Hands up if your dog loves dinner time? Mine does! For many dogs, dinner time is something that happens once or twice a day, and lasts for 30 seconds or less as they scoff the biscuits or wet food out of a bowl. Surely there is a way to make something so enjoyable last a little longer?
One strategy you could try is a slow feeder. These are designed to slow your dog down by making them manipulate the food out of grooves and pockets. You can buy assorted slow bowls from pet stores (or online), but you can also use a muffin pan from home, with a little of your dogs dinner in each section. You can make this more challenging by placing a tennis ball over some of the muffin moulds! Another slow feeder that we love is the Snuffle Mat. These are easy to make at home, or you can buy them custom made from the very talented Rachel at Snuffle Mats Australia.
A step up from a slow feeder is a puzzle toy. These need to be chewed, rolled, or manipulated by your dog to make the food come out. There is a phenomenal range of puzzle toys on the market, and some simple ideas you can make at home too. You can’t go past a classic Kong toy for a durable and versatile food toy, or you could put some of your dog’s dry food in an empty plastic bottle (lid off) and let them push it around to get the food out. Whatever toy you start with, make sure the food falls out easily so your rookie dog doesn’t get frustrated and give up. This is a common problem that people have when introducing puzzle toys. Remember, your dog is used to getting their food without effort from a bowl. Don’t increase the challenge too quickly! With practice, your dog will gain some persistence and you can try more difficult puzzles.
If you are time poor and not inclined to stuff food into a puzzle toy, you can’t go past scatter feeding. Take the cup of food you’re about to put in your dog’s bowl, and toss it on the grass instead. This will give your dog the opportunity to sniff around to find his dinner, which is lots of fun and takes longer than eating from a bowl. You could also scatter the food in a deliberate trail around the yard, for your dog to follow when you leave for work. If you have more than one dog, you should supervise them when trying this idea, and separate them if they growl or snap over food.
Put aside a portion of your dog’s food for the day, and use it to reward good behaviour! This could be spontaneously throughout the day, or specifically used in a training session to teach your dog something new. Behaviour that’s rewarded is repeated, so why not put some of your dog’s daily calories to good use!
Most pet dogs are alone for long periods of time (while we work), and don’t necessarily get the stimulation they need when we are home. Even if you spend an hour or two walking or playing with your dog, they still have 22+ hours to entertain themselves. Providing your dog with enrichment and training using some (or all) of their daily food means they have plenty of opportunities to work their nose, body, and mind, and fewer hours available to get into trouble. Brain games and training are, in my experience, one of the most effective ways to tire an active dog out.
People often get concerned that using treats in training will make their dogs fat, when the reality is that too much food (no matter how it is offered) is going to cause that problem. Plenty of dogs are over-fed from a bowl, and suffer from obesity, boredom, and inactivity. By putting your dog’s regular diet to better use, you can train and play without worrying about weight gain! Who ever said food had to come from a bowl anyway?
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