Putting Food to Good Use

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?

Slow Feeders

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.

Chewy finding treats in a cardboard box filled with toilet rolls – an easy toy to make at home!

Puzzle Toys

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.

Wilbur loves eating dinner in a Kong Classic

Scatter Feeding

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.

Training Rewards

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!

Sammy and Lucy were happy to sit for treats at Puppy Preschool

Why Bother?

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?

Need More Ideas?

If you would like more tips and strategies for enriching your dogs day using their food, contact us or find us on Facebook!

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A Dog’s Job Description

Earlier this week we looked after a puppy for a friend. Henrietta is an 8-10 week old mixed breed foster puppy from the RSPCA, and we had her for about 8 hours. Anyone who has recently spent time with a puppy will know that they can be busy little creatures, and keeping them out of mischief feels like a full time job. It also got us thinking about what we expect of these little guys when we bring them home.

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Henrietta is adorable, cheeky, and ready to learn

When the average Australian household decides to add a dog to the family it would be fair to say that they are expecting the dog to:

  • Be friendly to family and friends, including other pets in the home
  • Be affectionate and playful, but not rowdy or rough
  • Respond to verbal cues such as sit, drop, stay, and come
  • Walk nicely on lead, ignoring other dogs, people, and good smells
  • Be friendly to all dogs they meet
  • Go to the toilet only outside on the grass
  • Settle quietly when no one is home, or the family is busy with other activities

There will be some variation amongst households, such as whether the dog will be allowed in the house or not, whether she will be allowed on the furniture or not, etc, but for the most part if a dog can meet the above job description they will fit in well with most families.

Now here’s the problem: it is an exceptionally rare dog that comes with the above skill set already learnt! The average dog will:

  • Be social with people she knows, but may bark at strangers (including friends, postmen, tradies, etc)
  • Be curious about other pets, perhaps even chasing them if they move quickly
  • Crave social contact, resulting in overly-enthusiastic greetings when you get home from work
  • Have no understanding of English words such as “Sit” or “No”, no matter how loudly you say them
  • Want to investigate every interesting sight, smell, and sound when out walking, at a much faster and more erratic pace than most humans walk
  • Be selective about which dogs they want to play with, preferring friends with similar play styles to their own
  • Go to the toilet wherever the urge strikes
  • Get restless, lonely, or bored when left alone or ignored, and find fun in the form of chewing, chasing, digging, or barking

Henrietta matched the average dog description perfectly! When she arrived at our house she was met by Wilbur and our large macaw, Elmo. There were also smaller pet birds moving around in their cages, and some lizards scuttling around in their enclosures. There were so many things to see, hear, and smell!

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Wilbur was ready to teach Henrietta everything he knows

Rather than leaving her to make her best guess about what to do, we called her to follow us outside and walked around on the grass with her until she did a wee. She got lots of praise and some treats for doing the right thing, and then we came inside. She was a little wary of Wilbur, who is bigger than she is and likes to growl when he plays, so Wilbur was on lead and Henrietta got lots of treats whenever she approached him or solicited play. Wilbur got treats too, for lying down quietly while the puppy explored.

In preparation for having a puppy in the home we had already packed away anything we didn’t want her to chew, which meant our shoes were out of reach, and all that was left on the floor were dog toys that were appropriate to chew on. We shut doors to rooms that were out of bounds, and encouraged our puppy to stay nearby by calling her in a happy voice if she started to wander off, and rewarding her with praise and treats when she returned.

The cheeky pup had a real aptitude for jumping onto the couch and climbing along the armrests and back like a mountain goat. Our preference is that furniture is off-limits for dogs in the house, so each time she hopped up we tapped the ground and called her down (using that same happy voice). What happened when she got down? Lots of treats. It is essential that we give any dog we bring home plenty of feedback when they make good choices. Henrietta wasn’t jumping on the couch to be naughty, she was just being an adventurous pup! As the day progressed we could anticipate that she would try to jump up on the couch, and encourage her to stay on the ground to earn treats instead.

