Puzzles! In recent years – particularly during the pandemic – puzzles have become increasingly popular for humans. From a simple crossword to the most complex sudoku, completing puzzles gives us a huge sense of satisfaction. But did you know that you can also treat your dog to a puzzle to solve? You may remember our 5 Favourite Enrichment Toys post not long ago. That will give you a good starting point on introducing puzzles to your dog.
But what if you don’t want to spend more money on toys? There are plenty of cheap and cheerful options to make your own… and so many ways to make your puzzles more challenging! We thought we’d share a few of our favourites with you just in time for National Puzzle Day on January 29th.
Nice and simple – treats in a rolled-up towel/blanket. This is great for dogs on a kibble based diet. You can use some of their daily food (or even a whole meal) for this fun and easy puzzle. Pop a row of treats on a towel or blanket, roll it up a little, and repeat until you’ve no space left. Your dog has to spend some time working out how to get to the food. Some may unroll the towel beautifully, others not so much! There are always a few that just pick up the towel and shake it – pretty efficient really. To make this more of a challenge, you can layer towels, roll them up tighter, or place them in a small box. Now your dog has more to sniff and a less easy route to the food.
A fun one for bakers that aren’t precious about their equipment…use a muffin tin! This can be a super fun puzzle for dogs that enjoy toys as well as food. Place some of their food, or yummy treats, in each section and cover them with a toy that fits in the hole. Can your dog figure out how to get to the food? Small toys allow the smell of the food out, larger ones keep the smell in. You can also treat your muffin tin like a tapas board. In each section, have a different kind of food – kibble, soft treats, cheese, fruit, meat, veggies… anything dog safe! Have a variety of foods – ones your dog loves and ones they think are just pretty good. Put the larger toys over the highest value treats. This makes your dog work harder for the best food. Just make sure any toys or covers used aren’t small enough for your dog to swallow.
If you are DIY minded, you could create a toy using some wood, plastic bottles, and a dowel. Construct a frame out of 3 pieces of wood, cut a hole on either side of the bottleneck a little larger than the dowel. Slide the bottles onto the dowel and attach the dowel across the top of the frame so the bottles can pivot freely. Place some small treats inside the bottles, and voila! You have created a fun dog puzzle. Your dog can use their nose or paws to make the bottles turn upside down. The treats used need to be small enough to get out of the bottle.
There are also plenty of puzzle toys you can buy for your dog. The Kong Wobbler is a constant favourite. The dog bats the toy around to make treats come out of the hole. You can increase the difficulty by putting things like corks inside – just make sure they are wide enough not to fall out alongside the food! The Wobbler has a heavy base so it will right itself. Nina Ottosson makes a range of toys with different levels of difficulty. Some have sliding parts, covers that need to be removed, or little drawers to contain treats. K9 Pursuits also make similar puzzles, named after famous detectives. The main difference between these brands is the material used for the puzzle. K9 Pursuits tend to be made from MDF and Nina Ottosson are mostly plastic.
There are so many puzzles out there, the key is finding ones to suit your dog. To see how your dog would respond, you can give them a super easy puzzle. Pop some treats into an empty toilet or kitchen roll tube, fold up the ends, and off they go! This will give you an idea of their skill level and how you can make it more fun or challenging for them. Happy National Puzzle Day!