Archer wins the muffin tin game!

March 7, 2011

Archer triumphed this morning! He won the muffin tin game; beating Bashir, the reigning champion, by ten seconds.

Now granted the competition was small, just the four dogs in my household, and Archer is definitely the most food motivated, but this is the first time he beat Bashir so I have to give him some accolades. Yeah, Archer!

I had a hundred (or more) chores that needed to get done this morning but part way through decided the dogs and I needed to play a game. Chores are boring and I enjoy having fun with the dogs. I think the muffin tin game was an interruption between rotating the laundry and vacuuming.

I didn’t invent the muffin tin game so can’t take any credit for it. I’d like to thank who ever did because my dogs all have great fun with it. I use a 12 hole muffin tin because a 6 hole one is too easy. Place a treat in each hole and then cover the treat with a tennis ball. Place the tin on the floor and let your dog figure it out.

With multiple dogs, I play the game in in the garage with one dog while the other dogs remain in the house. Although all four can hold down stays while one of them plays, the dog who’s playing gets a little nervous with the other three whining, staring, and leaning his direction.

Each of my four have slightly different techniques. Bashir uses his paws a lot; he scrapes the ball out of the hole with his claws. He also thinks alot; if he knocks a ball out of the hole and it slips into an empty hole where he’s already gotten the treat, he won’t go back there. As the character in Jurassic Park said, “He remembers.”

Riker, the 11 years old, is the slowest of my four but is very deliberate. He sniffs each ball and muffin tin hole and noses the ball out of the way.

Sisko, the puppy, is also a thinker, uses his nose very well, and like Bashir, isn’t fooled when a ball rolls to cover an empty hole. Sisko also gets the most distance on the balls when he paws or noses them out of the way. I was picking them up all over the garage as he was searching for treats.

Archer is the most frantic about the game, pawing, nosing, and grabbing at the balls. Unfortunately, sometimes he’s so intent on getting the treats he doesn’t stop to think or smell and keeps going back to empty holes.

I started timing the dogs because as they got the hang of the game, it took them less time them to empty the tin. I was curious exactly how fast they were. When I first started timing them, it took most of the dogs more than a minute to get all twelve treats and often Riker still takes that long. In today’s contest, Archer got all of the treats in 25 seconds. Bashir was second with 35 seconds. Sisko was third at 40 seconds and Riker took 75 seconds. Yeah, Archer!

Of course I didn’t include the score of about five seconds when Bashir picked up the tin and flipped it over. That’s cheating.

Photos: (top) Archer; (middle) Riker; (bottom) Bashir. All photos by Liz Palika

Filed under: behavior and training,pets, connected — Liz Palika @ 9:53 am


  1. Hi Liz,

    I love this! I’ve never heard of this game, but will abandon my computer obligations and go try this at once. Also can’t wait to share the idea with my clients. Please extend my congrats to Archer. Now, you’d better get back to your chores!

    Comment by Dr. Nancy Kay — March 7, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  2. What a great idea! I’ve never heard of this game, but I’m definitely going to share. Way to go Archer!

    Hmmm, I wonder whether this could be adapted for cats….

    Comment by Ingrid King — March 7, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  3. I have never heard of it either. Now, I just need to go buy 12 tennis balls. Will be interesting to see how my dogs go about getting the treats. I can speculate, but want to see what happens. Navarre will probably nose the balls out of the way. Izzy, the piggy, will probably smack the end of it and send all tennis balls and treats flying. Henry will probably lose interest after realizing he has to touch one of those icky tennis balls. LOL

    Comment by Jill — March 7, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  4. I like this game but didn’t have enough tennis balls so I used different size balls and even use a Kong to sit in the holes! It’s fun to see the dogs problem solving!

    Comment by Debbie B — March 7, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  5. Sophia would just pull out as many balls as will fit in her maw (probably three), ignore the treats, and mercilessly harass anyone she thinks she could get to throw them.

    Comment by H. Houlahan — March 7, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  6. McKenzie is with Sophie. Tennis Balls vs. Treats?

    Tennis balls, every time.


    Comment by Gina Spadafori — March 7, 2011 @ 11:36 am

  7. Good Job Bashir. Tipping the whole tin is much more efficient…did ya feign a oops my paw got stuck please re-set with more treats please?

    Comment by mcappy — March 7, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  8. mcappy: No, he doesn’t feign anything. He just does it. After all, the more efficient the better. He does the same thing with the Nina Ottosson toys – pick ’em up, shake ’em, flip them over. Voila! Treats!

    Comment by Liz Palika — March 7, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  9. Thanks for this post! I love problem solving games for my dogs who are 12 and 13, it exercises them mentally and the satisfied look on their faces after collecting all the treats is priceless.

    We have 2 of the Ottosson puzzles – the muffin tin with tennis balls is a great idea, not to mention inexpensive, as most folks will have these items around already!

    I loved reading about each of the dogs’ methods for getting to the treats. Had to laugh out loud that Bashir picked up and flipped the whole thing over!

    Comment by dogzoomies — March 7, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  10. Love the game idea. Will have to try a version with my cats. They have figured out the foraging toys they have very well and I have been looking for something new!

    Comment by Mona — March 7, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

  11. I should mention that several of the Ottosson toys are quite functional for cats. The Tornado, for example, was our store cat’s favourite. We would set it up with a little piece of dehydrated chicken in each hole and leave it overnight. When we came in in the morning the toy would be unmoved – but completely empty. :O)

    LOVE the muffin tin/tennis ball idea – although one of my dogs will surely agree – tennis balls are WAY better than cookies.

    I also really like the idea of using a variety of toys to cover the openings.

    Comment by Kim — March 8, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  12. For those of you with cats, I haven’t tried it but I understand you can play the same game by using the miniature muffin tins and ping pong balls. Come back and let us know if that works.

    Comment by Liz Palika — March 8, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  13. Liz, I love this! I am soooo going to share (and try it with the Magical-dawg).

    Comment by Amy D Shojai, CABC — March 8, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  14. What fun! Cannot wait to try it at home, then take the idea to my classes.

    Comment by Donna Soderstrom — March 8, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

  15. Twyla thought this game was very fun. She’s still working on the second round–having trouble getting the two biggest tennis balls out of the muffin cup.

    Comment by Kim Thornton — March 9, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  16. Dooley is on board with Sophie and McMommy.
    Wonder where that came from?

    This is a fun post.

    Comment by Verde — March 9, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  17. Are you aware that this article has been stolen and published on another website. Below is the weblink to the stolen article. You should contact the webhost to tell them what happened.

    Comment by edna davis — March 9, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  18. That entire site is nothing but stolen Pet Connection posts. They’re hosted outside this country, so there’s nothing we can do.

    Comment by Christie Keith — March 9, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  19. This was great for my dog. I didn’t time it but she did get all the kibble while I was at work. She gets most of her morning kibble in food dispensing toys and I’m always looking for ways to mix it up so this was perfect. Thanks!

    Comment by Shari — March 15, 2011 @ 9:26 am

  20. I used a regular muffin tin and ping pong balls for the cats. They love it. :)

    Comment by MonaLS — March 20, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

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