Enrichment ideas: The bottle game

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.

enrichment - bottle toy

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.

Star and Kong collage

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?

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  • Mirna

    This is excellent! I appreciate your comment regarding enrichment games: beware of not frustrating your pupp. It is very important to set our companions for success!
    Thank you for the materials you post.

    • Hi Mima,

      Glad you liked the post.

      I think it can be difficult, because most enrichment toys are sold as a “one size fits all.” But, it is really nice when we can tailor toys to the dog’s level, so that the toy is difficult and challenging, but not too difficult. If it is too frustrating, then it is no longer fun.

      I bet we’ll see even more sophisticated dog toys and puzzles in the future!
      cheers,

      Mary

  • Mary Debono

    What a great idea! And definitely good to tailor the challenge to the individual animal. Wonderful stuff, Mary! Thanks for the useful info.

    • Glad you enjoyed it!

      I’m just wondering if we could build a horse sized version of this!!….
      cheers,

      Mary

  • Hertha

    Hi Mary,
    Great post. I think the bottle idea in the picture would work for horses if it could be built without the bar across the top. I got one of the hollow balls for Boots and it took her exactly 3 seconds to work it out, but it is adjustable to make the holes smaller or larger. Hard to use with pony nuts except on pavement or very dry paddocks so the horse can pick up the treats easily as they fall out. With your bottles, the treats could fall into a tray of some sort maybe.

    • Hi Hertha,

      Glad to hear that Boots likes her puzzle ball!

      I think something like this would definitely work for a horse — I think the challenge, though, would be figuring out how to make it sturdy enough that the horse does not knock it over or destroy it. I do like your idea of having some sort of tray at the bottom to catch the treats.

      cheers,

      Mary

  • Mary Srnkagee

    Is there a link for instructions as to how to make this contraption?

    • Sorry, Mary, I do not have any instructions.

      I’ve been thinking about trying to make one. So if I do, I can post later on regarding how I did it.

      cheers,

      Mary

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  • Sam

    Hi there, I love this idea and been thinking about how to make this for weeks! Anyone know if the wooden base was hand made or is it some sort of hand towel rail? Any help very much appreciated, cheers 😀

    • Hi Sam,

      I’m not entirely sure how it was made.

      We did discuss that on Facebook and one person suggested that it could also be made out of PVC.
      If you do make one, I would love to hear how it turns out!

      Cheers,

      Mary

      Sent from my iPad

  • Reid Strauss

    Do you have the plans for the dog enrichment game seen above posted somewhere? I’d love to build one for my new doggie (a 2 year old weimeraner/lab mix from the pound). Thanks!!

    • Hi Reid,

      Sorry, but unfortunately I do not have the plans for how to build this.
      Best,

      Mary

    • Janet

      I’m not super crafty, but I just made one for my dog – just screwed a couple of 2x4s at the bottom of another piece of wood so she couldn’t knock it over, with a couple of scrap pieces of wood up the sides and drilled a hole to shove a piece of rebar through.. because that’s what I had! Just make sure that its tall enough to drill the holes through higher up on the bottles to make it more of a challenge.. It took Nikita (lab mix) all of 1 min 15 seconds to get all of the food out of all of the plastic bottles…. Then she tried to chew the bottles… Now I’m feeding her dinner little bits at a time in it and trying to figure out how to make it harder!!

  • Jose Espinosa

    Help training my dog to use this toy

    I get one of this for my dog but she is not able to figure out how to make it work. The problem is that she is afraid of the bottles. She is very smart and has been able to figure out every other game out there. I have been using shaping with limited success but now we hit a wall, any advise?

    • Hi Jose,

      I’m sorry to hear that your dog is afraid of the toy. It’s hard to give advice online, because I might give different advice depending on how fearful your dog is and how exactly your dog is reacting.

      You may want to stick with other toys for now, so that you can make sure that you keep enrichment activities fun for her.

      Best,

      Mary

      • Jose Espinosa

        Thanks for your response. We use enrichment toys extensively and want to add this to our repertoire.

        It seems that we are on our way for her to use the toy … shaping, patience and making session short to keep it fun.