Dogs are incredibly smart, and they need mental exercise just like they need physical exercise. This is particularly true during times of the year when dogs find themselves stuck indoors. Boredom in dogs leads to frustration and destructive behavior. But giving your dog a cognitive workout burns off excess energy, provides entertainment, and prevents problem behavior. There are lots of fun cognitive training games you can play, but toys can challenge your dog’s brain as well.
There are tons of fun puzzle toys on the market; however, some can be quite expensive and others are simply too small or too large for a given breed. Do-it-yourself cognitive dog toys not only save you money but allow you to tailor the toy to your dog’s size and preferences. Here are some easy DIY toys that will help fire up (and tire out) your dog’s brain on days when you’re stuck inside!
Toilet Tube Treat Dispensers
Cardboard containers make great destructible treat dispensers. Empty toilet paper tubes or paper towel rolls can be stuffed with soft treats. For example, spread peanut butter or cream cheese along the inside of the cardboard tube. Your dog will have to lick the treat out while preventing the tube from rolling away or being squished flat. To increase the challenge, fold down the ends of the tube so your dog must rip into the cardboard to get at the goodies inside. And for a longer-lasting treat, freeze the tube and its contents before giving it to your dog.
If a paper towel roll is too small for your dog or you want to use hard dog treats or bits of kibble, try using an empty box. Poke holes in the box slightly larger than the size of the treats, place the treats in the box, and seal the top. Your dog will have to toss the box around in order to get the treats to fall out of the holes. To alter the challenge, simply change the size of the container. Your dog will need to manipulate an empty tissue box differently than a cylindrical potato chip tube or a pizza box.
Because these cardboard dispensers are destructible, ensure your dog doesn’t eat the bits of cardboard that fall off. As with any puzzle toy, these are meant to be used under supervision. And because these toys were destined for your recycling bin anyway, there’s always a fresh box or tube waiting to be filled.
Muffin Tin Shell Game
This version of the shell game requires a muffin tin and a ball for each cup in the tin. Tennis balls are a great size for a standard muffin tin, but any appropriately sized ball will do. And if your dog is a Toy breed, simply use a mini muffin pan and miniature tennis balls. But don’t ever use balls too small for your dog’s size, as they can pose a choking hazard.
To help your dog get the hang of the game, leave the cups uncovered at first. Fill each muffin cup with treats or kibble and let your dog lick or paw the goodies out. Now that your dog knows good things can be found in the cups, it’s time to cover them with the balls. Your dog will have to remove each ball to get at the treat underneath.
To increase the difficulty, only bait some of the cups with food but continue to cover all the cups with balls. Now your dog will need to use scent to locate where the treats are located. This will help prepare your dog for other scent-related games like hide and seek.
Shoebox Hide and Seek
You don’t have to participate in an AKC Scent Work trial to have fun with your dog’s nose. Try doing some indoor scent games for dogs. All you need is a set of empty containers like shoeboxes or yogurt tubs. Place the containers in a group on the floor and bait one or a few with smelly treats. Then allow your dog to sniff all the containers to search for the hidden treasure.
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