The Fabulous (and Inexpensive) Muffin Tin Game

Behavior & training
Untitled design (12)

I’ve been playing the muffin tin game with my dogs for more than ten years and my dogs and I still enjoy it. It uses two of the dog’s senses – sight and smell – and challenges his brain. This game is perfect for puppies, adult dogs, and even geriatric dogs. It’s also good for your relationship because you’re setting up the game, encouraging him as he plays it, and you’re his biggest fan when he succeeds.

Setting Up the Game

This game needs a few parts to play it, but thankfully they are inexpensive. First, find a muffin tin that is made for regular sized muffins. A twelve muffin tin is best as it gives the dog more chances to play. If you only have a six muffin tin, that’s okay to start.

You’ll also need one tennis ball for each hole in the tin. So, find twelve tennis balls for the twelve muffin tin or six for the smaller baking pan.

Then you need some good treats. For this game, smelly treats are best, especially when first teaching the game. Swiss cheese works great or some meat. Cut the treats in small pieces; about the size of a pencil eraser is perfect.

The Game

To set up the game, place a treat in each hole of the muffin tin and then place a tennis ball on top of the treat. For standard size muffin tins, the tennis ball fits perfectly. The goal of the game is to encourage your dog to sniff for the treats and try to dislodge the tennis ball so he can get the treat.

Once the muffin tin is set up, place it on the floor and encourage your dog to check it out. You may have to slightly lift a ball so he can see and sniff the hidden treat. When he sees and smells it, drop the ball again and encourage him to find the treat. When he finds it, praise him!

Bold, food-motivated dogs will learn this game quickly and will send tennis balls flying. Other dogs may need more encouragement, but that’s okay. Remember, it’s important that you play the game with your dog, so talk to him, show him where the treats are, and if needed, lift a tennis ball now and then.

One of the mental challenges of this game is for the dog to remember where he’s found treats and where he hasn’t. This is especially true if he rolls the tennis balls from one hole to another. Don’t make it too easy by lifting the balls out yourself; let your dog figure it out.

When your dog has found all the treats, set up the game and play it again. If you use small treats, playing it twice a couple of times a week won’t upset his normal diet.


If you have a toy breed dog or a cat, get a muffin tin made for making mini muffins. Then, for the toy breed dog, find some of the tiny tennis balls. Cats will play with ping pong balls.

You can use small treats for the small dogs. For your cat, you may need to experiment. Some cats will play the game for bits of tuna but other cat owners have found bits of fresh catnip work well.