Do you have a dog that seems to have a knack for finding trouble? Even with plenty of exercise, your sweet pup can be quite the mischief-maker — knocking over the trash, digging holes or chewing on your best pair of shoes. It’s easy to slap a “bad” dog label on your misbehaving pup. The truth is, your dog probably doesn’t have a bad bone in its body. Instead, your pet is probably just bored and in need of some mentally challenging activities.
Why Canine Enrichment Is Important
Imagine being stuck in your house day after day with nothing to do. You’d get a little stir crazy, right? That’s also true of dogs. Just like you, your pup will benefit greatly from activities that will engage its brain. Working breeds, such as Australian Shepherds and Border Collies, and/or highly intelligent breeds such as Poodles, are especially prone to boredom. When these dogs aren’t given mentally stimulating activities, they can become destructive or even engage in self-harming behavior, such as chewing or incessantly licking at their skin.
One of the best ways to give your dog the mental stimulation it needs is to provide it with canine-enrichment puzzle toys. Fortunately, you won’t need anything fancy or expensive.
The following puzzle toys are not only easy to make or inexpensive to purchase, they’re also great for giving your pet’s brain a good workout.
Do-It-Yourself Dog Puzzles
A snuffle mat is an enrichment tool made with long pieces of fleece that will give your dog’s nose a good workout.
What You’ll Need:
- 12.5-inch-by-11-inch plastic sink mat with holes (for small- to medium-sized dogs) or a bathtub mat with holes (for large dogs)
- Cheap fleece blanket or 1 to 1 1/2 yards of fleece fabric
- Cut the fleece into strips about 1 inch wide by 6 inches in length. For a 12.5-inch-by-11-inch mat, you will typically need about 260 strips. The fabric pieces don’t have to be the same exact size. In fact, having them at slightly varied lengths will give your snuffle mat more character.
- Start by threading one end of a fabric strip through the first hole. Then, pull the other end through the hole next to the first one.
- Tie the two ends of the fabric into a knot.
- Repeat the process, by threading your second strip of fabric through the next two holes and knotting the ends.
- Continue tying the fabric strips onto the mat until all the holes are filled.
To use the mat, simply hide some treats or kibble in various spots under the strips of fabric. Then, let your dog search with its nose for its food reward.
Toilet Roll Puzzle Toy
This toy will give your dog’s brain a workout as it tries to figure out how to get at the hidden treats.
What You’ll Need:
- Empty toilet (or paper towel) rolls
- Kibble or other treats
- Close one end of the toilet roll by folding it in or down.
- Add treats or kibble into the roll. For even more of a challenge, smear something such as peanut butter on the insides of the tube, so your dog will have to figure out how to lick its special treat.
- Close the other end of the toilet roll.
You will need to supervise your dog when it’s playing with the cardboard tube to help ensure that it doesn’t rip it and swallow the pieces. For larger dogs, you might want to use an empty wrapping paper roll cut to a suitable size.
Just like kids, dogs love playing in a ball pit — especially if there are treats involved.
What You’ll Need:
- Hard plastic kiddie pool
- Ball pit balls
- Fill the pool with the balls.
- Hide treats under the balls.
Your dog will have a “ball” searching among the lightweight balls for the hidden treats.
Treat-Dispensing Water Bottle
With this toy, your dog will have to figure out how to get the treats it can clearly see in the water bottle.
What You Will Need:
- Empty water bottle
- Small treats
- Clean the bottle thoroughly and remove the label.
- Drill several holes in the side of the bottle that are just big enough for one or two treats to fall, but not so big that your dog can easily empty the bottle.
- Add the treats.
- Put the lid on the bottle and close tightly.
Your pup’s job will now be to roll or shake the bottle until a treat or two falls out of the holes. Always supervise your dog when it is playing with this toy and throw out the bottle if it becomes damaged.
Canine Enrichment You Can Buy
These rubber toys may seem simple, but they are highly recommended by canine enrichment experts and trainers for several reasons. First, because of their odd shape, they bounce in unpredictable ways when thrown. Your dog will have to use its brain to try to guess which way your
Kongs can also be stuffed with various products, including:
- Dog food
- Peanut butter
- Cream cheese
These stuffed Kongs will give your dog a mental workout as it tries to figure out the best way to get at its treats. Some owners like freezing their stuffed
Just fill these handy balls with some small treats or kibble, and then let your dog roll them. As your dog does, the ball will dispense a few treats at a time, encouraging your canine to figure out how it can get even more goodies.
Toys Within Toys
Puzzle toys that give treats aren’t a good choice for all dogs — especially ones that tend to be on the chunky side or require a restricted diet. Fortunately, manufacturers now offer numerous toys that will engage a canine’s brain without the need for treats. A favorite with many dogs are “hide and seek” interactive puzzle toys.
These consist of a large toy that contain several smaller toys — for example, a stuffed toy log that contains several baby plush squirrels or a platypus plush toy stuffed with squeaky soft eggs. Your dog’s task will be to figure out how best to extract the smaller toys from the larger one.
Say No to Boredom!
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Boredom is the root of all evil.” While that might seem a bit extreme, boredom can certainly be the reason why some dogs will engage in inappropriate and/or destructive behaviors. That’s why it’s equally important to give your canine mentally stimulating activities as it is to provide it with physical exercise every day.
Author bio: Alec Hutchins is Chief Marketing Officer of Recherche Kennels – Cavs, a professional breeding and training facility. Recherche Kennels has over 10 years of experience breeding with top parent bloodlines and training puppies to be the perfect family pet.