Mental activation is an important factor in keeping dogs happy. In one experiment a group of dogs were given tasks to complete in order to get rewards. There was also a control group of dogs that were given the same rewards, but they didn’t have a chance to work for them. Shortly, the experiment showed that the dogs that completed the tasks in order to get the rewards were much happier than the control group that got the rewards without any efforts.
“The experimental animals in our study were excited not only by the expectation of a reward, but also about realizing that they themselves could control their access to the reward. These results support the idea that opportunities to solve problems, make decisions, and exercise cognitive skills are important to an animal’s emotional experiences and ultimately, its welfare.”
You can read more about the study in here.
Any type of nose work games and searching games are good ways to drain dogs’ energy. You could say that dogs are using their brains when they are using their nose.
If your dog hasn’t searched for anything before, you should start by throwing a couple of treats to the floor in front of your dog so that he can see them and give a cue: search (when he goes and eat the treats). Only after this you can make the searching games harder. You can then throw treats on the ground or into short grass. Later on you can throw treats into long grass on even into a snowdrift.
When you are outside with your dog you should always be very careful, because you can’t always be sure if there aren’t any broken glass or other dangerous things in the thick, long grass. Or there could be something hidden, that you may not like your dog to eat, like used paper tissues or chewing gums.
Here you can find various nose work and searching game ideas for your dog.
Brain games and puzzles
You can arrange various of problem solving tasks and brain games for your dog, and these are good ways to drain your dogs energy. When the dog really needs to work something out in order to get his food, he will get tired. Here you can find multiple problem solving tasks and brain games as well.
You should never help your dog with the tasks you’ve given to him, because when the dog figures something out by itself, it drains the energy and boosts the dog’s self-confidence. Always start with something easy enough, so your dog can complete the task without any help.
You should always supervise your dog when you give him these assignments to prevent any injuries. And you shouldn’t give him any toxic materials or anything with small loose parts that he could swallow by accident.
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You can use any small yoghurt bottles for this game. If you don’t have any carton bottles, you can use plastic bottles like Actimel bottles.
This yarn box is one diy version of a slow feeding food bowl.
Wrapping the leash
This is proper a mental challenge for your dog.
Which hand -game
This trick was one of the first I taught to Miki.
Walking on different surfaces
Walking on different surfaces can be count as socializing, but always when there is a chance to try something new, I address Miki to try it.
Waiting can be so hard for some dogs.
I gave Miki two of these cardboard hearts as a valentine’s day gift.
Under the dome
The dog is supposed to pull the towel out so he can get the treats.
For this one you only need an umbrella and any treats.
Two wash basins
This game forces your dog to think, because separating two wash basins isn’t easy.
Twelve cup puzzle
This game has six cups hidden inside larger cups. The number of the cups depends on the tray you are using - my tray had six holes.
It takes tome effort to craft the game, but the end result is worth it.
Tunnels or crawling under
You may know the tunnel from dog agility sport. We made a tunnel from a side table and a towel and Miki has to crawl under the table and the towel.
Tug of war
The idea of this game is to pull a treat on a rope through a lid.
Tug a fleece
This is a two-part game. First the dog needs to pull the knotted fleece out of the toy and then he needs to dig the treats out of the knots.
Tubes in the box
Just a few tubes and a box and you can make these fun games for your dog.
Trivets work well as slow feeding bowls.
Treats frozen inside ice
Treats frozen inside ice are the best thing that you can give to your dog on a hot summer day.
For treat wrap you need a piece of cardboard, some textile yarn and some thin and sticky treats like pieces of duck fillet or chicken fillet.
For this you only need a tube, a towel or a newspaper and any kind of treats. I used pieces of dried chicken fillet.
You can use old and worn out rope toys for this game. I cut a chicken fillet to thin strips and then I pushed the strips into the holes of the rope.
We were about to visit my fiancés parents who have an own yard with trees. So I came up with an idea of these treat necklaces which I could hang from a tree ...
This is so cheap and easy to make and it’s as good as any food dispenser toy or even better.
Training with distractions
Working around distractions has always been very difficult to Miki.
Toys on a stick
Pulling toys away from the stick gives a new kind of challenge for your dog.
You can make a similar game as the Easter egg hunt by hiding some food puzzle toys for your dog.
You may wanna use a towel, that you are about to throw away.
Towels on rope
Rope toy brings new elements to towel games.
Towels in the box
You can make lots of fun games for your dog with just a few towels and a box.
Towel rockets are made with towels and cookie cutters.
