5 DIY Dog Puzzle Ideas for Cheap Canine Enrichment

If you’re anything like me, you want to provide your dog with an enriching life, but your budget keeps telling you “no” to buying more things for your dogs. That would be a huge bummer…if there weren’t so many options for making enrichment items out of stuff you have around the house. So let’s talk about some DIY dog puzzle options and how they can provide enrichment for your dog.

When used strategically, these puzzles can not only provide mental stimulation for your dog but can also help to improve their problem-solving skills and provide opportunities for your dog to sniff, play, forage, lick, and shred. In other words, it lets them be a dog! Whether you have a small dog or a large one, these DIY puzzles can be customized to suit their unique needs and abilities.

By incorporating puzzles like these into your dog’s daily routine in a goal-oriented way, you can create a stimulating environment that will not only keep them entertained but can also help mitigate boredom and destructive behavior. Plus, it’s a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your furry companion.


Benefits of DIY Dog Puzzles

First, let’s talk about working smarter, not harder. Whether we’re spending money on buying enrichment items or we’re spending time making them, we all want to get the most impact for the least amount of time and/or money as possible–the most bang for our buck, so to speak. 

We can do this by first asking ourselves what our goal is: what do we want our dogs to get out of the DIY dog puzzles we make for them? Is there something they need more of in their life? Or is there something they do that annoys you – for example, chewing up shoes, countersurfing, or digging up your yard – that you would like to give them more appropriate outlets for? Figuring out the answers to these questions can help you to figure out what kinds of DIY dog puzzles you want to make for your dog.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with a goal, we can help! Here are some of the most common goals pet parents might have for incorporating DIY dog puzzles into their pup’s routine:

  1. Mental stimulation: DIY dog puzzles challenge your dog’s brain and keep them mentally sharp. Solving puzzles requires concentration, problem-solving, and memory skills, which can help keep your pup’s brain in tip-top shape. 
  2. Physical exercise: Many DIY dog puzzles require physical activity to solve them. Whether it’s pushing, pulling, or pawing at a puzzle, your dog will get a workout while having fun.
  3. Stress relief: Dogs can experience stress and anxiety, and we don’t always love how they choose to relieve their own stress. DIY dog puzzles can help alleviate stress by providing a constructive outlet for that stress.
  4. Bonding time: Solving puzzles together can be a great bonding experience for you and your furry friend. It allows you to spend quality time together while engaging in a fun and stimulating activity.
  5. Species-typical behaviors: DIY dog puzzles allow your dog to be a dog in a healthy, safe, and appropriate way. With these puzzles, they can shred, chew, destroy, and paw to their little doggy heart’s content! 


Types of DIY Dog Puzzles

There are various types of DIY dog puzzles to choose from, depending on your dog’s size, comfort level, and skill level. Here are three common types of dog puzzles:

  1. Treat-dispensing puzzles: These puzzles require your dog to solve a problem in order to access a treat or kibble. They usually have compartments or hidden sections that can be opened or manipulated to release the food.
  2. Interactive puzzles: These puzzles require your dog to interact with different elements to solve the puzzle. They often involve pushing, pulling, or manipulating objects to reveal a hidden treat or reward.
  3. Scent puzzles: Scent puzzles tap into your dog’s natural behavior to sniff and search for things. These puzzles usually involve hiding treats or toys in various containers or objects and letting your dog use their sense of smell to find them.

Now that you know the benefits and types of DIY dog puzzles, let’s dive into some fun ideas that won’t break the bank!


5 Cheap DIY Dog Puzzle Ideas


#1: Cabbage or iceberg lettuce

For an edible DIY dog puzzle, poke some holes in a wedge or head of cabbage or iceberg lettuce, and put some treats in the holes. This one is especially good for dogs that might consume cardboard, fabric, or other commonly used DIY enrichment materials. You may find that you don’t even need to use treats; one of my dogs loves tearing around the yard with just a wedge of lettuce. She flips it in the air, bats it around and has a blast playing with it before she settles down to eat it.


