If you’ve ever watched a puppy frolic for half an hour with an empty plastic water bottle or a torn-up t-shirt, you already know that you don’t actually have to spend a lot of money to provide your dog with the Best Funtimes Toys-n-Games Ever On The Planet. Great interactive meals can be built out of stuff from around the house.
A milk jug makes a great basic food toy. Take off the cap and ring, pour in some kibble, and let your dog bat it around. The square shape means it won’t roll too easily, and the handle means your dog can figure out how to pick the whole thing up and shake (or throw) it. Clean, empty juice cartons are great as well.
Liter soda bottles are fun for the opposite reason: they’re a lot harder to pick up, and they roll away from the dog. They have to be kicked and flipped to get the kibble out.
Plastic bottles aren’t really designed to stand up to abuse, so depending on the size and enthusiasm of your dog, you might have to confiscate this toy before the meal is finished. Start with just some of their meal—maybe a quarter of it—and see how it goes before pouring the whole dinner in there.
Plastic bottles are not designed with dogs in mind, and so require careful supervision. A lot of dogs enjoy chewing on plastic, so if your dog suddenly goes quiet in the other room, check on them to make sure they aren’t having the bottle itself for dessert.
If your dog is good at splitting tennis balls in half, those bounce-less and sad things don’t have to go straight to the graveyard. Fill a split tennis ball with kibble and your dog won’t care that it doesn’t bounce.
The Lunch Box
This is a fun idea with a lot of variations available based on what you have at hand at any particular moment.
Take a big, shallow box of some sort. For this example, we’ll use a large Tupperware blanket storage box, if you know the kind I’m talking about—the sort that slides underneath the bed, that’s only about six inches deep but fairly long and flattish. Leave it somewhere convenient for a while and start tossing your cleaned, resealed empty plastic bottles in there. If you’re an awful, wasteful planet-ruiner with a sparkling water addiction like me, then after a few weeks you’ll have a tub full of empty water bottles. The bottles should at least cover the bottom of the tub. It’s even better if they’re stacking up in there.
Set aside the lid and put the box on the floor. Grab a handful of kibble and show it to your dog. Now sprinkle the food over the bottles. As your dog sniffs around for the food, things will will settle and fall among the bottles. Your dog will have to shuffle around in the box to get the food out from under and around them.
This one can be a real stumper for some dogs. If your dog gives up quickly, take out some of the bottles until they get back in the game. As always, encourage the reluctant dogs!
Other dogs are freaked out by putting their faces into weird piles of moving objects. If your dog is very sensitive about this sort of thing, don’t automatically assume they can’t try this game! Food is a powerful motivator, and even timid dogs like problem-solving. Try this with a handful of kibble in the bottom of the box and just a four or five big plastic bottles in there with it, or put a few of the dog’s toys in the box instead of bottles. Add more items slowly, and never force a fearful dog to try something. Forcing fearful dogs to do things doesn’t make them get over the fear, it just proves that we can force our dogs to do things they don’t want to do. Trust me, they already knew that!
It’s good to switch these toys up frequently to keep them interesting, so once your dog is playing this game enthusiastically, toss out your haul of bottles and start thinking about what else you can put in there. Your dog’s own toy box is a good place to start, though soft toys aren’t a good choice as they get icky from all the food. Play pit balls are fun, though they’re a horrible temptation to ball-obsessed dogs. Combinations of items work well, too—a few dog toys, some old reusable bottles from the back of the kitchen cupboard, paper towel tubes, a few of those plastic bottles, a couple of closed Tupperware containers, etc. Anything your dog can move around.
You can make a Lunch Box out of any sort of box and any sort of filling, within reason. Cleanable, smooth materials last longer and can be hosed off or tossed in the dishwasher, but cardboard boxes can be recycled when they get grubby, giving you an incentive to rebuild the lunch box in new and exciting ways.