Are you spending way more time at home than usual? Do you wish there was a fun way to tire out your dog other than a walk or game of fetch? One great solution is homemade canine enrichment toys. Something that’s easy to make and a great solution for bored dogs is a DIY Busy Box Enrichment Dog Toy.
Enrichment toys, like a DIY busy box, are great boredom busters for your dog because they provide the mental stimulation of solving a puzzle to find treats or rewards you’ve hidden.
A lot of animal shelters make boxes like this for their resident dogs. That’s because busy boxes are inexpensive and can be made with just about anything you have laying around. Plus, taking apart the complex puzzle you’ve built provides great mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog.
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Why are Enrichment Toys Good for Bored Dogs
Enrichment toys are puzzles that provide mental and physical stimulation for your dog. If you’re going on the same walk every day or spending a lot of time sitting on the couch, your dog is going to get bored pretty quickly. Giving them an unexpected puzzle, game, or toy will perk them up and help them tap into their natural canine abilities.
You might have seen toys like a snuffle mat, treat-dispensing ball or puzzle games in stores. Those are all awesome, but I’m going to show you how to make a homemade version to keep your dog busy during social distancing!
A store-bought or homemade puzzle toy encourages your dog to think about how to get their desired result… which is usually getting to the treats! By using different elements, textures and scents you can keep your dog interested in these toys again and again.
Benefits of this DIY Busy Box Enrichment Dog Toy:
- Provides mental stimulation to your dog
- Get’s them physically moving to manipulate the boxes
- Encourages sniffing and digging, two instinctual behaviors for dogs
- The puzzle is going to be slightly different every time so you dog won’t get bored of it
- It’s FREE to make using materials you already have at home!
Remember, dog’s noses are extremely powerful and they love to use their sense of smell to figure things out. By creating a DIY busy box enrichment dog toy or another homemade puzzle you’re helping your dog live their best life!
How Does A Busy Box Tire Out my Dog
Mental stimulation and problem-solving can be just as exhausting as physical exercise. If you’ve ever gone to a training class with your dog, then you know they usually go home and sleep afterward.
It’s the same thing if you have friends over and your dog spends the whole time watching their every move. Focusing on a task and staying alert really tires out your dog.
If you’re spending a lot of time indoors, a homemade puzzle toy will challenge your dog in a new way and make their afternoon nap even more rewarding! I’ll never forget that old (and true) saying, “A tired dog is a good dog!”
Supplies You Can Use to Make a DIY Busy Box Enrichment Dog Toy
You have tons of things laying around your home that would be perfect components to a DIY busy box. Think of anything that would add a fun challenge, different texture or smell to your box. I recommend you only use things that you don’t mind getting destroyed.
You should always keep very close supervision over your dog with their busy box! You might not care if a magazine is ripped to shreds, but it’s not a good idea to let your dog actually eat it.
A few ideas of supplies that you probably have around your home that could go into your dog’s busy box include:
- Cardboard Box or Cereal/Cracker/Pasta Box
- Egg carton
- Tennis Balls (squeaker balls are our fave)
- Knotted Fleece Toys (like this)
- Loose Treats (Stella & Chewy’s Meal Mixers work great)
- Rope toys (like this set)
- Plush toys
- Old Clothes (tie knots around squeaky toys or treats)
- Dish Towel (roll it up with treats inside)
- Kongs (classic or extreme)
- Magazine (put good smelling treats in between a few different pages)
- Muffin Tin
- Paper Grocery Bag
- Empty water bottle (for a fun crinkle sound)
- Used Paper Towel Roll (add a few treats then tape the ends shut)
As you can see, it just takes a little imagination to come up with some pretty silly things to use for a DIY busy box! I hope this list gives you inspiration and you’re already coming up with your own ideas.
How to Assemble The Busy Box Puzzle for You Dog
No complicated instructions here! To keep it simple, all you need to do is get a big cardboard box and start filling it with whatever you have on hand from the list above. That’s it!
