Stimulate your Dog with a Puzzle: Reduce Unwanted Canine Behaviors
What is a dog puzzle? A dog puzzle is simply a toy that your dog can push around with their paws or noses, that will dispense food as a reward.
Canine puzzles are great because they provide fun, treats, and mental stimulation for your dog. Bored dogs do more barking, chewing, and general destruction. Despite how much you like your dog, no one wants to come home to this.
Follow this link to learn more about the benefits of dog stimulation. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Pets/tips-pet-food-puzzles-solve-behaviorial-problems/story?id=10773814
The following tutorial will outline simple instructions on how to build a fun dog puzzle. There is some information out there warning against letting dogs chew PVC. We found two sources that put our mind at ease, but understand this project is undertaken at your own risk.
You will need the following fittings in ½ inch PVC :
- 6 ft PVC tubing: not thinwall
- Four 90° angle fittings
- Eight 45° angle fittings
- One tee fitting, with one threaded outlet
- Two crossover fittings
- One plug
- Duct tape
- Three pieces scrap wood
Equipment For Cutting:
- ½ inch drill bit
- PVC cutter or small hand saw (instructions for how to use a PVC cutter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JNqn4iSq9s
- Tape measure
- Black Permanent Marker
Step 1: Prepare the PVC
Before beginning, be sure to put on some sturdy gloves to prevent injury.
Using the tape measure, make a mark with the Sharpie at every 4 inches. Do this 15 times.
In case you are not familiar with how to use a PVC cutter, here is a link to instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JNqn4iSq9s or feel free to use a hand saw.
Cutting the PVC is simple and easy, but most home stores will cut the PVC for a minimal fee. Ask them to cut fifteen 4 inch pieces, and one 1 inch piece of the ½ in PVC tubing.
There will need to be one more piece cut for the feeding assembly, but the length of that piece will vary depending on the size of the tee fitting. See “Step 2: Build the Feeding Assembly” for specifications on how to figure length of this final piece.
Use the PVC cutter to cut (Or a hand saw) on each of the marks. Strive for accurate measurements, but the puzzle will go together fine with some variance. The more exact the pieces are, the easier the assembly of the puzzle will be.
This is what the final product will look like. Notice that the feeding assembly made in step 2 will fit into the entire dog toy as if it were a 16th piece of 4 inch length.
Step 2: Build the Feeding Assembly
Using the 1 inch piece that was cut earlier. This piece is shown at the left in the diagram below.
Glue the tee to this short piece, and glue a longer piece into the other end of the tee. This longer piece can be whatever was left over from the initial cuts.
Lay one of the 4 inch cut pieces, and use it as a guide to cut the longer piece to length, so the whole assembly is equal in length to one of the 4 inch pieces. See pictures
Step 3: Be Safe and Build a Jig
Drill ½ inch holes in several of the PVC pieces. This can be tricky, as the PVC is round and it will want to roll to one side or the other. A good way to solve this is with 3 pieces of scrap wood and duct tape to make a drilling jig to hold the round piece of PVC snugly.
- Take a flat piece of wood, and lay a piece of duct tape along the length of the wood.
- Lay one of the cut pieces from step 1 on the tape to serve as a guide for the space between the two pieces. These pieces will help to keep the tubing from rolling to the side.
- Use duct tape to hold the 2 boards on each side of the PVC piece.Begin by taping down in the center, and then working out to the outside of the piece of wood.
Step 4: Drill the Holes
Use a drill with the ½ inch bit to drill one hole in that piece of PVC, right about in the center of the length; stop before drilling into the second side of the tube.
If the tubing still rolls around, tape can be placed over the top to hold the PVC in place. Start the drill slowly while keeping steady pressure on it. See this video if you are unfamiliar with using a power drill.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r59gnrhiCrw
Repeat this for as many holes as you want in the puzzle. Absolute minimum is 3, which would be for the smartest, and most active dog breeds (German Shepherds, Labradors, Goldens, Poodles, etc.).
Remember, the point of these holes is to let dog food come out while your dog pushes it around. Some dogs will need more motivation than others, so more holes would be needed. Use your judgement on your dog. You can always add some more holes if your dog needs them.
If the finished holes have PVC shavings or “burrs,” the holes can be smoothed out by pushing down on the drill in the hole while running it in reverse.
Step 5: Assemble the Pieces
- Begin with 1 of the crossover pieces, and glue in the tee assembly, so that the tee is perpendicular to the crossover.
- Glue 3 cut pieces in the other holes, making a cross. The pieces with holes drilled can be scattered at random in the assembly. For best results, the holes should be oriented so that they point to the outside, allowing the food to fall out more easily than if they are oriented to the inside of the puzzle. The feeding assembly should also point to the outside.
- Glue 4 of the cut pieces into the other crossover piece. Again, the pieces with holes drilled can be scattered throughout the assemblage
- On the end of each piece opposite from the crossover, glue a 45 degree fitting pointing straight up. The photo below shows these assemblages flipped over.
- Glue one more piece into the other end of the 45 degree fittings (8 times)
- Glue the 90 degree elbows on the end of 4 of the pieces, and fit the other assembly into these 90 degree fittings.
- Screw the ½ inch plug into the threaded hole on the tee
Step 6: Enjoy the Puzzle
Your dog puzzle is great for feeding your dog their whole meal. Having to work for their food, versus simply put in a bowl, is excellent stimulation for puppies and active dogs. Even just a few treats will help engage less active breeds.
Maybe your dogs will just tell you it is their new tug toy!
Please feel free to ask questions, and leave feedback in the comments. Thanks for reading!