if all the switching doesn’t wear her out, at least it will wear me out! Then again, that goes with the territory when you live with a crazy Aussie.

Do you have a toy you think we should try? Let us know! 

One comment

  1. erinfurian · May 26, 2016

    thank you for the review of them all. Daisy is on limited mobility with her bum leg and I’m scrambling for things to keep her form getting too bored since walks are now reduced to barely to the corner and back. I’m going to pick up at least one of these for her to try.


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