Day 9 Busy Boxes

Welcome to Day 9 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!

Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.

Don’t forget to review all the information leading up to #100daysofenrichment and more here on playing safe. Know your dog!

Busy Boxes don’t always need to be food puzzles…empty boxes keep Decker plenty busy!

Busy Boxes

At a glance:

  • smaller boxes with fun and puzzles inside
  • food based enrichment
  • add food, add packing, add a teaser, add a busy box, add a stuffable
  • get the family involved in this one – kids love making puzzles for pets and these challenges offer lots of opportunities for children to use their imagination to come up with the best busy boxes for their pets.
    Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
  • Busy box prep will probably take you about five minutes – having a collection of Busy Box stuff is a good idea…it will resemble a pile of rubbish or recycling!

What do you need?

  • cardboard boxes, smaller boxes are better for today’s challenges or smaller plastic tubs may also work
  • paper e.g. packing paper, kitchen roll, newspaper etc.
  • eggboxes
  • balls
  • paper cups
  • plastic tray inserts from sweets, biscuits etc.
  • cardboard cup holders


Enrichment Goals:

  • to encourage a wide range of foraging and exploratory behaviours
  • to do more feeding related behaviour than eating
  • to encourage the development of strategies (behaviours) for getting the food out of  the boxes
  • by varying the design of each Busy Box puzzle we will facilitate carrying out a range of different behaviours, broadening the dog’s repertoire

While this challenge is certainly food based, they are also experiencing cognitive, sensory and environmental enrichment, with lots of crossover between categories.

Working out how to empty get to the food and developing dexterous skills in manipulating the boxes are examples of cognitive challenge.

Sniffing out, tasting and chewing food all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding their way through each food puzzle, determining its value,  and engaging in the puzzle of getting to the good stuff.

Busy boxes encourage pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the box is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.

By offering a variety of Busy Box puzzles, we want to help the dog expand their range of puzzle-busting behaviours and facilitate your pet applying strategies from other puzzles to new ones; that’s a true cognitive gift and is growing your dog’s brain!

What goals can you add to this list for your pets?

How can we achieve these goals?

  • give your pet plenty of space for working on Busy Boxes and bear in mind there will be mess, so think about spaces that are easier for clean up
  • the more difficult you have made the challenge, the higher the value the reward must be so use HIGH value foods to motivate exploration and experimentation and make it VERY easy to get the food (no frustration!)
  • if your dog just dives in, in full on destruction mode that might also be an indicator that they need an easier challenge so they get to experiment with a broader range of behaviours

What adjustments will you make for your pets?

Applications of Busy Boxes:

I love using Busy Boxes to keep dogs occupied as they offer different possibilities for expanding the dog’s behavioural range, truly engaging them cognitively.

Truth be told, Decker doesn’t even require any food in the box at all; he’s happy with a box, just to manipulate, wrestle and destroy!


Busy Boxes also are truly adaptable – there really is no limit to how they can be adapted to suit different puzzling levels.


What I tend to see, though, when Busy Boxes are given to dogs, and puzzles in general, is that well-meaning owners go waaaaay over board, coming up with the most elaborate designs to really challenge their pet.

While it’s great to go for challenge, it’s important that enrichment remain enriching. That means that the challenge must be made appropriate and doable for the individual puzzler.

Our job is to adjust the Busy Box difficulty so that our dog uses a range of behaviour and gets to the goal pretty quickly.

This is the true way to improve the dog’s confidence in puzzling (and in life) and help them expand their behavioural repertoire.


Because of the home made nature and variable materials used in Busy Boxes, it’s best to supervise your pet carefully when they have access to this puzzle.
Know your dog! If you have an ingester, Busy Boxes may not work or you might try using a plastic tub and supervise them closely. They will still eat plastic, it will just take them longer.

If you are concerned about your dog ingesting non-food items during puzzling, have a pocketful of HIGH value treats in your pocket and be ready to toss a couple toward your dog, across their eyeline, if you think they are thinking about eating the paper.
Making sure the challenge is very doable and they can get to the hidden food rewards quickly is key to modifying their behaviour and expectations during puzzling.

Check all your equipment for this challenge carefully and make sure to remove tape, staples, other fastners, small pieces and plastic pieces. Play safe!

Activity Box Puppy Hack

Here’s a quick puppy hack to keep puppies busy with appropriate items that they can interact with or that you can redirect them to should they need help choosing appropriate behaviour.

And, not just for puppies – this works for big dogs too!


Take a box that your puppy or dog can get into or at least reach into – so that might just be a shallow shoe box for a small puppy.

Add some items of interest such as a couple of toys, a stuffable, some cardboard tubes, maybe some packing paper. Rotate every day or two so there is always something interesting for puppy to check out.


