I came across this idea when I was reading a fellow dog trainer’s blog. I fell in love with it, and thought that it would be something that my own readers would be able to easily make and play with their own dogs. The credit for this idea goes to Michelle Huntting.
All you need is a muffin tin, some kibble or treats, and tennis balls. I started with a 12 cup muffin tin, so I used 12 tennis balls, but you could easily use a smaller muffin tin, or simply use part of the muffin tin, depending upon how many tennis balls you happen to have. If you have a toy breed, I think you could easily use a mini muffin tin and smaller tennis balls.
You place a small number of kibbles or treats in each of the cups, and cover it up with a tennis ball. Your dog has to move the tennis balls to get to the treats. I used two small kibbles in each cup.
When your dog plays this puzzle, he’s likely to simply pick up the tennis balls with his teeth and take them out. This is the easiest method, and you certainly can let your dog do that. However, when I play these types of puzzles with Rugby, I always make things a bit harder, because he’s very smart, and needs to work!
So, when he started to pick up the tennis balls, I simply placed my hand over them to stop his play. I didn’t tell him “No,” because I didn’t want him to be corrected for trying to play the game. I only wanted to stop him from trying to pick up the balls, so covering them stopped his play. Each time that I did that, he started trying different things to get to the treats. He tried nudging them with his nose, but the wells are pretty deep, and when he bumped them, the entire tin moved. So I tried holding the muffin tin to make it easier for Rugby. He finally settled on using a paw to pull the ball out of each well.
He really seemed to enjoy this game, and it was very, very easy to put together and play. The wells are a bit deep, and he did seem to be a bit challenged with getting the treats out. I think this would be challenging for a pug nosed dog, unless the treats were good sized. I used very tiny tidbits, and noticed that it was fairly difficult for Rugby to grab them. I’ll use bigger pieces with him next time.
The other thing that made it a bit challenging is that because the muffin tin is so lightweight, when Rugby would try to move the tennis balls in various ways, the entire thing went sliding across the floor. I tried various floor surfaces, but finally settled on holding the muffin tin so that he could play easily. Once he’s played it a few times I may not have to do that, but it really made a good difference when I held the tin for him. Another idea would be to put Velcro on the bottom of the tin…all four corners, and then it should grab the rug and stay in place. Be sure to use the side of Velcro that has the tiny teeth!
I’m all for any kind of games that make dogs think, and also provide opportunities for owners to interact with their dogs. This puzzle game fits the bill, and I think Rugby really enjoyed playing it! I hope you’ll give it a try with your own dog!! Be sure to let me know how much fun you had!