September 2019 Training Challenge: Try a New Food Puzzle

Our September 2019 Training Challenge is:

Try a new food puzzle. 

This month I was inspired by kids going back to school. It’s a time for learning new things and tackling new challenges. For our pets (of all species!) that can come in the form of food puzzles. They’re a great tool for providing mental exercise, confidence building, and appropriate foraging opportunities. Personally, the pet consulting business ramps up again in September after the summer lull so it’ll be nice for Oso to try out a new food puzzle and to add one more thing in our enrichment arsenal. 

Because we definitely don’t have enough food puzzles as it is…

A reoccuring theme I hear when people give their pet a new food puzzle is, “They won’t do it!” While there are several reasons why your pet may not be using their new food puzzle one common account is that we simply haven’t taught them how to use that particular puzzle. Imagine someone placing a device with candy inside down in front of you and walking away without any further explanation. It’d likely be confusing! This can happen for our pets, too. 

Instead of both our pets and us getting frustrated we should teach them how to use their new toy. You may not have to do this for pets who have a lot of experience with different food puzzles and are already equipped with those problem solving skills; for the pets who’ve never seen one, though, it’s usually a necessity. Check out our video below on how to teach your pet to use a new food puzzle.

Here are some tips for teaching your pet a new food puzzle:

  • Choose a puzzle with your pet’s preferences in mind. Our pets have preferences just like we do. For instance, Oso is a rough-and-tumble kind of dude. He’s great at the puzzles that he can knock over and roll around with his nose. He doesn’t mind the noise those make though he does prefer to use them on carpeted areas. I know that if I give him a new puzzle he can roll around I don’t need to show him how to to it. However, he’s not as adept at the intricate food puzzles that require a lot of small motions and steps. His way of solving those is dropping them on the floor so they break open (which, while a valid way to solve the puzzle is also expensive to buy replacements.) If I give him a more complicated puzzle I’ll have to teach him first before he can use it without breaking it. 
  • Choose a puzzle with your pet’s experience in mind. Giving a challenging food puzzle to a novice dog is likely to lead to frustration. On the other hand, giving a simple food puzzle to an experienced dog is not going to provide much of a challenge. Think about how much experience your dog has with food puzzles and choose a new one accordingly. 
  • Work up to the most challenging setting. Many puzzles have ways to make them more or less difficult. Instead of starting with the most difficult setting we should work our way up to it by first starting on the easiest, then easy-medium, medium, medium-hard, and finally the hardest setting. This allows our pet to master each setting and build a history of getting food from the puzzle. That history will help them keep at it for longer when it becomes more challenging. 
  • Show them how but try not to do it for them. It was once thought that only primates could learn through watching others but we now know that our pets can do this too! We can encourage them to use their new puzzle by showing them how to get the treats out a few times. Be careful though not to do it every time for them. Some learn that the best way to get the food out is to let the human do it! While that’s a clever solution in using their resources it doesn’t necessarily meet the goal we’re hoping to achieve by introducing a new puzzle. Show them how a few times then let them at it. 
  • Use a higher-value food. Higher-value food helps build more motivation in almost all training scenarios: this is no different! Up the ante when they’re first learning and save the kibble for when they’ve got the hang of it. 

Now what?

  • Purchase or make your new food puzzle! Check out speciality/boutique pet stores for a wider variety or explore DIY options on the internet. 
  • Start training your pet to use their new food puzzle!
  • Send us pics and videos of the process to [email protected] or post on our Facebook page:

Happy training!