Note: This is my first attempt at embedding a video from Facebook onto my blog. If for some reason you can’t see the video, you can access it directly here.
I’m always on the look out for new enrichment ideas. That is, interesting games and puzzles that will keep my animals mentally stimulated while providing exercise and helping them develop their problem solving skills. I usually feed my foster dogs in food puzzle toys or Kongs and my rats also often get to work for their dinner.
There’s a neat video that has been making the rounds on Facebook of an intriguing enrichment toy for a dog, consisting of plastic bottles that rotate around a rod. I really like the looks of this one because it appears to be quite difficult– it takes the dog some time to get even a few pieces of food out. I find that many of the food puzzle toys sold in the pet stores are just too easy for some of the dogs I work with. So, it’s always fun to discover something new that might be a bit more of a challenge.
When I shared this on the StaleCheerios Facebook page, someone commented that this would make a great toy for a cat! I think a cat would have great fun pawing at something like this and I would love to see someone make one for their kitty.
What I’ve been thinking about, since sharing this video on Facebook, is how this toy could be made slightly easier, so that the animal would be able to figure it out at the beginning. I imagine that for some animals, this toy would just be too hard. The dog would not be successful at first and would eventually give up and walk away or the dog might decide to chew up the bottles as his solution to the puzzle.
One simple way to make this easier could be to make the openings in the bottles bigger. Then, once the dog started figuring out the puzzle, the size of the holes could be decreased.
When I give a dog, horse, rat, or other animal a new type of enrichment toy, I’m always really careful to make sure that the toy is an appropriate level for the animal. If the toy is too “easy” and the animal can quickly solve the puzzle, it’s not really even worth it to give it to the animal. If the toy is much to “hard” and the animal cannot figure it out, the animal gives up because the puzzle is just too challenging.
So, with more difficult puzzles, the challenge as a trainer becomes figuring out how to teach the animal how to use the enrichment toy or how to modify the toy at the beginning so that the animal will be able to successfully solve the puzzle. For example, I often gave my recent foster dog (Star) Kongs with food inside. I would usually freeze the Kongs, so that it was pretty hard for her to get the stuff out and she really had to work at it. However, the first several times I gave her a Kong I did not freeze it and I also filled it with food that would come out fairly easily. This way she learned how to remove the food from the Kong and she also learned that Kongs were a lot of fun and were something that she was smart enough to figure out. Then, I gradually made it harder. She was able to figure out each new challenge and continue to be successful.
What are your favorite enrichment toys? Have you ever modified an enrichment toy so that it was easier (or harder) for your animal? Do you think your pet would be able to figure out the bottle game in the video above?