Is your dog bored? Is he/she left on at home when you go to work? Here's some easy to make toys and puzzles to keep their mind occupied!
Dogs get bored just as humans do. If they don’t find something to exercise their mind, they can find their own entertainment, which may mean digging in your plant pots, chewing or tearing apart sofas, clothes, cushions or even pulling up the floor!
You might think they are being naughty, but they are just finding an outlet for their boredom.
Dogs need activities that challenge them mentally and physically. A way to direct this energy is to give them challenges that stimulate their natural abilities of sniffing, digging and scavenging. They can be fun games for you to play with your dog when you are around or a way to keep them occupied when you are out of the house.
Interactive dog toys can help prevent or another tool in your arsenal when treating mild separation anxiety (dogs with severe separation anxiety are unlikely to be interested in toys or treats as there are too panicked).
Repurposing things you already have around the house for toys can be a cheap and easy way to make canine enrichment toys. Dog puzzles can also easily be fashioned from disused or cheap kids toys or household items. Want to know more? Let’s dive in!
1. Find the treat
Play hide and seek or in a dog’s case, ‘find the treat’. Dogs love this game just like kids. Hide their favorite toys or some treats around the house or a room, give them the cue of “find the treats” and encourage them to sniff them out.
When they their find each one, give them lots of praise and they will soon catch-on. Once they get the hang of it, have them wait outside the room and hide them in more difficult places, before letting them in with the “find the treat” cue.
I often set this up in a few rooms for my dogs before I leave the house. One of my dogs used to have separation anxiety and it is another way to reinforce my leaving as a positive experience.
Another canine enrichment activity could be scattering their kibble around a room at dinner time, to have your dog work for their food and keep them entertained.
2. The cup game
.Place a treat under one of three cups, shuffle them around and encourage them to “find the treat”.
3. Frozen stuffed treat or food bowl
You don’t need to buy anything special to fill it with. Most dogs will like a mix of plain yoghurt, smashed banana and / or peanut butter. (The peanut butter should only contain peanuts and not contain xylitol which is highly toxic to dogs, or salt). Or, let dog kibble get a little soggy with broth or wet dog food and freeze in the Kong.
An alternative to these is a cored apple stuffed with one of their favorite fillers in the middle and frozen.
Treats can be varied and don’t have to be store bought. Chopped up carrot, apple or cucumber are cheap and healthy alternatives. This is not only low calorie and without the hidden sugars a lot of big box store treats contain, but a frozen treat will keep your dog occupied a lot longer.
Puppyleaks.com lists these healthy treats you can use with your dog:
Apples (no core, stems, or seeds)
Baby Food (natural)
Blackberries (will stain – use with caution)
Blueberries (will stain – use with caution)
Cheese (watch for fat content)
Honey (in moderation due to high sugar content)
Oranges (in moderation)
Sugar Snap Peas
Yogurt (plain, no added sugar)
4. Frozen ice blocks
Using the same concept, freeze treats and even toys in broth or water in any size container such as regular ice trays, muffin tins or for bigger dogs and fast chewers, use Tupperware boxes to make larger blocks.
5. Give your dog a job
Have you ever seen an assistance dog in action? They LOVE their job. Dogs enjoy tasks and you can teach them to fetch simple things like your shoes, slippers or a towel.
Attach a towel to the handle of a cupboard with their dog bowl and train them to open the door and bring their bowl to you at dinner time. You can even teach them to put away their own toys in a basket. It’s easier than training children to do this!
6. Treat pockets
If you have an old pair of jeans, cut out the pockets and use these as places to hide treats. You can also make more pockets by cutting rectangles out of the left over denim.
Sew three of the four sides and the fourth side you leave open, or only sew part of the way along to give the pup a challenge to get the treats out.
These treat pockets can be used on their own as an interactive dog toy, or include them in lots of the other dog puzzle games mentioned such as: inside a cardboard box, ball pit or ‘find the treat’ game.
7. Sand or ball pit
Many dog breeds such as beagles, dachshunds, lagottos and terriers were bred to dig. Make use of their inbuilt predisposition and give them their own digging area so they don’t ruin your gardening beds!
An inexpensive kids’ sandpit can be purchased from the local store or if you’re feeling adventurous you could build one yourself. Fill it with sand and bury their toys in for them to find.
It must be stated that this is not for dogs who chew, as the balls will be decimated pretty quickly and your dog would eat plastic, so use your judgement on your own dog here. But if your dog is more interested in treats than chewing balls, this would be an interactive dog toy you could have a lot of fun watching your dog sniff out his favorite snacks!
8. Cardboard boxes
Dogs love cardboard boxes! They can be used in different ways as dog puzzle toys and is a mental challenge for your dog to figure out how to get to the treats they can’t see.
Fill an empty cardboard box with a few treats. Close them up, shake them and put them on the floor for your pup to sniff. This is a super easy and cheap interactive dog toy to keep your dog entertained and use his / her brain to figure out how to get to the treats.
Use anything you have to hand, such as: an eggbox, cereal box, empty parcel box or a large moving box if you have a big dog. Mixing it up will keep your dog’s brain stimulated.
To make this a difficult dog puzzle toy, put a box inside of a box in side of a box with treats at each level. You can even wrap some of the treats in paper or inside homemade treat pockets mentioned above in item 7, to give them an extra hurdle to getting their treat.
Cut out a few holes in the lid of an empty pizza box. Make them large enough for your dog to get his / her nose or tongue in to snuffle the treats. Put some kibble or treats inside, put it on the floor and watch them go!
9. PVC pipe
Drill holes big enough for treats to fall through in a pvc pipe. Your local hardware store will have varying diameter.
For dogs who are chewers, get a sturdy large diameter pipe (wider than their open jaw) and this will prevent them from being able to break it apart. Fill with some treats and cap both ends. Caps will be found in the same isle as the pipe.
If you have a dog who is a fast eater, this can also be used at mealtimes for slow them down and have fun at the same time.
10. Muffin tin puzzle
Place treats in each hole of a muffin tin and put tennis balls or plastic balls over the top. You could also freeze broth, chicken, yoghurt in some or all of the holes before you place the balls.
To make increase the difficulty of this dog puzzle, you can cut some of the tennis balls in half and place some facing up and some facing down to mix it up a bit.
11. Homemade plait toy
Get three long of pieces of fabric; cotton or microfleece is great as it is easy to work with, not problematic for your dog to chew and easy to wash. Old bed sheets would be perfect to cut up for this.
The pieces can be as long as you like using whatever you have available. Hold the pieces together at one end and tie a knot at the top. Then plait the lengths of fabric together until you reach the end. Tie the end in a knot. Place little bits of kibble under the fabric throughout and voilá! You have an inexpensive, fun canine enrichment toy for your pup. If it gets too easy, you can always undo it and re-plait it more tightly.
These are just some ideas, what diy dog puzzle toys do your dogs like? Leave your comments below!
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