Elly’s Food Toys and Games

One of the ways I keep Elly fit and strong is using food toys and puzzles. These games are wonderful for working on core and leg strength, balance and proprioception. They are low impact ways for exercise and they challenge her brain, it’s amazing how much a search game or one that really makes her think tires her out!  The video posted below shows a few of the games Elly plays.

I also use the games to work on the fear and the lack of confidence issues Elly came to me with, I’ve never had a more cautious and sensitive dog. When I first got her she would not walk under a chair even though she fit without crouching. She wouldn’t go into tight spaces or even put her nose under the edge of the couch, she was afraid of anything that moved around her and lots of things that didn’t move. When I first started her searching for treats I would make them easily accessible. Once she had the drive to find the treats instilled I started hiding treats where she would be challenged to overcome her fears, easy challenges at first and then I slowly increased the difficulty. She will now willingly go under chairs and put her head under the couch, she will even crawl under furniture!

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years using food toys and puzzles also incorporating things I’ve learned in the many classes I’ve attended with Elly:

♥ When introducing a new game use high value treats and make it easy to use or solve to build confidence then up the difficulty level as your pup progresses. I do sometimes ‘downgrade’ the treats to save on calories.

♥ When using a food-dispensing toy I like to put in a few treats that come out easily, a few that take some work and time to get out and a few that are so big she can’t get them out by herself. She will play with the toy for quite a while until she gets out all the treats that will come out. Then she will bring me the toy and ‘ask’ for help and I will make a couple more of the big treats small enough to come out and off she goes again; we do this until the toy is empty. This strategy gets her engaged right away with the easy treats and then her tenacity keeps her working until all the treats are out.

♥ Keep track of how many calories you are feeding with treats and toys and subtract those calories from meals. My almost 14 year old Pug boy Obie, who is just a bit bigger than Elly, is now quite sedentary. BTW- Obie played several games when he was younger to build his confidence and to rehab his two knee surgeries. Now in his mature years he isn’t interested in working very hard for treats so he doesn’t play very often. Anyway- Obie gets almost twice as much food at his two daily meals as Elly because she gets so many calories though our play and training. I’m also careful about the quality of the treats I use since Elly gets lots of her calories from them- I generally don’t use doggie junk food.

Obie playing Twister back in the day.

♥ Rotate toys in and out of use to keep them challenging and fresh.

♥ Sometimes you have to retire toys altogether if your dog has figured out a way to cheat. Not shown in the video is a toy called Tug-a-Jug which was one of Obie’s favorites. Elly learned to just tip it up on end instead of tugging on the rope as the toy is designed which allowed all the treats to just pour out!

Obie and his Tug-a-Jug

♥ You can use some of these games to feed meals. Elly got her breakfast from the Mushroom toy shown in the video for the first year or so she was with me.

♥ If your dog isn’t getting the multi-task puzzles, when steps have to be taken in sequence, you might try breaking the tasks down and teach one at a time, then move them on to the sequence. For example on the old twister Elly first learned to slide the covers over the cubbies- she figured that out on her own. Then without using the cubbies I added one of the bone shaped pegs and put treats underneath the peg to entice her to lift out the peg. Then I started putting treats in the cubbies and just one of the pegs. Once she got the idea I put more and more pegs in until I was using them all. Some of these puzzles are fun for me because it challenges my training techniques- I have to figure out how to get Elly to understand what she needs to do.

Elly learns to pull out the pegs playing Twister.

♥ Stop playing with a puzzle or toy when either you or your dog gets frustrated. Elly is very sensitive and picks up any frustration I’m feeling and she will start to shut down. Which leads to:

♥ Always end a play or training session on a positive note. Do a simple treat hide or give lots of praise when a puzzle is done. For example: when I’m trying to teach Elly a new trick and she’s not getting it I will step back to a simple trick or behavior like ‘sit’ or ‘high five’ and be sure there are lots of treats and praise so we are both happy and at a positive point when we stop playing.

