The Art of Stuffing Puzzle Toys for Dogs (VIDEO) January 2017
About once or twice a month I set myself up at the kitchen table to stuff and freeze puzzle toys for my dogs. The 15 minutes it takes me to fill about 10 toys turns into hours of my dog’s time spent hard at work trying un-stuff them.
I do this because I don't want my dogs to be bored. I keep in mind that their ancestors, wolves, need to spend a tremendous amount of their time and energy each day searching for their next meal. They must not only find their prey but also stalk, chase, grab, kill and dissect it before they can get anything into their stomach. Dogs on the other hand, generally get their meals handed to them in a bowl twice a day which only takes them seconds to consume. It’s no wonder we have a nation of bored and under-stimulated dogs on our hands! Work-to-eat food toys do everyone a favour by giving your dog a problem to solve which stimulates their minds, drains some of their energy, and gives them the opportunity for a good chew session.
Work-To-Eat life a Wolf!
If your dog has very high energy levels (and even if they don’t) try feeding them exclusively through work-to-eat toys. You can use a couple of stuffed toys per meal depending on how much food your dog requires and how much fits in the type of toy you choose. There are also work-to-eat alternatives to stuffing and freezing, such as balls and wobbler type toys in which you dump dry kibble inside and the dog must then roll it around to knock the pieces out of a hole (pictured below). You can easily make your own version of this using a water bottle or jug with a hole(s) cut in the side (More on DIY puzzle toys here).
Handy times to occupy your dog with a puzzle toy:
When there is bad weather and you can’t get out for a long walk, make it up to your dog with indoor games they can play.
When guests come over (like the holidays)- whether your dog is afraid of strangers or too hyper around them, confining your dog in a separate area with a stuffed puzzle toy keeps everything calm and everyone happy.
When your dog must left alone for long periods of time, you can give them one or more stuffed puzzle toys so they have something to do while you are gone, you can even hide them around the house so they have to search for them first!
When you just need an hour to yourself
When you want to enrich your dogs life for fun
Time-lapse tutorial video:
My favourite Layer Recipe (as shown in the video above):
Kibble - Fill the bottom third of the toy with dry kibble. Because many dogs cannot lick all the way to the bottom of certain toys like the kong, this ensures that when the dog gets to the last third they can shake the kibble free leaving the inside of the toy relatively clean.
Canned Pate style wet dog food - I use an extra tiny spoon to get the food into the toys and smooth it down.
Canned Pumpkin - I always add a layer of canned pumpkin since the toys are generally stuffed with novel foods I want to ensure the dogs get some fibre to help keep them solid. Make sure you buy 100% pumpkin and NOT pumpkin pie mix.
Canned Tripe - Sometimes I use tripe in the entire toy, the dogs are CRAZY for it. It can be purchased at most pet stores but I warn you, it smells terrible!
Garnish the top with anything you want - I often use cheese, peanut butter, whole sardines shoved half way down, or just dog treats pushed into the goop.
Other stuffing ideas:
Peanut Butter (Dog safe - watch out for Xylitol as it is toxic for dogs)
Cream Cheese and/or Cottage Cheese
Meaty Dinner Left overs (Ensure left overs are dog safe - no onions, raisins etc.)
Cooked mashed Veggies and Blended fruit
Raw dog food
Soaked mushy kibble (Soak kibble in water or broth and wait for the liquid to absorb before stuffing into the toy)
Apple Sauce and Baby Food
Popular Brands of Puzzle Toys*:
The Kong and Kong Wobbler - Note that the black rubber kongs are meant for power chewers who typically destroy their toys.
*Please note that you should only stuff and freeze toys which are meant for stuffing and have two holes to prevent suction forming and injuring your dog.
Things to Watch out for:
Resource Guarding - Another common behaviour passed down to dogs from their wolf ancestors is guarding food and other valuable resources. This means it is very likely that some dogs will guard (act aggressively around) stuffed food toys. Always ensure that you give your dog a puzzle toy in a “safe space” where guests, especially children CANNOT approach the dog while they have it. If you have multiple dogs consider if they are likely to guard from or harass each other and separate them while eating if needed. This could be in a crate, behind a baby gate or in a room behind a closed door. If your dog is a guarder and you want to modify that behaviour contact a qualified dog trainer to help you.
Messiness - Clean your dog's food toys regularly with a bottle brush and/or in the dishwasher. If you are worried about your dog making a mess while they are eating it have them eat their toys in a crate, dog proofed room, or outside.
Novice Dogs - Dogs who are inexperienced with unstuffing puzzle toys may find them too challenging and give up on them after a few minutes. To combat this start out with really easy stuffings such as small dry treats that fall out when the dog just nudges the toy. As they are successful in cleaning it out you can increase the difficulty, slowly working your way back up to frozen solid.
Yes you can. I believe it is actually the only safe way to control and modify aggression in dogs. In fact if you use aversive methods with an aggressive dog you could be, as Dr. Ian Dunbar calls it “removing the ticker from the time bomb."
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