As dog parents, we’re always looking for ways to keep our furry friends both physically and mentally active. Regular walks are great, but it’s not enough to truly tire out their energetic minds, particularly when bad weather limits our outdoor time. This is where interactive dog puzzles become a game-changer.
These engaging work-to-eat toys offer mental stimulation, encouraging your smart pup to use problem-solving skills to earn delicious rewards. However, even the smartest dogs might lose interest once they figure out a puzzle toy. If your dog whizzes through games in no time, it’s a signal to increase the challenge level to maintain their interest.
Based on my years of experience with helping loads of dogs master puzzle toys, I’ve put together eight top tips in this post. These tricks will spice up the dog puzzles, making them more fun and challenging for your furry friends. This way, you’ll make the most of your purchase and keep those toys from gathering dust.
Let’s dive in!
#1 Put the snuffle mat under the dog puzzle toy.
One of my all-time favorite puzzle toys for hiding treats is the “spin-the-bottle” puzzle, such as the Loobani Turn Around Dog Puzzle. This interactive toy requires dogs to rotate and balance bottles to release their tasty rewards.
To add an extra level of challenge for your pup, try placing this puzzle toy on top of a textured surface, like a snuffle mat. The textured material underneath the puzzle makes it more difficult for your clever canine to visually locate the hidden treats. This additional element really encourages dogs to rely on their sense of smell and problem-solving abilities to unlock the delicious treasure!
If you don’t happen to have a snuffle mat at hand, don’t worry! You can easily create your own textured surface. Simply cut up some used rugs or towels into strips and place them beneath the puzzle toy. This DIY solution is a fantastic way to prolong playtime and mentally tire out even the smartest pups.
#2 Tape up the opening
Does your pup flip treat dispensing toys too quickly? This hasty shaking causes treats to flood out rapidly, ending mental stimulation quickly. However, using tape to cover the larger openings, you can stop this behavior.
For puzzle toys with different-sized holes, identify the biggest holes that seem to dump tons of kibble quickly. Cut pieces of non-toxic masking or painter’s tape to fully seal over those high-flow areas, leaving only smaller exits accessible.
With those wide-open treat highways blocked, goodies can only gently tumble out of smaller holes. Your once-ravenous rattler now has to carefully manipulate the toy using precise paw nudges to release the treats slowly.
#3 Add the Cardboard Barrier
Here’s another simple but effective way to seriously challenge your intelligent pooch – put the cardboard barrier on the treats to add an extra challenge to the puzzle toy!
One of the easiest materials to use for hiding the treat is cardboard! Sturdy cardboard sheets are the perfect non-destructive barrier to place in the filled puzzle toy.
Load up the puzzle compartments with your pup’s favorite treats as usual. Then cut a piece of cardboard (cereal boxes work great) to fully cover the openings. Now, your canine has to remove the cardboard first before gaining access to the puzzle and treats underneath.
You’d be amazed at what determined pups will do to remove an obstacle in their way! Cardboard demolition not only expends physical energy, it also taps into their innate desire to destroy stuff in pursuit of prizes.
#4 Fold Some Treats on Fleece Pieces
To add more excitement to work-to-eat puzzles like the Twirl-n-Treat, you can try this ingenious trick: cut out fleece pieces, stuff them with treats, fold them up, and hide them beneath the toys.
As your pup spins the puzzle, they’ll come across the fleece pieces but won’t be able to immediately find the treats. To access the hidden goodies, they’ll have to figure out how to tear, unravel, or dismantle the fleece barrier. This not only engages their natural hunting instincts but also adds an extra obstacle before they can enjoy their rewards!
For an advanced nose work challenge, you can even fold additional layers of fleece to intensify the scenting task. This way, retrieving the treats becomes an even more rewarding feat that requires some serious problem-solving skills!
Notes: Please ensure your dog can handle the challenge before using these Tips & Tricks. It’s important to be aware that there is a risk of your dog attempting to eat the fabric or string, so closely supervise them during playtime with this toy. Enjoy and have a great time!
#5 Crank the Dog Puzzles Up to Expert Mode
If your pup’s favorite puzzle toy has adjustable difficulty settings, don’t hesitate to amp up the challenge! Puzzle feeders with multiple configurations allow you to customize the challenge level. So go ahead and make it more mentally stimulating for your pup.
