Brain games for dogs

Dog using enrichment puzzle

Cabin fever can be difficult to manage in the winter (or during a shelter in place order), especially for active dogs who love to get outside to play. Being stuck inside can lead to boredom. But you can keep your dog entertained with a few puzzles and activities.

With just a few supplies, each of these DIY activities is easy to put together and will give your pup the entertainment they're craving.

Brain games are puzzles, toys, and activities that encourage your dog to experiment and problem solve. They’re great for dogs who have energy to burn and are especially helpful for dogs with anxiety or a high energy.

Brain games should be used under direct supervision to prevent ingestion of any materials used to make the toys.

Simple treat puzzle


  • Plastic container with lid
  • Knife or scissors
  • Kibble


  1. Wash and rinse a plastic container with lid such as those from sour cream or yogurt
  2. Cut a few holes in the lid or sides of the container.  The holes should be big enough for dog food pieces to pass through but no so large that a lot are dispensed at one time.
  3. Put a hand full of kibble in the bowl and close the lid
  4. Give to your dog

Your dog will be able to push and roll the container to dispense a few kibbles at a time.  For big dogs you can also do this with a milk jug.

Destruction toy


  • Cardboard box such as cereal or cracker box
  • Kibble
  • Tape (optional)


  1. Remove plastic liner from an empty box of cereal
  2. Add a few treats or dog kibbles to the box
  3. Fold box closed (or use small amount of tape)
  4. Present to your dog.

Close supervision with this toy is required to ensure your dog doesn’t eat the cardboard box as they are tearing it apart for the treats.

Tennis ball treat puzzle


  • Tennis ball
  • Knife
  • Kibble


  1. Obtain a tennis ball, it doesn’t have to be new
  2. Using a knife, cut an X shape in the ball or cut along a seam to make a flap
  3. Place a few pieces of kibble in the ball
  4. Give to your dog

Use caution when cutting the tennis ball, your safety is important. Be sure the tennis ball you are using isn’t too small for your dog, making it a swallowing risk. This toy should be used under close supervision in case you’ve got a strong chewer on your hands.

Stuffed Kong


  • Kong toy
  • Filling such as canned food, kibble, apple sauce, cheese, pumpkin, peanut butter


  1. Fill Kong toy with treat such as:
    • Canned food mixed with dry kibbles
    • Kibble with peanut butter
    • Apple sauce and cheese
  2. Freeze Kong toy until filling is solid
  3. Present to your dog

Kong toys can keep a dog busy for hours and can be filled with many things. Feel free to do an internet search for filling ideas. Some fillings can be messy as they thaw so be aware of where you are letting your dog enjoy this toy.

Muffin tin puzzle


  • Muffin tin
  • Enough tennis balls for number of cups in the muffin tin
  • Kibble


Easy node:

  1. Turn muffin in upside down
  2. Place some kibbles in between the cups
  3. Present to your dog

Medium node:

  1. With tin upright, place a few pieces of kibble in each cup
  2. Place a tennis ball in each cup, covering kibble
  3. Present to your dog

Hard node:

  1. With tin upright, place a few kibbles in only a couple cups
  2. Place tennis ball in all cups
  3. Present to your dog

This fun multi-level game will help get those dog brains primed for nose work.  Easy mode is a great way to start letting dogs puzzle out where the kibbles are while medium and hard modes will further engage your dog as he/she will have to figure out how to remove the tennis ball to get to the kibbles.

Treasure hunt


  • Kibble
  • Cardboard boxes (for Expert Mode)


Easy Mode:

  1. With the dog out of the room, hide kibble in an easy to find place such as long floor board, under coffee table or on a low shelf.
  2. Bring dog into the room and allow them to search for the hidden kibble

Hard Mode:

  1. Choose more difficult hiding places for kibble such as in containers, under a box or behind things.
  2. Bring dog into the room and allow them to search for the hidden kibble

Expert Mode:

  1. Place 10 to 15 cardboard boxes of various sizes around the room
  2. Put kibble in a few (or just one) of the boxes
  3. Bring the dog into the room and allow them to search the boxes to find the kibble

Scent work games such as this will really engage a dog’s brain and wear them out after all that work.  Games like this have endless variations of hiding places so you can always keep it fresh, new and stimulating.

Hot and cold

This is a great game for super smart dogs.


  • Target object
  • Kibble


Easy mode:

  1. Prepare yourself with a hand full of kibble
  2. Choose any object in the room such as a toy or house hold item
  3. Place the object on the floor near the dog
  4. Toss a kibble to the dog any time he/she looks at or makes a move toward the object

The game is concluded when the dog successfully touches the object. 

Expert mode:

  1. Follow steps 1 to 3 as in Easy Mode
  2. Choose a specific interaction with the object such as touching it with a nose, paw or moving/rolling it.

Be patient and only to toss a kibble when they show the behavior you are looking for. It may take some time for them to puzzle out what you want them to do and rewarding when they aren’t moving toward the object in the way you want can cause confusion. When your dog has completed the task you can give it a name so this trick can later be performed on cue.

Does your dog love brain games?

Check out our two-week Brain Games workshop to create more interactive games for your dog. 

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline