We want to avoid frustration by starting with the easiest step. If you make the puzzle too difficult the dog will give up and then the toy lays around collecting dust.
If it's a toy you stuff with food, like the Kong, gradually work up to a more difficult level. At first put in a few pieces of kibble that will fall out easily. Dog is engaged and happy he made food come out. Rinse, repeat. Make it a bit more challenging incrementally.
The Power Of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
Food for thought on why pet containment systems are not a good option.
Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell
The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
The Other End Of The Leash by Patricia McConnell
Considerations for the City Dog by Melissa McCue McGrath
The Toolbox For Building A Great Family Dog by Terry Ryan
Don't Shoot The Dog by Karen Pryor
On Talking Terms With Dogs by Turid Rugaas
I have several food mat puzzles shown above that I currently use and recommend to clients. Emma earned the title of chief puzzle tester because her standards are high and she's super smart. Emma's high standards include, but are not limited to; a good challenge, has to be fun, food was consumed, she moved it around and food was dispensed, she gets to use her paws as a vice, she tossed it in the air and food was dispensed and it helps barking sounds from neighborhood dogs become background noise (aka lazy counter conditioning).
Lou (Treeing Walker Coonhound) above working a snuffle mat!
When I work with clients I introduce them to the ever increasing importance of mental enrichment toys/games. Most of you have used the most well known 'Kong' food puzzle at some point. These wonderful gadgets get the dog problem solving, using their nose and practicing impulse control. Knowing how to use the puzzles to increase impulse control and watching their dogs stay engaged while having fun is great motivation.
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