Easy food games & puzzles for dogs

Did you know that you can use a variety of items commonly found in your kitchen or around the house to prepare easy food search games for your dog? Food games and puzzles can provide your dog with a great mental workout. Dogs are usually more calm and relaxed with adequate physical and mental enrichment. Plus, they get to put their senses to work! They can sniff, dig, lick, tear, chew, and search. Think of it as hunting and foraging, but for your domestic dog, and in the safety of your own home or backyard.

Build your own at-home food puzzle:

  • Upcycle a medium or large shallow cardboard box. 
  • Use cardboard items that you can stuff with kibble or treats. We like to use egg cartons, paper towel or toilet paper rolls, and smaller cardboard boxes.
  • Wrap up a few handfuls of kibble in some packaging paper or a small clean towel or dish rag. To give your dog more of a challenge, tightly wrap up the food in a dish towel and then tie it in a big, loose knot.
  • Treat dispensing toys work great in place of cardboard items if your dog is keen on eating non-food items. You don’t need to buy a bunch of fancy food puzzles and games. Try starting off with stuffing a food dispensing ball with your dog’s kibble, stick the ball in a shallow cardboard box, and encourage your dog to play with the ball to get the food.

Game on!

  • Stick all of the different items stuffed with food into the box and encourage your dog to search, explore and find the food. If the dog is afraid to approach the box at first, you can start off by throwing a few treats in the empty box, then add more items as your dog gets more comfortable.
  • To make the game more challenging for your dog, cover all of the items in the box with a towel or blanket.

A few important notes to remember:

  • While these activities can keep your dog busy and engaged for approx. 5-20 minutes, it’s still important to supervise your dog to make sure they’re finding the food, not getting overly frustrated or eating something that isn’t food.
  • If your dog is young or new to food puzzles and toys, start off easy and increase the level of difficulty as they catch on. Be your dog’s cheerleader! Praise them for a job well done and cheer them on if they find a particular item more challenging than the rest.
  • If your dog is known to chew and ingest cardboard or paper, try using durable food dispensing toys. I like these treat dispensing balls made by Outward Hound and Kong.
  • If you add in treats to food games and puzzles, remember to account for those additional calories as part of your dog’s total daily caloric intake. I like to portion out my dog’s meals, ditch the food bowl for the day, and use their kibble for games and puzzles. Try adding in a few chunks of freeze dried liver, or canine-friendly fresh foods like blueberries and baby carrots.
  • Food games and puzzles act as great training options on rainy or hot days.