Training with Puzzles
When clients invite me into their home for training, they usually have specific behaviors they’d like to work on. Maybe it’s jumping, or mouthing, or even walking doggy on a leash without being pulled down the street. I am there to help with the issues most important to my clients. And, I like to teach them about puzzle-toys.
Puzzle-toys are great for building confidence, for distracting dogs from their environment, and for developing problem-solving skills. One can find a great variety of puzzles online that span difficulty levels from easy to very challenging. There are so many choices, it can be difficult to decide which one is best. And the prices of some of the puzzles may take away some of the fun of finding out.
As an alternative, I offer my clients a few less-expensive ways to discover the preferences their dogs may have for puzzle toys. Warning: if you have a dog who ingests cardboard or tears apart plastic, then stick with numbers 9 and 10.
Top 10 Puzzle-Toys
- Egg Carton – Start with it open and place some treats inside. Close it for increased difficulty. This is great for puppies and new learners.
- Toilet Paper or Paper Towel Rolls – Place a few treats inside the roll and let your pup figure out how to get them out. To increase difficulty, fold in the sides.
- Treat Burrito – Take a towel and lie it flat. Then, place a few treats in a line at one end and start rolling like you are rolling a burrito. Add more treats and keep rolling. Add a few more and keep rolling. Once it is rolled up, place a few treats at the opening and let your pup figure out how to unroll the towel. Increase difficulty by using a longer or heavier towel.
- Dry Plastic Water Bottle – Take the top and the ring off of the water bottle and place some treats inside. This is very challenging for many dogs and is not a beginner puzzle. And also not for the dog who tears into plastic.
- 6-pack Cardboard Container – Place treats in the container. Make it more challenging by packing the container with paper.
- Cardboard Boxes – Most any box will do, depending on the size and strength of your dog. Place treats in a box and either keep the top folded open, or you can close it and fold the top together for more difficulty.
- Shoebox – This is a good alternative to a cardboard box. Place treats in the box with the lid off to start. Putting the lid on or stuffing the box with paper may prove more challenging.
- Kiddie Pool Filled With Balls – You can fill the pool with small plastic balls or plastic water bottles. Hide some treats or toys inside. This works best for dogs who do not chew on or swallow plastic.
- Sandbox – This is great for the diggers! Fill a kiddie pool with sand and add toys and small containers of treats. Hide them under the sand if your dog likes to dig!
- Kong – Fill with kibble or another treat and let doggy bounce the Kong around to get the treats out. You can also fill it with yogurt, canned dog food, baby food, chicken broth, cream cheese, peanut butter, or a combination of a few of those things and freeze it. Now, you have a longer-lasting treat your dog can enjoy.
If your dog walks away from a puzzle, it was likely too difficult for her. Make it easier for her by making the puzzle more accessible and simpler to solve. Think of it like puzzles for humans: if the puzzle is too difficult, we give up. If we are able to solve it with our skill-set, it is more fun. Some dogs are more willing to try a challenging puzzle while others are more timid. Every dog is unique. Watch your dog and make the needed changes to ensure progress!
Lynn Webb, MA, KPA CTP, CTMT