Dogs love to search because it allows them to really work with their nose. This towel lasagna is one of Miki’s favourite games.
If you are about to throw away any old clothes, sheets or towels - don’t.
Task boxes are great for dogs that like to dig or search for their food. Also you don’t need any specific packages on items for these games.
When this panda toy reached the end of his life it was still usable in Miki’s daily activation.
Ikea’s step stool can be used with medium size or large dogs. The stool has perfect grid to hide some treats when you turn it upside down.
You can use any crate, drawer, table, chair or a cardboard box as a stand.
Spray bottles are outdated tools in dog training. Nevertheless they are excellent as food dispensing toys.
Spin the disk
You can craft amazing things out of garbage if you just use a bit of imagination.
Something else -game
This game is suitable for dogs that already know multiple tricks/cues and who are already familiar with clicker training.
Soda bottles are great food dispensing toys because they are always available.
You might need to spend a few hours in making a snuffle mat for your dog. But I recommend doing it, because using the mat calms your dog and allows him to wo...
A snuffle box is a hardened version of a snuffle mat.
Snorkling the treats from water
For this game you need a bowl or a basin and some treats that won’t dissolve in the water.
Sniffing is one of the most efficient way to drain your dog’s energy. If your dog hasn’t searched much before, you need to start with only three items/obstac...
Froosh’s new smoothie cans look like they were designed as dogs’ food puzzle toys.
In this post you can find various small games.
Searching under the cups
Get few cups from the kitchen or if you have small cardboard boxes or paper cups, you can use them too.
Searching in the dark
Dog really gets to use its nose when searching in the dark.
Searching from multiple boxes
Dogs love to search because then they can really use their nose. Miki loves to search his food from boxes.
Dogs naturally follow scent traces and you can make these at your home too.
Searching kibble from a crocheted rose brings fun alteration to the nose work games.
Rope in a box
Miki absolutely loves to search for his food so I always try new obstacles with different boxes.
Reversed muffin tray
As I was shopping, I drooled over some muffin trays and came up with an idea for this game.
I made several fun games for Miki from these puzzle mat pieces.
In this game Miki is pulling a cart but in a slightly different way than normal sled dogs do.
You can use any plastic pill jars in this game.
Phone book fan
You need a phone book or a mail order catalog and some kibble for this one.
Peek a hole
This is like a giant version of a slow feeding food bowl.
Pastimes for a convalescent
I believe every dog has an upset stomach or diarrhoea at some point of his life.
For this one you only need two or three pages from the magazine (staples taken out), masking tape and some dry treats or kibble.
Paper rolls in a box
Paper rolls in a box gave Miki a nice challenge.
Paper balls in cups
To make paper balls, take one page from a magazine. Then put some treats or just kibble on the top of the paper and then scrunch it into a ball.
You can give paper bags to your dog to play with as long as they don’t have any metallic parts in them.
This game is nice because you don’t need any expensive agility hurdles. Instead you can use any light weight or soft objects you can find in your home.
I’ve always wanted to craft this kind of box to Miki and fortunately I had some free time at the weekend.
For this one you need a newspaper (staples taken out), some masking tape and any dry treats or just kibble.
You can give carton packages as such for your dog to shred but you can create something different when you nest several packages.
The dog is supposed to lift the obstacles out of the narrow box in order to get the treats.
This game has two parts in it. The dog needs to open the first flap of the box and after that he needs to push the box open.
Multiple cups inside others
Hiding your dog’s dinner between cups gives him a nice challenge.
I thought this game would be easy for Miki but it turned out to be “Mission impossible”.
Mini obstacle course
You can make a mini version of the obstacle course.
For this game you need a magazine, masking tape and some thin and sticky treats, like semi-moist duck fillets or chicken fillets, or small slices of cheese o...
You can use any lids for this game. Small and light weighted lids are usually the easiest for dogs and the larger and heavier lids are the hardest.
I made these lava lamp looking cones by using Ikea’s Kalas cups and paper cups.
Laundry balls are versatile toys, as long as you remember to scrub off all traces of laundry detergents.
This game has similar layers as lasagna.
Kongs in cups
If food dispensing toys are too easy for your dog, you can make some of them more difficult by combining them with other objects.
Kong Traxx and towels
So many fun games can you create with a rubber tire toy and a towel.
I got a dog treat advent calendar as a gift from Zooplus’ online store on last christmas.
Kibbles under the kitchen table
Throw the kibble under the kitchen table and under the chairs. It may sound “too easy”, but it’s not.