Basically this is all you need to do:
- Step 1: Gather a box and some containers
- Step 2: Grab some dry kibble or treats
- Step 3: Put your food in the containers and close them
- Step 4: Give the DIY puzzle to your dog and enjoy!
You can change it up each time, but when we took these photos I simply threw in some tennis balls and Stella & Chewy’s Meal Mixers. Then I sealed the box up with a little tape.
These Barefoot on Tap containers were perfect because they have the hole at the bottom for the wine nozzle. You want to make sure your dog has some way to get into the box or at least intrigue them by sniffing all the goodies inside.
If you have a rope or knotted fleece toy, you could use that to tie the box shut and your dog will have to figure out how to get it off. There’s really no limit to what you can do with a busy box! It all depends on your dog and how badly they want to get to the treats inside.
Another reminder: Watch your dog very closely the whole time they take this box apart and clean up as they go so they don’t swallow anything they shouldn’t.
Watch The Dogs Take Apart a Busy Box
In this video, watch me put together a busy box full of toys, treats and little mental challenges. Then watch Burt and Lucy figure out how to get it all out! I posted this video to my Instagram stories, so you can ignore the “swipe up” mentions.
Not only do they both have a great time taking it all apart, but I had so much fun watching them do it! This is a great mood booster for all of us.
More Homemade Dog Enrichment Toys
Have a lot of free time on your hands and need a project? Check out this DIY Treat Dispenser from The Daily Dog Tag. I love how this looks, and I think the dogs would have a lot of fun knocking out the kibble!
And if you haven’t read my post about the Kong layering technique, go check that out, too! It’s another tip that I picked up from an animal shelter and it’s completely changed how I stuff our Kongs.
Frequently Asked Questions about the DIY Busy Box
This blog post has been up for a few years and I often share my dogs playing with their DIY busy box dinners on my social media. Based on that I get a few questions on repeat from pet parents. I hope these answers help you!
Question: Can I leave my dog alone with the DIY Busy Box Enrichment Dog Toy?
Answer: While the DIY busy box is a fantastic way to keep your pup entertained, I strongly recommend keeping a close eye on them while they’re playing with it.
Every dog is different and some may be more prone to tearing apart and possibly ingesting parts of the toys or box materials. Safety first! Make sure to clean up as they go to prevent any accidental swallowing of non-edible parts.
Question: My dog loses interest in toys easily. How can I make the busy box more appealing?
Answer: Great question! Dogs, much like us, love variety and new challenges. Make sure to change up the contents of the busy box regularly and incorporate different textures, scents, and types of challenges.
For example, if your dog loves sniffing, split the treats among a few boxes and hide them to turn this into a Busy Box Scavenger Hunt.
If they love to dig, make sure there’s something they can really get their paws into like packing paper inside of a big box. You could even hide their favorite squeaky toy inside to pique their interest!
Question: Are there any items I should avoid putting in the busy box?
Answer: You should always prioritize your dog’s safety. Avoid small items that could be a choking hazard, as well as anything that could splinter or break and potentially harm your dog. Steer clear of items that could be toxic if chewed on or ingested. Always supervise your dog while they’re engaging with the busy box to ensure they’re playing safely.
Question: How often should I give my dog the busy box to play with?
Answer: This depends on your dog’s interest level and energy. Some dogs may enjoy playing with the busy box daily, while others might prefer it as an occasional treat.
Pay attention to your dog’s behavior and if you notice they seem bored or uninterested, it might be time to switch things up. I have a lot of ideas in my Mental Enrichment Activity Pack!
Remember, the goal is to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog, so feel free to get creative and have fun building these puzzles for your furry friend!
Like This Post? Check out more ideas for things to do at home with your dog:
Kong Stuffing Hacks to Mix Up Your Routine
Simple Gluten Free Dog Treat Recipe
Backyard Scavenger Hunt for Your Dog
Make Reversible Dog Bandanas
Make Your Own Snuffle Mat for Dogs
All photos: Victoria Miller Photography