Long before dogs entered our homes and their life of leisure, dogs earned their food by spending hours each day searching and hunting for food. Today dogs are often handed everything they need including their meals. This may sound wonderful to many of us, but for our dogs it can lead to a bored, frustrated and overweight pet. In addition to regular physical exercise, I am a big advocate for mental stimulation for our pets. One of my favorite ways to give my dog’s mental stimulation is by using food puzzles. Below I have listed two of my favorite puzzles I have purchased and the rest can be homemade.

*Please note the down-side is that dogs should be supervised with the do-it-yourself dog toys, versus the more indestructible toys, like the Kong.

1) Kong – I love the Kong toy. This toy is great because it can be used over and over and will last a long time (for most dogs!). You can stuff the Kong with many different things – dry dog food, wet dog food, treats, etc – and I always put peanut butter in the bottom to hold everything in. If you really want to keep your dog busy, put the Kong in the freezer so it takes them longer to work through the frozen peanut butter.

2) Kong wobbler – This is another Kong brand toy that I often give to my dogs with their whole meal in it. This toy sits upright until pushed with a dog’s paw or nose, then wobbles, spins and rolls, dispensing treats or food through a KONG-shaped whole near the top. It simply unscrews for quick filling and easy clean-up.

3) Peanut butter jar – An alternative to the Kong wobbler is using an empty peanut butter jar. You simply take a cleaned out peanut butter jar and cut or drill a hole either on one of the sides or in the lid. Be sure the hole is big enough for your dog’s food or treats to come out. Take the lid off to fill the jar with food or treats, place the lid back on and give to your dog. OR when you’ve almost finished a jar of peanut butter give the jar to your dog to finish cleaning it out!

4) Hide treats around house – Hiding treats around the house and teaching your dog to “find it” lets your dog use his natural scenting abilities. Start by making it easy for your dog so they are successful. Put your dog in a sit stay and hide the treat where he can see you put it down. Release your dog from the stay and tell him “find it”. Gradually make it more difficult for your dog until you are able to have him sit/stay in another room while you hide the treat. Never put the treat somewhere you do not want your dog to go looking for food (for example, the coffee table).

5) Hide treats in boxes – This exercise also uses your dog’s natural scenting abilities. Start with 4 or 5 empty card board boxes. Mark one of the boxes with an “X”. This is the box you will always hide the treat in (so they don’t all smell like a treat). Place the boxes on the floor and put a treat in the one with the “X”. Bring your dog in the room and tell him to “find it”. Try to stay quiet and still. Don’t speak to your dog; just let him sniff. If he loses interest, toss another treat into the treat box so he sees it. Practice this several times over the course of a few days. As your dog gets better at this exercise you can add more boxes, turn boxes over and gently close the lid on the treat box to make it a little more challenging for him.

6) Muffin pan and tennis balls – For this one you will need a muffin pan, tennis balls and dog food or treats. Place some food or treats in each of the holes in the pan. Cover the food with tennis balls. Put the pan on the ground and watch your dog work to get the food!

7) Ice Treats – Freeze a piece of dog jerky or other treats in a large plastic cup with water and a 1/4 cup of chicken/beef broth. Let your dog enjoy it. (Take the ice block out of the cup first! Rinse the cup with water to loosen)

8) Empty water bottles or milk jugs – Plastic milk jugs and water bottles also make good interactive toys. Remove the cap because it can be a choking hazard. Put food or treats inside and let your dog figure out how to get the goodies out. If your dog gets good at getting the food out cap off the top with some peanut butter so he must lick out before he gets to the food.

9) PVC pipes – Pick up a few small sections of pvc water-pipe and push them together. Put some dog food inside the pvc pipe and put it on the ground. Your dog will have to push and pick up the pipe so the food falls out.

10) Tennis ball treat dispenser – Take a tennis ball and cut a line in it 1/3 -1/2 the diameter using a serrated sharp knife. Cut another line next to this one (maybe a 2-4 mm apart) and remove the tennis ball material. The smaller diameter the cut and closer together your 2 lines, the harder it will be to get treats out. Fill with your dog’s favorite treat(s) by squishing the sides of the tennis ball, like the old style coin purses. We have used pretty much any solid treat in this thing. Larger harder treats get broken into pieces when the dog tries to get the treat out. Give to your dog!

11) Towel or blanket – Simply spread kibble out under a towel on the floor. Let your dog sniff out and find all the pieces.

12) A cereal box with treats inside – (Destruction intended.) Put some treats inside an empty box and watch your pup tear it to shreds.

This website has a lot of food puzzles you can purchase – www.nina-ottosson.com. I usually search on the site for a puzzle I like and then look for it on amazon.com.