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DIY Dog Puzzles: 5 to Try at Home

Dog using a snuffle mat made from diy for dog puzzles
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Have a clever pup who loves using his brain? (FYI, that’s basically every dog!) While there are tons of “busy toys” available at your local pet shop, you probably have the materials for some fun enrichment toys inside your recycling bin.

Sure, it’s fun to buy new dog gear, but there’s something special about creating a custom toy and then watching your dog have fun with it. And don’t worry—you won’t have to break out the drill or visit the hardware store to create these quick and easy DIY dog puzzle toys.

Benefits of Dog Puzzles and Games

Dog head tilted on rug at home in living room

Bored, under-exercised dogs find their own ways to stay entertained—often to the detriment of your shoes, remote, and throw pillows.

It’s important to keep dogs occupied with a variety of activities throughout the day. Physical exercise is critical, but working your dog’s brain is just as important—and that’s where puzzle toys come in. In addition to providing mental stimulation, DIY dog enrichment toys are also an excellent way to build your bond with your dog and encourage your furry friend to think creatively. 

Another benefit of making your own toys is that you can customize them to your dog’s skill level. Once your pup figures out the beginner version of the toy, you can whip up a new one and adjust it to suit his evolving abilities. And even better? The following toys are practically free! 

DIY Puzzles: What You’ll Need

Overview of recycling bin at home

These brain busters are easy to create with items from around the house, even if you’re not particularly crafty. Some of the components you’ll need include:

  • An empty plastic 24-ounce soda bottle
  • An assortment of cardboard boxes in various sizes
  • A collection of bathroom tissue/paper towel rolls
  • Party balloons
  • Old t-shirts
  • Newspaper or paper bags
  • Treats
  • Scissors
  • A screwdriver

5 DIY Dog Puzzles to Try at Home

The Kibble Jug

Dog kibble in a big plastic bin

This DIY dog puzzle feeder turns mealtime into a game by taking the bowl completely out of the equation. With just scissors and a plastic soda bottle, you can create a food dispenser that encourages your dog to “forage” for his food and slow down while eating. 

Starting with a clean, dry bottle, use scissors to puncture holes that are big enough to let pieces of kibble come out, but not so large that they’ll pour out quickly. The goal is to make your pup put in some effort to get goodies, but not get frustrated by the lack of payoff. It’s important that it’s easy for your dog to “win” the first few times you give him this toy, otherwise he might try to chew through the bottle instead of rolling it around. 

Once you’re happy with the number, size, and placement of the holes, fill the bottle with a portion of your dog’s daily meal ration and screw the cap back on. Present it to your dog in an open space (he’ll need room to roll it around), and let him enjoy working for his food. As your dog gets the hang of it, change up the game by introducing a new bottle with fewer holes.

The Dig Pit

Dog playing in a cardboard box

Tap into your dog’s natural drive to dig by giving him a safe, clean way to enjoy this fun behavior. First, grab an empty cardboard box that’s big enough for your dog to put his front paws inside. (Pet parents with petite pups might need to cut down the sides of the box so it’s easier for the dog to get in.) Then shred newspaper, paper bags, or old t-shirts into long, thin strips and put them in the box.

Once the box is filled with dig materials, mix in a variety of treats. Pet parents with play-driven dogs can hide toys inside, as well. Let your dog investigate the box and get to work sniffing out the hidden treats. If you have an especially enthusiastic digger, consider using something to anchor the box in one place, such as a small weight placed in the bottom. Supervise your dog the first few times to ensure he’s not eating the filler materials in addition to the treats!

The Treat Hive

Dog getting a treat from a nice lady

This scenting toy encourages your dog to use his nose to find treats hidden within a maze of cardboard tubing. To make it, you’ll need a collection of bathroom tissue rolls and paper towel rolls (the more rolls the better!) and a cardboard box that’s big enough to hold the rolls.

To assemble, fold down the box flaps, or cut them off so they don’t get in the way; then, place the various rolls inside the box so they’re standing up. (If you don’t have enough rolls to completely fill the box, use paper packaging materials to fill the remaining space so the tubes remain upright.) Pack them as tightly as you can to make this DIY toy more challenging.

Take a few tubes out of the box, press the bottoms closed, fill with treats, and close the tops before  placing them back in the box. Fill the remaining open tubes with treats and scatter some beneath the packaging materials, as well. Place the hive on the ground and prepare to be amazed as your dog finds creative ways to get the food out of the tubes.

Icy Treat Ball

Dog getting an ice cube

What’s better than a cool treat on a hot day? How about one that doubles as a toy! 

This DIY interactive dog toy is a solid ice ball with treats frozen inside. To make it, gather some small dog biscuits and a few balloons, then head to the kitchen sink. Open the mouth of the balloon wide enough to pop the biscuits inside, then fill the balloon with water so that it’s large enough that your dog can’t pick it up. (Think cantaloupe-sized for bigger dogs, and tennis ball-sized for petite pups.) Tie off the balloon, then gently place it in the freezer. Rotate the balloon a few times throughout the freezing process so that the treats are evenly distributed inside.

Once frozen solid, use scissors to cut the balloon away from the ice. Take it outside and let your dog enjoy playing with this unique treat toy. (Supervise your dog to make sure he’s not trying to gnaw his way through the ice, as this could lead to chipped teeth.)

Easy Snuffle Mat

Dog playing with owner on a mat

A snuffle mat is a DIY dog puzzle that resembles a little shag rug. It’s a unique way to encourage your dog to forage for treats or his daily meal ration. This simple version only requires a cardboard box, scissors, a screwdriver, and a few old t-shirts.

First, cut the side off of a sturdy box that’s big enough for your dog to comfortably put both paws on. Lay the piece of cardboard on a flat work surface and use the screwdriver to punch small, evenly spaced holes into it. (The more holes you make, the denser and more challenging the snuffle surface will be.) 

Next, cut the t-shirts into narrow strips about one inch wide and six inches long. Use the screwdriver to push one end of the fabric through a hole, and then push the other end into the hole beside it. Continue the process of threading each strip through side-by-side holes in straight lines until all of the holes are filled, then flip the cardboard over and tie the loose ends of each strip together. Turn the cardboard back over and thread more strips of fabric at a right angle to the holes already filled, then tie the loose ends together, repeating the process until the back side of the cardboard is filled with what looks like fabric “squares.”

When the holes in your mat are completely full, you can cut some of the fabric strips short and leave others long to create levels of difficulty. Finally, hide treats within the strips and watch your dog discover the fun hidden within!