If your dog loves to chase and hunt his food then this is a perfect game for him.
This game is easy to prepare, but it still gives a good challenge for your dog.
JW Hol-ee Roller
JW Hol-ee Roller toy (size L) is one of the best toys we have bought for Miki, because it’s so versatile.
Ikea's Mula wagon
Toys for small children are mainly safe for dogs as well because they are tested for toxics (at least in Finland) and they seldom have any small loose parts.
Ikea's Drömmar set
Slow feeding bowls are usually quite expensive but you can purchase this Drömmar pastry cutter set from Ikea for under six dollars.
Ice cube trays
Ice cube trays are the best in those hot summer days, but you can also use them otherwise.
The hot-air balloon is a completely different game that Miki is used to.
Hikes in the forest
Forests have different scents and sounds compared to residential areas.
High roller's alternatives
These games are similar as the High roller game but here are some alternatives.
In this game a dog needs to roll the tube so the treats fall out from the holes.
Hiding the treats in the house
I often hide Miki’s kibble dinner around the apartment.
Hiding the treats in the grass or in the snowdrift
Searching the treats outside should begin with easier tasks if your dog hasn’t search anything before.
Hiding the treats in a tree
You can hide the treats under the trees bark or in the holes of the bark.
Hide and seek
We play hide and seek with Miki every now and then.
In this game a dog needs to fish a cup attached to a rope out of a plastic jar.
I made a diy kibble dispenser out of two deep paper plates.
Flying saucer II
I got carried away again when I got some yarn as a Christmas present and I crocheted this flying saucer toy to Miki.
I thought this would’ve been easy for Miki, but it turned out if was quite difficult.
In this game the dog needs to flip the blue baskets to get the treats.
Are treat dispensing toys too easy for your dog too? You can make some of the toys more difficult with a piece of fleece.
This game is convenient because you can adjust the difficulty to fit your dog’s level.
Preparing this game takes a bit time, but Miki found this game super fun so I recommend you to try this with your own dog.
Empty paper rolls
Empty paper rolls are diy dog toy’s absolute classic.
Egg cartons are amongst the classics of diy food puzzle toys for dogs.
For this one you only need an empty DVD case and some treats that fits in the case.
For this game you need two laundry balls and an empty paper roll.
Dermosil soap bottles are shaped like they were designed as treat dispensing toys for dogs.
For these games you need a pair of jeans that you are about to throw away and some dry and hard treats.
Cups in bowls
These games are great because you can modify them almost endlessly.
Cups in a basin
Slippery basin gives an extra challenge in this treat hunt.
Cup in the tube
You should make the effort to build this game because it’s just so much fun to watch your dog to solve the puzzle.
You need at least 10 carton or plastic cups and some string or yarn.
I got the idea for these baskets from Ikea’s Nordrana baskets. So, if you don’t want to crochet the baskets yourself, you can buy them from Ikea.
Corrugated cardboard wraps
In this wrap there are two pieces of duck fillet hidden under the corrugated cardboard.
You can make different search games for your dog from these chocheted corals. This is also an excellent way to get rid of left over yarns.
This coral mat is similar to snuffle mat, but instead of fleece it’s made of crocheted corals.
I choose a Nescafe jar for this game because of the narrower section in the middle of the jar.
This is a confidence boosting game for your dog, by absolute-dogs.com. This is a great start if you need to train your dog to wear a muzzle.
For the honor of late summer, I did these cones inspired by ice cream cones for Miki.
Climbing and balancing
On our daily walks I often ask Miki to climb onto various things, such as rocks, trunks of fallen trees, stumps, benches etc.
Carton and plastic packages
All small grocery packages are good to be given to the dog to shred.
You can make a fun treat spiral out of corrugated cardboard.
Cans with lids
These games are quite difficult so they suit best for dogs that already have some experience with puzzle toys.
Calming down is very hard for Miki so that’s why we need to practise it.
Bread and circuses
This game is for the bread and circuses - a game where your dog can win treats by playing.
Box full of toys
At first I thought of making a ball pool in the cardboard box, but the balls would have cost about 50 euros so I ended up improvising.
Basket in the box
For this one you only need two baskets or boxes and any treats or just kibble.
You can buy expensive ball pool balls from a toy store and pay a fortune, or you can improvise like I did.
All eggs in one basket
We got this basket full of delicacies as a Christmas present, but it soon found its way to be part of Miki’s games.
You can give empty chocolate advent calendars to your dog.