#2: Muffin tin

Go to your local thrift store and get a couple of different sized muffin tins. You can make them into a slow feeder type of DIY dog puzzle by putting kibbles in the cups, or flip it upside down and scatter kibbles on the underside of the muffin tin. For added challenge, put a couple of tennis balls or toys on top so your dog has to figure out how to move them to get to the kibbles. Muffin tins can also make great lick mats for dogs that destroy silicone lick mats. You might have to take the tin out of the freezer a few minutes prior to giving it to your dog if your dog is sensitive to cold. Muffin tins can also be good in puppy classes, but use discretion. Since there’s some sound involved with getting the kibbles out, this won’t be the best option for sound sensitive puppies or dogs. Even with dogs who aren’t sound sensitive, I usually put muffin tins on a rug or other soft surface that won’t make a huge clatter if the dog flips it. 


#3: Bottle

If you have a sturdy plastic bottle in your recycling bin, take it out, wash it, and remove any labels and/or plastic bits at the top. Tada! Your trash just became a DIY dog puzzle! Cut some small holes in it, add some kibbles or treats, and let your dog bash it around to get the kibbles out. If your dog has mastered bashing the bottle around on the ground, you can increase the challenge by suspending the bottle. Pass a string through it about halfway up the bottle and tie each end to something sturdy like two chairs. Put some kibbles in the bottle and now your dog has a new puzzle to solve.


#4: Kibbles or treats in grass

One of my all time favorites: turn your whole yard into a DIY dog puzzle! Just chuck kibbles or treats in the grass. If your dog has trouble sniffing, keep it confined to a small area at first, or move to something easier like concrete before trying grass. As your dog gains skill, you can gradually increase the amount of food you scatter, the size of the area where you scatter it, and the difficulty of the surface you’re scattering it on (e.g. moving from concrete to short grass, then from short grass to long grass, then maybe snow or other trickier surfaces, depending on your dog’s likes and dislikes).


#5: Towel treat puzzle

Turn an old towel into a DIY dog puzzle by rolling up some treats or kibbles in it. If your dog has already mastered this, layer another towel on top, or tie a loose knot. Towels and blankets can be a great way to add a challenge to treat puzzles that your dog has already learned how to do; just wrap up the old treat puzzle in a towel or blanket so your dog has to dig it out. 


Bonus DIY Dog Puzzle Idea: Destruction Box

I couldn’t stop at 5, so let’s do one more: the destruction box. To do this, simply collect clean cardboard and paper. Collect cardboard boxes, remove staples and/or tape, or anything else that could be dangerous. Get that cardboard egg carton out of the recycling and start gathering toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Keep the packing paper that you get in packages. Squirrel away those paper bags. Once you’ve collected some cardboard recycling, get creative! Put some kibbles in a small box. Put that box in a slightly larger box. Maybe put some kibbles in some packing paper and throw it in as well. Kibbles in the egg carton. Kibbles in paper in the egg carton. Kibbles in a toilet paper tube with both ends open. Kibbles in a toilet paper tube with one or both ends folded closed. The only rule aside from safety is making sure that you’re providing what will be an appropriate level of challenge. My one-year-old dog who is very suspicious of anything new is currently at a “kibbles in one small box with the lid closed” stage. It took some time and many approximations to get there. My other dog, who loves nothing more in life than destroying things to get food, gets a paper bag with many, many, many layers of boxes, paper, egg cartons, etc. She proudly carries her “grocery bag” to the living room where she proceeds to pick out each item, destroy it, eat her kibbles, and then goes back for the next item. There are multiple layers in each item, and yeah it makes a mess. But it makes her very, very happy. 


How to introduce your dog to DIY puzzles

Introducing your dog to DIY puzzles should be done gradually and with patience. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  1. Start with easy puzzles: Begin with simple puzzles that are easier for your dog to solve. This will build their confidence and motivate them to continue solving more challenging puzzles.
  2. Use high-value treats: Use your dog’s favorite treats to make the puzzles more enticing. This will motivate them to engage with the puzzles and keep them interested.
  3. Offer guidance: If your dog is struggling to solve a puzzle, offer gentle guidance by showing them how to solve it. Once they understand the concept, gradually reduce your assistance. Check out this video on how to teach your dog to solve a puzzle: 



Safety tips for DIY dog puzzles

As with anything you give your dog, use your discretion. If you know that your dog will try to consume fabric, skip the towel treat puzzle. If you know your dog will try to eat the plastic bottle, don’t do that one. If your dog has a sensitive tummy, use iceberg lettuce instead of cabbage. You know your dog better than we do, so modify any DIY dog puzzle ideas however you need to in order to make it safer and more enjoyable for them.



Now What? 

Choose one DIY food puzzle to try with your pet this week. If you have a savvy DIY food puzzle dog, what can you do to add a little novelty and challenge?