You don’t need to add food, but you can occasionally so puppy learns to have a sniff and snuffle to keep them entertained.

When puppy needs to keep busy or when you need to redirect them out of trouble, their Activity Box is the place to go!

Enrichment Options

Today’s Busy Box challenge will bring you and your pet through several levels. Even if you are both experienced puzzlers, start with the lower levels to see how wide a range of behaviours your dog offers, to solve the puzzle.

Do they just barrel in, in full-on destruction mode?

Do they try different behaviours for different challenges?

What range of exploratory and foraging behaviours can you observe?


Option 1: Have Box. Add food. 

This is your starting point and it’s pretty simple…just get your box and add some food.

This might be important to help build confidence in the process and reduce frustration and blind-destruction.


  • open the box and leave it open
  • you can tear off the lid if needed, especially if it bothers or worries the dog
  • toss the food in there and give it to the dog
  • the shape of the box might alter the challenge, with a wider, lower side, open box being easier to access


  • add the food and close over lid but not tightly


  • add the food and close the lid

Option 2: Pack it!


  • add paper loosely and scatter food into the box
  • mix it around to encourage lots of foraging
  • packing paper from deliveries or torn up paper bags are great for this, but newspaper or kitchen roll works well too


Boxes with openings, like Easter Egg boxes are great for Busy Boxes stuffed with packing paper!


Some Easter Egg box puzzle ideas here:


Intermediate: Treat Parcels – paper

  • wrap treats in individual treat parcels and add to the box
  • you can add more loose paper to the box to increase the challenge


Advanced: Treat Parcels – tubes & cups

  • make treat parcels from toilet roll tubes or paper cups – just fold the cardboard over the treat
  • add to the box alone or with loose paper
  • combine with paper treat parcels to make it interesting

Option 3: Have box. Add Stuffable.

Stuffables are a great way of adding challenge to Busy Boxes, and Busy Boxes are a great way to add challenge to stuffables!

Check out Day 1 for Stuffables ideas!

Beginners & Intermediate:

  • add varying challenge by increasing or decreasing the difficulty of the stuffable
  • pop the stuffable in the box
  • add loose packing paper to present a real foraging challenge

stuffable in box


  • make a stuffed tube or tubes and add to the box
  • alternatively you can use paper cups
  • stuff a paper treat parcel into the tube or cup and add to the box
  • you can add several and/or add loose packing paper too

Option 4: Add a Teaser!

Teasers are puzzles where the dog must move one thing to reveal their treat. We most often use balls, paper cups and toilet rolls in muffin pans, plastic trays from chocolates or similar and cardboard cup holders.

For this challenge, we are going to use those left over plastic insert trays from boxes of sweets, chocolates or biscuits. If you don’t have one, use a cardboard cup holder.

Getting into the box is only the start of the challenge…


  • place food rewards into each space in the insert and add to the box


  • make a teaser using the tray and food rewards
  • add balls, that are a safe size for your dog. over each treat
  • all into the box
  • add paper treat parcels to each space in the tray and stick that in the box

add packing to tray to box

  • use toilet rolls wedged into suitably sized spaces in the tray, over each treat
  • add to the box

tube teaser

  • pop food rewards into each tray space and wedge paper cups over each treat


  • add food rewards to each space in the tray and then stack the trays
  • you can make this a little easier by adding food, then some packing paper to each space and then stacking another tray on top
  • don’t worry if you don’t have a tray, you can use paper cups instead
  • lay treats in the box and wedge paper cups over them, covering them
  • wedge paper or even toilet roll tubes around the cups to keep them in place if required

Option 5: Busy Box in a Box

The difficulty level lies in how challenging you make the Busy Box in a Box. Start with Beginner’s level challenges and increase the difficulty as your pet improves and their behavioural repertoire broadens.

Take any of the simple or more complex Busy Boxes described here (or invented) and add to another box!

Eggboxes and tissue boxes can be stuffed with food and packing and jammed into a box for a quite Busy Box in a Box.

Simply add a packed Busy Box, with some other loose paper to a box for a simple Busy Box in a Box:


Option 6 Ball in a Box

Busy boxes don’t just need to be about food – you can add your dog’s favourite toy too and make it about playtime!


Incorporate boxes, of different sizes, into fetch games by simply tossing the ball in there and letting the dog fetch it.

Using a box that’s slightly taller will add some extra challenge.

Clip link


Turn the box on its side or upside down and allow the dog to manipulate the box to find the ball.



Add your dog’s favourite toy to a packed Busy Box so they really need to search and snuffle to find it.

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Your challenge

Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!

Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂

We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!

You just need to clean up the mess!