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Food Puzzles

Photo Courtesy Pat Koven, LVT, KPA- CTP

Food toys are not always better just because they last longer and not all dogs will like all puzzles. Since they are for your dog’s enjoyment, the toys should not be difficult or frustrating and your dog will decide which games they like.

Your dog may not bother trying a frustrating game. Easy ones with quick wins can be a way to introduce your dog to food puzzles. Your newly adopted shelter dog or young puppy may seem scared of a food toy so make sure it is an appropriate choice.

At 8 weeks old, a puppy may not like a puzzle but might prefer licking toys. A week later, try the puzzles again with a teaspoon of wet dog food and your dog may give it a chance.

Start with easy food toys and games and modify as needed. A dog who is sound sensitive will not want a toy that creates a lot of noise, and a dog who has never used their paws or mouth to manipulate a toy may not like one that keeps rolling away.

Puzzle toys can be easy and low-cost. These games can be very successful and only last a few minutes:

  • throw kibble on the grass;
  • roll up kibble in a rug or towel;
  • toss treats in a low-sided cardboard box;
  • smear wet food on a licking mat;
  • sprinkle food in a snuffle mat or a muffin tin. 
Willy with a Licking Pad.

Photo Courtesy Pat Koven, LVT, KPA- CTP

If your dog has enjoyed quick, easy games and you think they would enjoy some more complex ones, add some variation. A puzzle toy stuffed with your dog’s soaked kibble or wet dog food and then frozen can be more challenging.

If your dog is leaving food in the toy, the game might not be right for your dog. Start simply with a small amount of food in the puzzle toy, or just a few treats in the grass or on a towel, and when they finish all the treats, add more. This can be a fun way to introduce food toys to dogs and make it a social game with you.

When using food puzzle toys:

  • separate multiple dogs so they do not compete for them;
  • supervise your dog so they do not destroy them;
  • make sure they are the appropriate size for your dog;
  • clean them thoroughly after each use;
  • use food that is safe and appropriate for your dog.