How to Make a Fun and Functional Dog Puzzle Mat (STEPS)

Let’s face it. There are just some days when you can’t take your dog outside for mental stimulation.

Maybe it’s too hot, or it’s raining really hard, or your locality is still dealing with some lingering effects of the pandemic.

Whatever the reason, all dog owners should have some inside activities that keep their dog mentally stimulated and, of course, rewarded with treats.

If you don’t have the budget or the inclination to buy a bunch of new things, there’s always the DIY approach.

We have compiled everything you need:

  • Materials
  • Instructions
  • Ideas

So if you want to know how to make a fun and functional dog puzzle mat, read on!

how to make a fun and functional dog puzzle mat

How To Make A Fun And Functional Dog Puzzle Mat
The homemade dog puzzle mat is the perfect cure for dog boredom.

Before we get into the specifics, let’s be clear on the basic idea. A puzzle mat can be as simple as a doormat onto which you have sewn fabric shapes that cover up treats. Easy!

The idea is to get your dog to engage mentally and solve simple puzzles that have the all-important treat reward at the end.

You can make your puzzle mat as small, or as elaborate as you want to.

If sewing isn’t your thing, we’ll show you how to make a puzzle mat from existing items around the house that’s just as enticing to your dog.

Read our related article on the Best Dog Puzzle Toys! If you’re not interested in making your own, here’s where you can buy the best.

The Fabric puzzle mat

If sewing is your thing, then we have the perfect approach to making a puzzle mat.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Standard floor mat (get one that’s a fabric mat with, at most, a light rubber backing)
  • Felt fabric in 2 or 3 different colors that you like
  • Scissors
  • Needle
  • Thread

For the floor mat, choose one that’s a fabric mat with, at most, a light rubber backing. Remember, you will want to sew into it.

For the felt fabric, choose 2 or 3 different colors that you like or that match your decor the best.

Your dog probably won’t care what you choose, but dogs see variants of the colors blue and yellow the best, so these colors may be more engaging for them!

draw a design

Start off by drawing out how you want your puzzle mat to look. Like the puzzle mat, your drawing doesn’t have to be precise.

That said, you should put down some rough measurements that seem appropriate to the size of your dog.

The general idea of a puzzle mat is to challenge your dog, so create a design that incorporates different puzzle ideas. Read on to see what those puzzle ideas can be.

The flap puzzle

The basic idea of the flap puzzle is to create a line of fabric pieces that lie over each other while allowing enough of a separation between the end of each piece of fabric so that your dog can lift them up and get the treat hidden underneath.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Cut the fabric pieces into shapes like squares or arches or semi-circles
  • Start with one piece of fabric close to the edge of the mat, and sew down the edge of the fabric that is furthest from the edge of the mat
  • Then lay another piece of fabric on top of the first
  • Arrange it so that the edge that you are going to sew to the mat is about half an inch or so removed from the sewn edge of the first piece

Then keep going for as long as you want the flap puzzle to be. When you first give this puzzle to your dog hide a treat under every flap.

As they get good at doing the puzzle, hide the treats under every other flap, and so on.

You can even create another flap puzzle where the flaps are cut into fringes, making it easier for your dog to get the treat.

the pocket puzzle

The pocket puzzle is easy to make. Start with a square piece of fabric. Again, the size will depend on the size of your dog, but let’s say it’s 4 inches square.

  • Place it in the center of your mat
  • Measure out the middle of all the sides
  • Using a light marker, bisect the square down the middle in both directions
  • Sew the fabric to the mat along the two lines that you drew

When you’re finished, you should have four pockets in each quadrant of the square.

  • Now, take another piece of fabric that’s about 3 and 1/2 or 3 inches square
  • Lay it on top of the first square
  • Measure out this piece into quadrants like you did the first one
  • Sew the piece on top of the first piece and exactly where you sewed the first piece

Now, you should have 8 pockets, 4 on the top and 4 on the bottom. Put treats into these pockets and watch your dog sniff them out.

the bunch puzzle

The bunch puzzle is another easy one to do.

  • Cut a piece of felt into a strip about 10 inches long and about 2 inches wide
  • Sew each end of the strip to the mat but about 6 inches apart, leaving about 4 inches of slack
  • Make little tunnels out of the slack that you have and sew the end of the “arches” of each tunnel to the mat

Now you should have three or four tunnels that you can hide treats in.

experiment and have fun

Once you get the hang of these three puzzle ideas you can mix and match them or sew on tassels and bells.

Basically, you can do whatever your imagination lets you do.

Just remember to make the puzzle achievable so your dog can learn without getting frustrated.

The “found” puzzle mat

How To Make A Fun And Functional Dog Puzzle Mat
Puzzle mats are great mind-stimulating games for your dog to play with.

So, sewing is not your thing. Can you still learn how to make a fun and functional dog puzzle mat? Yes!

Look around your house and gather the following items:

  • Small cardboard box (like one that a book-sized object ships in)
  • 2 or 3 old washcloths
  • An old muffin tin
  • A floor mat

Oh, and don’t forget some fast-acting, really strong glue. Now, you’re ready to begin.

the box of Chaos

Sometimes called the busy box, the box of chaos is simple to make.

First, glue the box to a corner of your mat. Now it’s important to have the right-sized box.

You don’t want it to cover the entire mat, because you’ll want to put other things on it.

Once the box is in place, stuff it with your dog’s favorite toys, throw in a few treats for her to discover, and close the lids. Now your dog has a scavenger hunt in a box.

the washcloth puzzle

You can make the washcloth puzzle in almost any of the variations that you saw earlier for the fabric puzzle mat.

Just use glue to secure your washcloths in the way that you want them.

the Muffin tin puzzle

Here is another easy one to do. Take your old muffin tin and glue it to the mat. Then put a treat at the bottom of each muffin space.

Cover the treat with some more old washcloths or strips of an old towel.

Now your dog has to remove the cloth to get to the treat. As he gets better at this, you can put the treats in only a select number of muffin spaces.

You can also do a variation on this if you have cups for an egg poacher that you no longer need. Glue each cup onto the mat. Then put a treat at the bottom of each cup.

You can cover the treat with strips of fabric. If the cups come with lids, then you can use the lids instead, or you can use both for a challenge.

Final Thoughts

How To Make A Fun And Functional Dog Puzzle Mat
A good puzzle mat can keep your dog entertained during downtime.

A fun and functional dog puzzle mat is a great way to keep your dog entertained and challenged on those days when you can’t let her run around outside.

Whether you’re good at sewing or not, the mat is a fun project to take on and can be made in no time!

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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