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EnrichMonday! DIY Puzzle Toy

Original post: March 2018

Welcome to the first post in East Coast Canine's new blog series: EnrichMonday!

Enrichment for dogs can come from a wide array of toys, treats, bones, training exercises and games to play at home.. And what better day to get started than a gloomy winter Monday in Newfoundland! This blog series aims to promote daily enrichment for dogs, with tricks and tips along the way for cool new products and ways to do it yourself at home. Every Monday, I'll be posting a new toy, game, exercise or recipe for you and your furry friend to try!

The benefits of enrichment for your dogs are endless.. While physical stimulation in the form of daily exercise is extremely important, all too often the benefits of mental stimulation are overlooked. By providing enrichment opportunities for your dog, you'll be reducing stress and anxiety, improving learning, building confidence, practicing some basic obedience and improving your dog's impulse control. The wonderful thing about puzzle toys is basically all you need to do is fill them up, sit back and enjoy watching your pup come to life! It's free training! You just sit, watch, and post cute photos on Facebook/Insta. Why would you not do this?! It's a win-win situation, and something I'd love to see all dog owners integrating into their daily lives - switching up your feeding routine isn't just for the problem pups!

For our family, Mondays are becoming the firm favourite day of the week. In order to beat the winter depression this year, we've been trying new and fun things every Monday in preparation for this blog, and it has become our squeeze bottle and treat prep day. The Monday blues are becoming the Monday chews&snooze - I think the boys are enjoying their new routine :)

My little helpers always love to lick the spoon!

There's a whole host of puzzle toys and games on the market, and if you're anything like me with zero control over my debit card in pet stores the cost of toys (of varying quality and durability) can really rack up. A few months ago, I saw this homemade puzzle toy online and decided to give it a try. Since its conception, it has become one of our go-to meal feeding methods because they enjoy it so much! It's no secret to a lot of people that I work with, that I just really don't like food bowls.. So many rewardable calories get lost in bowl feeding! Using the kibble as training treats, or in a puzzle feeding routine like this, makes much better use of those little nuggets. This puzzle feeder slows down their eating, gets their noses and their brains going, and challenges them to find their food. And the best part? You can make one for less than $10.

These puzzle feeders are simply made up of a muffin tray, a tennis ball in each hole, and some kibble or treats underneath each ball. The aim of the game is for your dog to sniff out the food underneath, remove the ball and get their reward!

It's also a great opportunity to practice a "Sit-Stay" while you prepare the game!

Starting out, we're going to make it SUPER easy for our pups. By putting food under every ball, they will learn the game pretty quickly! Be patient while they learn - some dogs are quicker to catch on than others. When we first started, Denzel (who is VERY food motivated) had it instantly, but Kupo (who is very ball motivated!) would rather steal and destroy the tennis balls than get his food.. You'll notice as the photo series goes on, there's a severe decrease in the amount and quality of balls for the feeder! Once they've got the hang of it, start decreasing the number of holes with food inside to challenge them.. The fewer holes have food, the harder it will become for them to find it! If you want to make the session even more productive, get your dog to sit/down stay and wait calmly while you prepare the puzzle toy.

My top tips - If you own a bigger dog, or one who is particularly rambunctious when playing with the toy, use a non-slip mat under the muffin tray to stop it moving around.

"I can haz it, Mama?" For such a good down-stay, you sure can!

There are a couple of great applications for the game - if using it to feed a daily meal, split their daily feeding requirement of kibble between multiple holes. If you're using it as a game for those windy, gross rainy/snowy days, make it a real challenge and just use one or two high reward treats as bait!

Enrichment doesn't have to be complicated, hard work, or expensive - give the puzzle toy a try, and watch out every Monday for more fun enrichment ideas!

As with any toy, game or treat - make sure you always supervise play time to avoid choking or ingestion of toys! Always remember - no toy is 100% risk free, so be safe and supervise!

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