Best puzzles for dogs: Five search and treat-based dog puzzles to try at home

You should always try to keep your dog mentally fit and healthy. One of the best ways to do this is to play puzzle games at home. Here are some of the best puzzles for dogs, including toys, DIY games, and more...

Great dog puzzles promote intelligence and ensure that they maintain a fit and healthy mind.
Great dog puzzles promote intelligence and ensure that they maintain a fit and healthy mind.  © 123RF / Alexeitm

It is always a good idea to keep your dog busy, as it keeps them happy, out of trouble, and can stimulate their little brains. One of the best ways to look after your pooch is to play dog puzzle games with them, helping to keep their brains active, improve your relationship, and also because it's just fun!

In this dog guide, TAG24 dives into the intricacies of dog puzzles. What are the best puzzles for dogs, should you be giving them treats, what are some tips and tricks? Let's take a look...

Why are dog puzzle games and toys so important?

Puzzle games and brain exercises for dogs are incredibly important for a dog's mental health and fitness. If they play games that have been properly designed for doggos, their intelligence will be increased and associated rewards will also bring a great deal of happiness and self-confidence to your pooch.

These kinds of games help your dog by tasking them with investigating, searching, solving puzzles, and engaging with their humans. They bring benefits to not only your pup, but you, too. There's honestly no downside to dog puzzle games!

Top 5 best dog and puppy DIY puzzle games

There are tons of fantastic puzzle games for dogs and puppies alike, most of which won't require you to buy a lot of equipment. These DIY dog games will help strengthen your dog's mental capacity and offer up endless fun at the same time.

Here are five fantastic DIY dog puzzle games. Check them out!

Playing puzzle games with your dog will also keep them busy and happy indoors.
Playing puzzle games with your dog will also keep them busy and happy indoors.  © Unsplash / Ayla Verschueren

1. Great sniffing dog puzzles

In order to encourage and help train your dog, it is important to sharpen and improve their sense of smell. Now, of course, smell isn't the only "sense" that's important, but it is the sense that we will focus on with these couple of dog puzzle games. Let's dive in...

Here are a few ideas for great sniffing dog puzzles:

  • Hiding treats: Hide a variety of treats around the house and allow your doggo to sniff them out and find them.
  • Build a DIY sniffing puzzle: Grab some wood, cardboard, and fabric scraps. Build some fantastic little puzzles that require your dog to move little hatches and get the treats out of your homemade contraption.
  • Get a sniffing carpet: You can pick up a variety of different sniffing carpets from most pet stores.
  • Hiding objects: Not all sniff-based, hide-and-seek games have to be based around food. Instead, take some of their favorite toys and stuffed animals and hide them around the house, allowing your doggo to search them out.

Training your dog's sense of smell with puzzle games has a variety of great benefits, allowing it to better understand the world and environment it inhabits.

Hot tip: If you teach your dog the name of each object you play with, you can make the puzzle an even more powerful brain game than it already was.

2. Doggy hide-and-seek

Hide-and-seek is not only fun for human children, but for doggos as well! Don't be afraid of hide-and-seek, just make sure that your dog has been trained to not run away before you give it a go in public...

Here's how to play hide-and-seek with your dog:

  • Get your dog to "sit" in a certain location
  • Now, head into another room, go behind a blanket or curtain, or run behind a tree.
  • Give your dog the command to "search" or "come," so that it tries to find you.
  • In the case that your pooch cannot find you, try to help it by making some non-frightening noises or calling its name.
  • Once it has found you, feel free to reward it with a small treat or some cuddles.

Important: Make sure not to overdo a game of hide-and-seek. You don't want your dog to be afraid of losing you, so hide in its immediate vicinity and in such a way that the dog will find you quickly.

3. Interactive dog puzzle with cups

It's time to try the cup-or-mug game! This puzzle game for dogs also uses their sense of smell, but is slightly different as it requires a couple of mugs, cups, or other similarly small containers. It's super easy, as well!

Here's how the cup game works with dogs:

  • Grab a couple of cups, small buckets, mugs, or similar containers that aren't too shallow.
  • Put a treat under one of these cups and change the position of the cups by pushing them around in front of your dog.
  • Now ask "Where is the treat?" and encourage your doggo to find the correct cup.
  • The dog, if well-trained, should now touch the cup with its paw or simply knock it over. If it has chosen the right cup, it gets the treat.

To help train your dog for this game, start with only one cup and say, "Where is the treat?" before moving its paw carefully towards the cup, knocking it over, and giving it the treat. After doing this for a while, slowly increase the number of cups and, with it, the difficulty.

4. Treat puzzles for dogs

These puzzle games will require not only a good sense of smell, but quality motor skills from your dog. The whole idea is to have your doggo fish small treats out of a box. It's pretty straight forward and doesn't really require much explaining - put small treats in small spaces and have your dog try to get them out of there.

  • Try using ice cube molds if your dog is relatively small
  • If you have a larger dog, something like a muffin tray is sufficiently small
  • Feel free to make a DIY container with cardboard
Just pop a treat into one of the little containers, point it out to your doggo and allow it to try and get it out. Simple, right?

5. Best dog puzzle toys and playing fetch

Fetching games are incredibly beneficial for doggos!
Fetching games are incredibly beneficial for doggos!  © 123RF / Alexeitm

Toys are great for dogs, allowing them to play and keep busy. Combining their beloved toys with search-and-find games, and things like fetch, can be an unbelievably effective way to train your dog's motor skills, give it some exercise, whilst having fun.

Train it to stay when you say "sit," and then get your dog to run after and chase one of its toys as you throw it. It is, of course, better to do this outside as you don't want to break anything.

Tips for dog puzzles with little-to-no dog anxiety

Before you start actively playing puzzle games with your dog, you need to make sure that it doesn't trigger any harmful dog anxiety. This can be a serious issue, often brought on by things like separation, bad smells, and environmental factors that make them fearful.

Let's cut to the chase and check out few things to help stop your dog puzzle games from triggering anxiety and stress:

  • Don't make the tasks too difficult: You don't want your dog to struggle, as this will just frustrate them and induce a lot of stress. Keep things easy, and if you increase the difficulty, make sure that the increase is gradual.
  • Don't play too long: You don't want to tire out your doggo. Make sure that you pay attention to your dog's energy levels and stop playing any puzzle games before they become exhausted.
  • Use word commands: Make sure that you are teaching them word commands throughout the process, so that as they get older and better trained, your puzzle games can become more complex and easily understood by your pooch.
  • Avoid over-feeding: Try to play games that don't necessarily involve treats, as you don't want to over-feed them.
  • Try not to hide too well: As we previously mentioned, don't make your hide-and-seek sessions too intense, as this can cause a great deal of fear and anxiety in your dog.

It is important to simply use some common sense when deciding on the dog puzzle games you are going to play. Don't stress them out, don't risk hurting them, and don't get them overly exhausted!

It's a joy to make DIY dog puzzle toys, but you don't have to

Of course, it is a lot of fun to make your own DIY dog puzzle toys for your pooch to sniff, engage with, and socialize, but that doesn't mean you have to. There are plenty of different toys and puzzles on the market for you to try out in such a case, all of which will still strengthen the bond between you and your doggo.

Just remember to always use the same commands and try not to overwhelm your pooch when playing dog puzzle games with it. If you do it all right, though, you're going to have one heck of a good time!

Cover photo: 123RF / Alexeitm

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