10 Fun Puzzles for Dogs You Can Do At Home
To keep your dog happy and healthy, it’s important to work out their body and mind.
But don’t worry; you don’t need to teach your furry Einstein algebra to challenge their intellect. There are plenty of easy and adorable dog brain games that you can play with nothing but household items and a bag of Fido’s favorite treats!
1. The Towel Roll
One of the simplest yet surprisingly effective puzzles for dogs can be made with nothing but a towel and a handful of treats. Wrap your pup’s favorite treats or toys inside a towel, and see how long it takes them to figure out how to unroll the towel to get at the goods inside!
If unwrapping a towel is confusing your dog, start by simply putting the treats under the towel — and make sure Fido sees you do it. Then, encourage them to paw at the towel and pull it aside to reveal the treats.
Some pups don’t realize right away that you want them to figure this out for themselves; they may expect you to do all the work and reveal the treats for them. That makes this simple game a good “entry point” for your dog’s brain training, teaching them that there are tasty rewards for using their own noggin to puzzle through a problem!
It’s an oldie but a goodie!
To play this dog brain game, Fido will first have to reliably Sit and Stay even when you’re out of sight. (It doesn’t work if he follows you right to your hiding spot!).
Once your dog is sitting obediently, hide somewhere in the house out of eyesight of your dog (but still within hearing range) and then call for your pal.
Despite the fact that our furry friends have a superior sense of scent and better hearing than we do, you’d be surprised how many pups get puzzled when it’s not immediately obvious where you are! This game requires your dog to focus on using their ears and nose to track you down.
3. Canine Scavenger Hunt
There are many puzzles for dogs that encourage your pup to use their super-sniffer. But one of the best scent-based dog brain games doesn’t require any toys, props or accessories: just a handful of treats and an eye for good hiding spots.
The first few times you play this game, place the treats within sight of your dog. As your pup approaches the treats, tag that behavior with a command, such as “Find it!”
Then, when you place some treats out of sight of your pup and tell them, “Find it!” your dog will understand that there are treats somewhere nearby that you’re expecting them to eat. Start with low difficulty hiding spots, and then build up to more “advanced” locations as your dog becomes a better and better bloodhound!
4. The “What the Fluff” Challenge
Participate in the viral “What the Fluff” challenge for an adorable pet-centric version of “Peekaboo!”
To begin, stand in a doorway or hallway with your dog in front of you, and hold up a blanket high enough to obscure Fido’s view of your whole body. Raise the blanket up and down a few times, hiding and then revealing your face each time, so your dog knows you’re standing behind the blanket.
Then, when you’re ready, toss the blanket straight upwards and dart away into a room or around the corner. When the blanket hits the ground, it will appear to your pup as if you’ve vanished into thin air. Your dog’s brain will definitely be working to solve your mysterious disappearance!
5. The Cup Game
Can your dog sniff out a hustle? Turn this classic swindler’s game into a puzzle for dogs with just a few similarly-sized cups, shells or hats.
Let your dog see you hide a delicious treat under one cup, then shuffle that cup among others that contain no treats. Then, have your dog pick one and see if they sniffed (or heard, or saw) the correct cup!
At first, your dog may not understand the concept of “choosing” a cup. They may simply wait for you to reveal the hidden treat, or to give them a command that they already know.
If this happens, you’ll want to coax your dog to approach the “correct” cup, and then reward them with praise and a treat even if they just accidentally bump the cup with their paw or nose. Your dog will learn that touch cup = treat, and then there’s no stopping them!
6. DIY Snuffle Mat
One of the most classic DIY dog puzzles is the ‘snuffle mat’: a collection of small strips of fabric tied to a mat or frame. It’s used for hiding treats that your dog has to sniff out, putting both Fido’s brain and his nose to the test.
Making your own DIY snuffle mat is surprisingly easy. All you need is a rubber sink mat with holes in it and scraps of fleece or cloth. Cut the fabric into small strips, and tie each strip through the holes in the mat. This results in a collection of knots and dangly bits of fabric that cover the mat — perfect for hiding all kinds of goodies!
To begin with, drop your pal’s treats on top of the mat directly. Then, move on to hiding the treats within the folds of fabric, and watch your pup root around for their tasty reward.
7. The Name Game
Dogs often have much better memories than we give them credit for — it’s just a matter of motivating them to use it!
Instead of saying “Go get your toy!” all the time, try giving your dog’s toys individual names. This dog brain game challenges your pup to learn and remember the difference between “Teddy” and “Fluffy” and so forth. (One word of warning: Make sure you remember the names yourself. You’ll only confuse your poor dog if their bear is “Teddy” one day and “Smokey” the next.)
Once your pup makes the connection between the toy and the name, you can even combine the names with commands: “Touch Teddy” or “Find Fluffy”, for example.
If you really want to push your pooch, you can aim for the top and challenge the current record-holder for the Name Game. Over the course of her lifetime, one Border Collie named Chaser learned the individual names of over 1,000 toys!
(Actually, let’s just start with “Teddy” and “Fluffy” and see how Fido does).
8. DIY “Whack-a-Mole” Game
This classic fairground game of patience and reflexes is bound to be a hit with your pup!
At first glance this may appear to be one of the more complicated DIY dog puzzles, but all you really need is a cardboard box and a box cutter.
Make a series of small holes in one side of the box, leaving enough space underneath for you to fit your hand. Then, keep your dog guessing as to which hole their favorite toy will pop out of next!
If you’re really looking to challenge your pup, there are many ways to take this dog brain game to the next level. You could reward your dog with a treat each time they successfully touch the toy, or get two toys popping up at once. The options are endless!
9. Build an Obstacle Course
Challenge your dog’s coordination, dexterity and ability to think through a problem when you build a homemade obstacle course or maze. The only limit to this dog brain game is your creativity!
Household items are usually all you’ll need to make something your best pal can weave through, jump over, or crawl under. You can also create an “invisible wall” by using clear packaging tape to block hallways, and see how your pup reacts to this strange new barrier where there’s never been one before.
Remember that as with all of these puzzles for dogs, they are supposed to be fun and interesting for your pooch. If you can see Fido getting frustrated or distressed with this change to his familiar home, that’s your cue to put away the obstacles and have some nice cuddle time instead.
10. DIY Muffin Tin Puzzle
This is one of our boy Sparky’s favorite DIY dog puzzles: the Muffin Tin!
To play this dog brain game, start by putting your dog’s favorite yummy treats in the cups of a muffin tray. Then, cover each hole with some kind of “obstacle” that your dog will have to move out of the way.
We find tennis balls or other round objects work great for this. They tend to simply spin around in the hole as your dog paws at them, and therefore are a little bit trickier to extract. Once your pup does figure out that they need to pick up the tennis balls directly, there’s a delicious reward underneath.
(Or, your dog may simply decide to flip the whole tray over — and honestly, that’s a creative solution too!)
Mental enrichment is healthy for your dog’s overall wellbeing, and playing these dog brain games with your pup is a great way for you two to spend time together. Try a few of these fun puzzles for dogs to exercise Fido’s mind — and maybe even yours!