♥ Don’t make the play session too long especially if your pup is learning a new toy or game. You always want to stop when it’s still fun and leave them wanting more. Instead of a long play session try playing for short intervals a couple times a day.

♥ If you have multiple dogs you might need to separate them during game play unless they can keep to their own toys. My first food dispensing toy experience was with Maggie when she was young. She figured it out pretty quickly and would play often. When Tani came along she was unable to figure out how her toy worked but she found that if she followed Maggie while she played with her toy food would magically appear. Tani would grab the food and a fight would ensue.

♥ Supervision is important especially if your dog destroys toys or might try to eat pieces of the puzzles.

Most importantly HAVE FUN!

Photos From Our First Nose Work Trial

I finally got the professional photos from our first Nose Work Trial back in May.  This was the one down in Rancho Cucamonga where Elly earned her Level 1 Containers Title.

When we practice NW or go to Trials we have a routine. When we get to the start line I ask Elly ‘ready to play the game?’.  Most of the time we make eye contact, sometimes she surveys the search area, the I say ‘FIND IT’ and off she goes!


Ready to Play the Game?


We have pictures from 3 of the 4 searches, the fourth search was actually in a bathroom which was too small a space for a photographer.

Our first two searches were in hallways, in one the ‘hide’ was on a kids shopping cart, and the other was on a small easel.  Most of the pictures I kept were Elly with her nose on or near the hide and then her telling me she found the odor by standing still and looking at me.

On the ‘hide’
It’s here!



What’s this?


I found it!


Our third search was in a lobby area.  There really wasn’t much in the search area so it was pretty easy for her to locate.

Snack time!


Can’t wait for our next Trial!

Elly’s 6 Month Gotcha Day

Today marks 6 months since Elly joined our little pack.  It’s the day that foster mom Ellen dropped her of for what we all pretended was a 2 week trial.  The only way she was going back was if she and Obie didn’t get along…at all.

Her day started a bit on the rough side- a doggie dentist visit!  She has chipped one of her canine’s and needs some other minor work.  Today was just an evaluation, surgery will be in two weeks- but that’s for later.

After the vet we stopped by our puggle friend Sophie’s house.  Sophie’s mom just had her first human baby and so isn’t able to take Sophie for walks.  Elly and Sophie are pretty good pals and she lives just two blocks from our favorite park!  Obie didn’t come on this walk… it is impossible for me to walk the three of them by myself.  Besides, this was a puggle walk- over grass and through the dirt, wherever the noses wanted to go. Obie was more than happy to hang out with grandpa, in the house and close to the treat jar!

Later we did some ‘school’ and then got some treats.  She was completely pooped out and went to sleep holding onto that one back leg…can’t take a chance of losing that one!


The puggle gals checking it out

Elly and Sophie


Sophie, a more traditional looking puggle



Come on…open the gate!

Elly and Sophie dp



Elly waiting for ball



mmmm salmon


A bully for me?

Elly and stick


So yummy and so gross…

Elly chewing



Elly Sleeping


Pug(gle)s At Play


I adopted quad pug Obie just a few weeks after Tri-Pug Maggie crossed the Bridge in 2010, he was 4 years old.  Obie was neglected and abused by his original owner, he came with quite a bit of baggage.  At the time Mag’s little sis quad pug Tani was about 10 years old.  I was hoping that the two of them would bond, but it never really happened.  The slept together and kept each other company, but Tani was never interested in playing after Maggie left and Obie could never convince her.  Because of his history and the fact that his eyesight is very poor, especially outside, he never would play with another dog despite several classes and endless tries at socialization.  More than 5 years after Obie joined our pack Elly came along.  Elly took to Obie almost immediately and tried and tried to get him to play.

It took 3 months of pestering but finally, FINALLY Obie was playing with another dog!!!!

The first time I saw Obie engage I was so excited I didn’t think to grab my camera. Now they play nearly every day.  Usually Elly starts it by licking Obie’s face, but sometimes he starts it with a bark or a play bow.  This video shows just a bit of what they do when they play.  Enjoy!


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