As natural scavengers, dogs find the challenge of eating from a food puzzle incredibly enriching. Puzzle feeding helps dogs burn mental energy, increasing their contentment and decreasing their boredom.
We recommend using puzzles like this for your dogs regular meals and for a few small snacks throughout the day. This puzzle should keep your dog busy for 10-30 minutes, depending on how you fill it, so it’s a great activity to give to your dog at times when they would be bored, pestering for attention, underfoot, or otherwise causing trouble.
Our favorite ways to fill the SodaPup Coffee Cup
Pour your dog’s kibble into the cup then cover the opening with a smear of wet dog food, peanut butter, or cream cheese.
For a slow meal
In a bowl, mix your dog’s kibble with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wet dog food and then stuff it into the puzzle. To slow them down even more, freeze it first!
For a calming snack
Smear a tablespoon or two of wet dog food or peanut butter inside the top half of the puzzle, drop in a few small treats, and shake it up. This encourages licking, which is a self-soothing technique for many dogs.
Note: The opening of the coffee cup may be too small for larger dogs' tongues.
For a challenging snack
Grab a few treats that are slightly larger than the opening of the cup. Squeeze the cup to make the opening oblong and wedge the treats in. Add a few smaller, easier treats to give your dog some early wins that will keep them engaged.
Wedge a few large, crunchy treats into the opening of the cup. Your dog will have to chomp the puzzle from the outside to break up the treats to get them out.
Food Puzzle Safety
Food puzzles and chew toys can bring out aggressive, possessive behavior in even the friendliest of dogs. Resource guarding is a normal aspect of their behavior as the descendants of scavengers.
When giving your dog food puzzles or chew toys, follow these guidelines to keep your family safe:
- Use physical barriers like doors and baby gates to keep kids and other pets away while your dog is solving their food puzzle.
- Some dogs want complete privacy while solving a food puzzles, others will want you to in the room for companionship. Even so, avoid approaching them head on, getting between them and the puzzle, or touching it.
- Always pick up the puzzle and any uneaten food and treats when your dog finishes and before you let others back into the space.
- Never take a puzzle from your dog. Wait for them to walk away or offer them a trade by tossing a better treat a 4-6 feet away and seeing if they voluntarily give up the puzzle to go get it.
- If your dog gives you a stink eye, freezes, growls, or bares, their teeth while they have their puzzle, back up and give them space.
- Reach out to Dogby or a certified dog trainer in your area for help if you are concerned about your dog's behavior around food puzzles.
All about food puzzles
If you are new to food puzzles and want to learn more about them, this article can get you started.
More than anything else, dogs crave quality time with their people. Especially on busy weekdays, it can feel hard to add another thing to your to do list, but it doesn't have to be much, just 5-10 minutes of one-on-one time can make a difference for your dog. Find a time in your routine that works well for you (most of our team prefers after dinner), and do whatever activity seems fun for both of you that day.
We love the Treat Pockets for interactive activities, because they are multifunctional, quick and easy to set up, small for easy storage, and machine washable.
They also lend themselves well to scent-related games, which we love because they give dogs an outlet for the scavenging urges and burn tons of mental energy. Sniffing is also known to lower dogs' heart rates and cortisol levels, making these games great stress busters.
Our favorite games to play with the Dogby Treat Pockets
- Prep the treat pockets by placing a treat in the pocket of each one, making sure it sticks out the top, so your dog can get it.
- With your dog outside or in another room, place the treat pockets around the room, sticking to visible spots on the floor for now.
- Let your dog in the room. Watch and cheer for them each time they find a treat, but try not to offer guidance as they search. If they are having a hard time getting the treats from the pockets, help them out, and plan to lay the treats on top of the pockets next time instead of putting them inside.
- When your dog finds the last treat pocket, cheer for them and tell them "all done!" Pick up all the pockets. Over time, they will learn that this signals the end of the round.
- Give them a few treats in another room while you reset the game and repeat!
Every few rounds, if your dog is finding all of the pockets without help and without giving up, make it a little harder. Likewise, if they give up before finishing or keep turning to you for help, make the next few rounds a little easier.
