by Caitlin O’Donnell
The average dog is about as smart as a 2-year-old child. Humans bred these brilliant creatures to hunt, assist the blind and herd sheep, among other things. Before humans bred them for specific jobs, they were wolves who spent 60 percent of their waking hours hunting for food. Dogs are biologically wired to work and usually have the energy to do so. Unfortunately, most modern dogs spend most of their time indoors not getting enough exercise for their minds and bodies. This pent-up energy can lead to destructive behavior, excessive barking and general decreased quality of life.
Ensuring your dog gets enough stimulation can be difficult, whether it’s your busy schedule or concerns about heat exhaustion that stand in the way. That’s where enrichment puzzles come in. Enrichment puzzles are an excellent way of exercising your pet’s mind and body indoors without much effort on your part. Just fill the puzzle up with something yummy, and your dog is ready for a workout. Enrichment puzzles can be used to give your pet treats or their regular meals, depending on you and your dog’s preference. They are recommended for healthy, energetic dogs with no eating problems. Although enrichment puzzles are primarily created for dogs, cats may also enjoy and benefit from the extra stimulation.
Store-bought enrichment puzzles can be expensive, but there are plenty of DIY puzzles you can make with things you already have in your home. The following is a simple DIY to get you started. It will require your dog to use their sense of smell to identify which ball has a treat in it. Then, your dog will have to use its smarts to get the treat out of the ball.
- six-pack of practice softballs (be sure they are the softball-sized, as smaller sizes may pose a choking hazard)
- old t-shirt
- training treats or pieces of dry dog food
- ruler or tape measure
- an excitable dog
- shoe box (optional)
- Cut the t-shirt along the seam on both sides until you have two even halves.
- Cut the tags and sleeves off the t-shirt. Discard them.
- Cut the remaining fabric into one-inch wide strips. You will need at least 24 strips. If you have a larger t-shirt, you may need to cut the strips in half.
- Stuff two fabric strips into each ball.
- Put a few treats in three of the balls.
- Stuff two more fabric strips into each ball, leaving enough room for the treats to fall out when the ball is played with. If you have extra strips, you can keep them to add if the game gets too easy for your dog.
- Arrange all six balls on the floor where your dog can reach them. If desired, display the balls in a shoe box for an added challenge.