One of the most satisfying things you get out of being a puppy parent, is seeing your dog achieve something you thought was really challenging for them. Watching my dog figure out a puzzle, is exactly that.
When I first brought my dog home, teaching him the basics of obedience like sit, down, spin and stay were all very relatively easy to do. Dogs are smart and they inherently want to please you, so those basic commands are pretty easy to teach them as long as you have the right (and high value) reward in hand.
When my dog first played with his interactive puzzle toy (The Puzzler, The Spinner and The Berry) he was actually really confused. I assumed he would instantly understand what to do with The Puzzler, the first time I laid it down on the floor in front of him. Actually the reality was, he sniffed at the Puzzler really intensively for about 10 seconds. He got frustrated that the block wasn’t sliding to one side. He stared at me for another 10 seconds and gave me those puppy dog eyes, signalling that he needed my help. After that, he sat at my feet for another 5 seconds, hoping I would eventually give in and just open the squares of the Puzzler myself, revealing to him the juicy piece of chicken he had been sniffing at for the last 3 minutes.
That’s the thing about dogs, they’re smart and because they’re really connected to humans, they know that if they can outlast your own impatience with them, you might eventually give in and give them what they want. It sounds really manipulative - I know, BUT, at the end of the day they’re doing it for a piece of chicken and not world domination (at least I think it’s not for world domination) so it’s not that bad.
The key to helping your dog learn how to play with an interactive puzzle toy is to actually take a step back and have extra faith in them. Dogs are smart, they are intuitive and their sense of smell is far more superior than ours. They just need us to encourage them by giving them the patience, space and faith to let them figure it out. When I stayed put, practised a bit of patience and encouraged my dog to just try it out and keep at it, he stood up from sitting by my feet and started prodding at the Puzzler again. After about 30 seconds, he started to claw at the squares using his paw. After another 10 seconds he started to use his nose to push the squares around. After another 15 seconds the square moved and it finally revealed the juicy piece of chicken he had been waiting for. Needless to say, after the first eureka moment for him, he became obsessed with the Puzzler.
My dog is obsessed with all of his interactive puzzle toys, but I think as his pup-parent, I am the one obsessed with seeing him achieve something that’s challenging. The wonderful thing about seeing him play with the Puzzler or the Spinner these days is actually feeling a sense of accomplishment on his behalf. Aside from the other great benefits like slow feeding, reducing boredom and helping your dog expend pent-up mental energy, interactive puzzle toys are a fantastic way to bond with your pups too.
Your dog will always look to you for support, guidance and leadership. They are pack animals who love being a part of a family and group. Puzzle toys are a fantastic way to show your pups they are capable of achieving and working things through, and when you can stand beside them as a pup-parent and encourage them to do it, it really does make you feel a deeply satisfying bond with them.