Here's how to make it harder:
- Hide the treat pockets in less visible spots.
- Hide the treat pockets in a larger search area.
- Hide some of the treat pockets on higher surfaces, starting with ones just a foot or less off the ground.
- Hide some of the treat pockets under something that your dog will have to move to get to them.
K9 NoseWork with a Twist
NoseWork is typically introduced to dogs using boxes, but for many people, it's rare to have 5+ non-collapsed boxes ready and waiting at home. So we like using the Dogby Treat Pockets instead!
1. Put your dog outside or in a different room. Lay your treat pockets in a line, spaced 6-12 inches apart. And place a pea-sized piece of real meat or cheese on each one. The stronger smell will help your dog. Keep a small bag of extra treats on you.
2. Let your dog into the room and just like with the treasure hunt, hang back while your dog searches.
3. Every time your dog finds a treat, go over to them and give them a treat right where they just found one. This starts the process of teaching them to wait next to something when they find it.
Repeat this process at least a few times, until your dog goes straight to the treat pockets every time they enter the room. Then slowly make it harder by only putting treats on 4 of the 5 treat pockets, then 3, then 2.
The next phase is to expand your search area, while continuing to place the treat pockets in easily visible and accessible spots.
- Spread the treat pockets around the middle of the room.
- Place some along the walls.
- Tuck some into corners or next to entryways.
Now add minor obstacles. Here are a few ways to do it:
- Place a treat pocket under a table.
- Place one on a low table or shelf.
- Place one in an open cabinet or drawer.
Lastly, it's time to wean off the treat pockets.
- Put the treat pockets in the center of room. Hide several treats near the treat pockets but not on them. The treat pockets will serve as a visual cue to your dog.
- Repeat several times. Once your dog is easily finding the treats, add a cue. As you let your dog into the room, say "search!" just once.
- After 3-5 rounds with your "search" cue, use the same process as above to increase the complexity of the searches.
The Dogby Treat Pockets are a great way to build interest in chasing and fetching toys, especially for dogs who aren't already that into them. This game is best for small dogs and gentler medium or large dogs. You'll want a larger toy made from tougher materials for dogs who are larger and more aggressive.
- Wedge a stinky treat deep into the treat pocket, so your dog won't be able to get it out on their own, and tie a 3-4-foot-long piece of narrow rope snugly to the treat pocket. Keep a small bag of the same treats on you.
- Show your dog the treat pocket and get them excited about it. While holding the end of the rope, toss the treat pocket 2-3 feet away from you.
- When your dog picks it up in their mouth, gently reel them over to you. Give your dog a treat to trade them for the treat pocket. Then take the treat out of the treat pocket for them and let them have it.
- Repeat 5-10 times until they are coming over to you without you needing to do much at all to reel them in.
Remove the rope and repeat steps 1-4. If your dog doesn't bring the treat pocket back to you right away, use a silly voice and playful postures to encourage them.
After 5-10 repetitions, stop putting a treat in the treat pocket each time. Continue to reward your dog with a treat from your bag every time they bring the treat pocket over to you.
After 5-10 more repetitions, throw the treat pocket farther away, starting with 4-6 feet and building to throwing it across the room.
If your dog gets inherent joy from chasing down toys, you can phase out the treats now. But if they aren't as driven by the game, you'll want to keep the treats as motivators. Your dog is not morally inferior for being more motivated by treats than by toys. Here's how to phase out the treats:
- Instead of offering your dog a treat to trade them for the toy, offer them a different toy. When they do trade you, still give them a treat. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Don't reward your dog with a treat for every trade, scale back to rewarding them about 50% of the time. Don't reward every other trade, make it random, so your dog isn't sure if they will get a treat or not. Repeat 10 times.
- Scale down to giving a treat 25% of the time. Repeat 10-20 times.
- Stop giving treats entirely.
Now you can experiment with different toys. Start with ones that are similar to the treat pockets, like a small stuffed animal or soft ball.