Get ready for some intense mental stimulation as your dog works to solve the convoluted compartments and extra locks you’ve just activated. Now, they’ll have to slide, lift, and remove multiple barriers on their mission to mealtime. This amount of cerebral exercise is perfect for energetic pups who need an extra brain workout!
However, be cautious not to completely overwhelm your pooch in the process! Pay attention to your dog’s frustration tolerance while attempting these expert puzzle challenges. If you notice them acting overly stressed or getting aggressive with the toy, it may be too tricky for now. In that case, promptly reduce the settings back down to a more manageable degree.
Finding the sweet spot between sufficiently testing your smart pup’s limits without pushing them over the edge takes some experimentation. Just remember you can always start on easier levels and increase the difficulty over time as your dog’s puzzle prowess progresses!
#6 Place the Dog Puzzle Higher Up
Rambunctious roughhousers tend to get carried away whacking and batting at their puzzle toys. For these heavy-handed yet well-meaning pups, try elevating the puzzles up off the ground during play.
Instead of putting puzzle toys on the floor, place them on a table, bench, or sturdy ledge at about nose level for your dog when standing. This height restriction forces your enthusiastic pup to slow down and carefully manipulate the puzzle with their nose or tongue instead of just wailing on it in full force!
Physical and mental exertion gets channeled into more nuanced puzzle manipulation when they can’t wildly smash away. They’ll need to gently slide blocks, lift flaps, and toggle switches using precision and care. Experiment to find the Goldilocks “just right” height that still allows access but prohibits roughhousing.
You can start on a low platform and gradually raise it over time as your exuberant pup learns impulse control. Eventually, you’ll be able to put puzzles anywhere without destruction! This type of environmental management redirects rowdy behavior into more positive puzzle play.
#7 Sniff Out the Puzzle Race
Want to seriously stump your super-sniffer canine? Try to set up a puzzle race with multiple toys in a row, but only put treats in one or two of them. Then watch your pup zip back and forth, sniffing out which puzzles have the “loot” buried inside!
This treasure hunt variation really forces your dog to tap into those scent-tracking instincts to locate the rewarded toys. Having multiple puzzles lined up amps up the excitement, but not knowing which ones actually contain treats adds a challenging twist!
You can vary the shell game as needed based on your dog’s nose work skills. For newbie scent seekers, start off by rewarding every other puzzle until they get the hang of it. For more advanced odor detectives, only put treats in one toy out of the whole lineup to really keep them guessing!
Over time, you can even get the whole family involved by having each person hold a puzzle as your pup runs from person to person, searching for the secret treasured toy. This is a great way to practice impulse control while having a blast!
#8 Seek Out the Hidden Puzzles
Once your pup has mastered racing through a puzzle lineup, add another layer of challenge by hiding the puzzles themselves! Place toys in different rooms around the house and let your dog seek them out one by one.
Start off by conspicuously setting puzzles in easy spots, like on the couch or under a blanket. Then, gradually make it more difficult over time by tucking toys behind doors, under pillows, or at the back of closets – get creative with hiding spots! This forces your pup to not only solve each puzzle, but actually hunt around to discover them in the first place.
I like to drape bath towels over puzzles to lightly conceal them without making it too frustrating. You can even trail a rope toy from room to room, leading your pup right to each hidden toy. Keep them eagerly exploring and intrigued by leaving little scent trails to follow.
This stimulating hide-and-seek variation taps into your dog’s natural scavenging instincts for extra mental exercise. As they discover and solve puzzle after puzzle, their brains stay actively engaged the whole time. Plus, this tires them out without the intensity of physically strenuous play!
There are endless ways to creatively customize your dog’s puzzles to challenge that canine brain! Hopefully, this blog post has given you some ideas to get started transforming those toys into advanced games.
Remember to keep tabs on your pup’s reactions to make sure they don’t get too frustrated. Puzzles should stimulate, not agitate! With the right balance and routine, continued mental enrichment through play strengthens the mind and the relationship. So pull out your pup’s old dusty puzzle collection and give it an upgrade!