I get daily questions from customers about our puzzle games. Some of the most common questions are:
– Which game suits my dog?
– How should I teach my dog to play?
– Do you have some tips on how to make the games easier or more difficult?
To understand what a puzzle game is, I usually compare our dog puzzles with crossword puzzles for us humans. If we start with an easier crossword and slowly progress to harder ones, then we learn how it works and we think it’s fun! If we instead start with a too difficult crossword the first time, we only manage a few words before we get frustrated and give up.
The same applies to our dogs. They need to start at the right level and gradually advance to more difficult games, so that the dog can understand and learn that with games you have fun and work your way to the treats, not chewing into it, and not upturning the game. For both us and for our dogs, you have to learn the playing rules to understand and enjoy the game.
The dog should think it’s fun to play, not get frustrated that it is too difficult, which means choosing the right game to start with for your dog. Start with easier games for puppies and beginners, and level 2 games suit most dogs if they are motivated by food and treats.
If you have worked a lot with your dog and know that the dog is a good problem solver, then you can start with a slightly more difficult game.
What is the difference between a dog puzzle and a regular toy?
Searching for hidden treats inside a game is a problem-solving exercise that activates the dog mentally. While being rewarded with treats, the dog is allowed to work with the brain.
Dogs love to be mentally challenged, and it is also the best way to get a tired and happy dog. An ordinary toy is of course fun, but the dog does not have to work very much with the brain, which is the main difference from puzzle games.
My philosophy is that dogs have four legs and one head, and all five need exercise in different ways daily. Some require more than others, but everyone needs it.
Did you know that 15 minutes of mental exercise is the equivalent of 30 minutes of physical exercise for dogs?
Dogs love to explore and problem-solve in their own way. Some use their paws and some use their nose. Each of our puzzles is designed with your dog’s natural behaviors, senses, and safety in mind.
I will regularly give advice on this blog with tips & tricks for all our games. Today I start with the Dog Casino, a level 3 puzzle, which I have received many questions about. The most common is how to get the dog to spin the bone pegs on the top of the game to unlock the drawers.
Read my tips on this below, along with how you can make the game both easier and harder to get the most out of it.
Enjoy & Have Fun // Nina Ottosson
Dog Casino Tips & Tricks
With the Dog Casino, the dog has to unlock pegs in order to pull out drawers to find the hidden treats. With the following tips & tricks, you can adjust this game to make it both easier and more difficult.
Always start by letting the dog watch you fill the game with treats. I recommend using extra tasty treats the first time the dog plays with a new game.
Start easy – don´t lock the drawers with the pegs on the top just yet. Leave a drawer a little open for the dog to sense the smell and see the treats.
Practice training: When you place the game on the floor, you can try to teach the dog to sit down and wait for you to say go ahead. Dogs learn the usual commands like wait, sit, go ahead, incredibly fast if doing it in positive forms, and treat puzzles are very positive in a dog’s world.
Play together with the dog, sit next to and help them understand how the game works. If he doesn´t understand, many dogs can see and learn if we show how to pull out the drawers. If the dog understands what “paw” means you can say it and at the same time help the dog pull out a drawer.
Making the game easier
Just as we are right- and left-handed, dogs are paws or nose dogs. Some dogs are both. Nose-dominant dogs have a little harder time pulling out the drawers with the paw. If the dog has difficulty pulling out the drawers, you can make it a little easier by tying ropes in the handles so that the dog can use his mouth to pull out the drawers.
Once the dog has understood how to pull out the drawers, you can start locking one drawer by turning a bone peg on the top.
Point at the locked bone peg and try to make the dog understand that it should try to spin it. Spin the locked bone peg and pull out the drawer in front of him. Repeat several times.
If the dog does not understand the connection between the bone peg on top and the drawers, you can try one of the following tips to get the dog to spin the locked peg:
- Tie a string around the outer part of the bone peg that the dog can pull on.
- Place small pieces of treats or mild soft cheese on the top of the bone pegs.
- Spread some soft cheese on the sides of the peg to encourage your dog to nudge the bone with their snout.
Note: Supervise your pet to ensure they do not ingest the string. Do not use string if you think they might try to chew or swallow it.
Making the game more challenging
Method 1: Make a frozen puzzle! Place your dog’s favorite snacks with water or natural yogurt in the compartments and let it set in the freezer. This will keep your dog busy for a much longer time. You can read more about making pupsicles with our puzzles in this blog post.
Method 2: Cut out pieces of cardboard and place it over the treats in the drawers, the dog must first remove the cardboard to reach the treats.
Note: only use cardboard if you’re certain your dog won’t eat it. Always supervise.
Method 3: Place the game higher up for an added challenge. You can put it on a stool, box, or chair, which is great for:
- Rough pawing dogs. Elevating it provides calmer play.
- If you have a paw dog, it will be a little harder to only work with the nose.
- If your dog is convalescent and not allowed to move freely, this prevents them from using the injured limb.
Other Tips & Tricks
Place the game in a soft dog bed: If your dog is a tough or a strong paw player, it allows for calmer play.
For fast-eating dogs: Use the puzzle as a slow feeder. Serve the dog’s food in the game, and let the dog work for the food. The compartments are big enough for a whole meal.
Puzzle race: If you have several games, you can make a puzzle race by placing several games in a row, and just put a few treats in each game.
Alternatively, you can hide the games in different rooms or in the garden. Sometimes I hide them under towels and blankets. It’s much appreciated by dogs, especially on rainy days.
For anxious dogs: Puzzle games can be used to distract dogs in anxious situations such as fireworks, thunderstorms, etc.
Play together! Playing together with your dog strengthens the bond and builds your relationship with your dog.
Puzzle games prevent and reduce boredom and prevent behavior problems.
The games are great to activate older dogs that are still mentally healthy.
Cleaning: Soak the game in hot water and soap, then clean the game with a sponge, or rinse the game with the shower, I use a sponge and a spray bottle that I mixed with soap and water.
Playing by the Rules
Nina Ottosson dog puzzles are focused on challenging the dog’s brain. These games are not like a regular toy, and they are not indestructible, which is why we also advise close supervision so the dog plays the right way, especially until you know how your dog works with the games. Then you can make your own decision on how you want your dog to use the games.
Playing with puzzle games is fun! Dogs love to work for food & treats, and because of that, it´s very important to supervise, especially with puppies and young dogs. It´s important to teach the dog how to use them (the playing rules), and to not let the dog chew on the puzzle or turn it upside down. As soon as this starts happening, you need to stop the play.
SAFETY & CARE
When choosing a toy, make sure to choose an appropriate size/style/level for your dog. No toy or game is indestructible. ALWAYS supervise your dog closely, teach your dog how the game/toy works. Do not leave the dog alone with a treat game/toy, do not let the dog chew on the game/toy or pieces. Inspect regularly for damage and remove if broken, or if parts become separated, as serious injury may result. For dogs only, not a children’s toy. When empty, store until next supervised use.
Do you have a question for Nina about dog games? Let us know in the comments!