Welcome to Day 39 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- plastic bottles can make versatile food puzzles and toys
- food and cognitive based enrichment
- add food, wrap it up, add it to a Busy Box, suspend it, make a toy
- get the family involved in this one – kids love making puzzles for pets and these challenges offer lots of opportunities for children to use their imagination to come up with the best puzzle bottles for their pets.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
- Puzzle bottle prep will probably take you about 5-10 minutes – having a collection of puzzle stuff is a good idea…it will resemble a pile of rubbish or recycling!
What do you need?
- plastic bottles from milk or soft drinks, for example
- a range of food rewards – kibbles or cube shaped/sized treats work best for most of these puzzles
- paper for wrapping
- a box or Busy Box stuff
- dog lead, cord, show lace, rope or similar (you cold even use a bamboo stick or similar)
- socks, ideally thick, adult size
- to encourage a wide range of foraging and exploratory behaviours
- to do more feeding related behaviour than eating
- to encourage the development of strategies (behaviours) for getting the food out of the bottles
- by varying the design of puzzle bottles we will facilitate carrying out a range of different behaviours, broadening the dog’s repertoire
While this challenge is certainly food based, they are also experiencing cognitive, sensory and environmental enrichment, with lots of crossover between categories.
Working out how to get to the food and developing dexterous skills in manipulating the bottles are examples of cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting and chewing food all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding their way through each food puzzle, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of getting to the good stuff.
Puzzle bottles encourage pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the bottle is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
By offering a variety of puzzle bottles, we want to help the dog expand their range of puzzle-busting behaviours and facilitate your pet applying strategies from other puzzles to new ones; that’s a true cognitive gift and is growing your dog’s brain!
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
- give your pet plenty of space for working on puzzle bottles and bear in mind there will be mess, so think about spaces that are easier for clean up
- the more difficult you have made the challenge, the higher the value the reward must be so use HIGH value foods to motivate exploration and experimentation and make it VERY easy to get the food (no frustration!)
- if your dog just dives in, in full on destruction mode that might also be an indicator that they need an easier challenge so they get to experiment with a broader range of behaviours
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of Puzzle Bottles:
Bottles are certainly a favourite for many dogs; they offer different possibilities for expanding the dog’s behavioural range, truly engaging them cognitively.
Lots of dogs simply like to chase, chew and play with an empty discarded bottle. Decker likes to remove the lids of bottles…job done!
Puzzle bottles are truly adaptable – there really is no limit to how they can be adapted to suit different puzzling levels.
What I tend to see, though, when puzzles are given to dogs, is that well-meaning owners go waaaaay over board, coming up with the most elaborate designs to really challenge their pet.
While it’s great to go for challenge, it’s important that enrichment remain enriching. That means that the challenge must be made appropriate and doable for the individual puzzler.
Our job is to adjust the puzzle difficulty so that our dog uses a range of behaviour and gets to the goal pretty quickly.
This is the true way to improve the dog’s confidence in puzzling (and in life) and help them expand their behavioural repertoire.
Because of the home made nature and variable materials used in puzzle bottles, it’s best to supervise your pet carefully when they have access to this puzzle.
Know your dog! If you have an ingester, these may not work.
If you are concerned about your dog ingesting non-food items during puzzling, have a pocketful of HIGH value treats in your pocket and be ready to toss a couple toward your dog, across their eyeline, if you think they are thinking about eating the bottle.
Making sure the challenge is very doable and they can get to the hidden food rewards quickly is key to modifying their behaviour and expectations during puzzling.
Check all your equipment for this challenge carefully and make sure to remove tape, staples, other fastners, small pieces and plastic pieces. With bottles, remove the lid and plastic ring before giving to your pet. Play safe!
Lots of different challenges you can present with just some plastic bottles!
Option 1 Add Food
Basically, the challenge can be increased or decreased depending on the type and size of bottle and the amount of food used.
The smaller the bottle, the wider the opening and the more food added, equals an easier challenge, perfect for starting out and for dogs who may become frustrated easily.
When you come to the end of a plastic bottle of milk or juice, you can give it to your dog to lick and lap at, if they like and can tolerate that.
- start with a smaller bottle with a wider opening
- small plastic milk jugs (500ml) and juice bottles often fit the bill
- add lots of food for a quick solve
- as your dog develops strategies to confidently get the food out, without having to do a whole lot of chewing of the opening, reduce the amount of food added
- use a soft drinks bottle that’s about 500ml size
- again, start with lots of food and reduce the amount as the dog gets the game
- use a large plastic milk bottle (1 or 2 litres in size)
- adjust the amount of food according to your dog’s abilities
To add extra challenge, run a cord or rope into the bottle to slow the release of the food.
Option 2 Hidden Bottles
Hide a bottle in a puzzle to increase the challenge!
Beginners: Wrap it!
- add some food to a plastic bottle
- lay it on some paper and roll it up
- wrap well and scrunch the ends to make a Bottle Christmas Cracker
Intermediate: Bottle in a Busy Box
- add some food to a plastic bottle
- add that to a box
Advanced: Bottle in a Sock!
- add some food to a plastic bottle
- stuff the bottle in a sock
Option 3 Suspended Bottles
Don’t let your dog get frustrated; if your dog shows behaviour that would help to move or flip the bottle, toss some food rewards on the floor. Continuing to do this will help them to refine this behaviour so that they develop behaviours that they can apply to solving the puzzle.
Beginners: Bottle Jumbler
- secure the lid of the bottle so that the bottle is firm
- make three holes, large enough for the food you are planning to use, around the bottle at different places
- pierce the end of a bottle
- remove the lid and ring
- feed a dog lead, cord or shoe lace through the bottle from the opening through the hole you made in the bottom
- add food and JUMBLE!
Intermediate: Bottle Spinner
- pierce a couple of bottles through the middle
- pass a cord, lead or rope through them; you could also use bamboo or similar
- suspend it carefully, freestanding
Advanced: Hanging Bottle
- use a dog collar to hang a bottle with a handle, such as a milk jug
- adding more food and using a smaller bottle makes it easier to solve
Option 4 Bottle Toys
Your pet might be entertained by just the bottle on its own; remember to remove lids and rings.
Hiding the bottle, allowing them to chase or catch it, and chew for a little. Be careful as chewing plastic may cause it to split and cut your dog, or they will ingest broken off bits. Play safe!
Adding a bottle to a sock can make a fun, crackly tug or throw toy too!
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!