As the afternoon wore on Wilbur managed to convince our young friend to play with him. They were having a great time playing bitey-face, chase, and tug-o-war, and we broke up the play with some basic training like sit and drop. Play between dogs can go pear-shaped when they are left to play for long durations (someone always gets grumpy), so it is important to provide the opportunity to settle and rest between play-bouts. Sometimes you will need to enforce rest periods by separating the dogs and giving them something to settle with, such as a stuffed Kong toy.

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Henrietta and Wilbur playing “bitey face”
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Henrietta inviting Wilbur to play tug-o-war
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Henrietta chewing quietly on a cow hoof

To finish our day together we took Henrietta along to an introductory session (no other puppies) at Puppy Preschool. This meant we needed her to be on lead, which she hasn’t had much experience with! When we clipped a lead to her collar we called her to follow us without letting the lead go tight, and gave her lots of treats as she followed us around. Some puppies get spooked when they feel a tight lead on their collar, so it is very important to make an effort to keep that lead loose when you first introduce it to your dog (that’s right, you make the effort, not your dog).

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Puppies need plenty of sleep

Overall our day consisted the opportunity to play, toilet, and rest, and at the end of our afternoon together we sent a very sleepy puppy back to her foster home! Whether you bring home a puppy or an adult dog, and whether it is forever or for a few hours, it is up to you to ensure that you set your new housemate up for success. Dogs simply don’t come preset to behave the way we like, but they are ready to learn. Make it easy for your new dog (or old dog) to make good choices, and be ready to provide them with lots of goodies when they do things you like. Having a plan of attack before you bring a dog home will make life a lot easier for everyone!

Making a Snuffle Mat

We originally got the idea and instructions for the Snuffle Mat from All Pet’s Education and Training, you can see the instructions by following their link. In summary, you will need a rubber mat with holes in it from Bunnings and LOTS (3-4m of 150cm wide fabric) of strips of polar fleece (i made mine about 30cm x 3cm). You will also need a whole afternoon, tying all those strips takes a whole lot of time (4-5 hours here).

making a snuffle mat

Once you’ve tied your polar fleece through every hole in every direction you have a truly spectacular example of an enrichment toy! The Snuffle Mat provides soft, dense substrate for your dog to sniff and snuffle into as he looks for treats.

snuffle mat

As always here at Treat. Play. Love., Wilbur was our trusty test puppy. He spent a good 15 minutes searching for a measly 1/8c of dry food last night while we ate our dinner. Then he laid down on it for a snooze. Can’t go wrong.

Below is a short video of Wilbur using the Snuffle Mat earlier today, he loves it!

Which dog is for you?

I would like to introduce you to two of my canine friends, Wilbur and Tedda.

wilbur and tedda

As you can see, they have many similarities, but they also have many differences. They joined the family about the same time, and each has come with their own unique set of characteristics.

Wilbur is a real dog, living and breathing. From puppyhood he has shown an interest in his surroundings. He wants to investigate, meet people and dogs, he loves to chew, run, bark, dig, and play. He gives me feedback on my actions in the form of body language and behaviour. He has good days and not-so-good days. He has likes and dislikes. As Wilbur’s owner it is my responsibility to help him meet his needs on a daily basis, to provide him with good choices so he can keep busy and active without leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, and to provide him meaningful feedback in the form of training and interaction so that he knows what behaviour leads to good things happening in his day.

Tedda is a stuffed toy, designed to be played with by dogs. He has squeakers, which can be annoying, but his list of annoying behaviours ends there. He sits around looking really cute, and he’s soft and cuddly when i feel so inclined to interact with him. He doesn’t make a mess (unless Wilbur tries to de-fluff him), he is quiet, and he has very cheap upkeep. He doesn’t ruin my stuff, and i have no need to spend any time training him or teaching him to behave in ways i like. He is a very easy addition to the household.

Unfortunately many people acquire dogs thinking they will behave like stuffed animals. Seen but not heard. Still and quiet until called upon to spend a short time doing dog-stuff: fetch, belly rub, walk. Punished for engaging in other dog behaviours: barking, digging, chewing. There is no time given to teaching our dogs good outlets for these behaviours, and too much time given to trying to quickly suppress these annoying characteristics.

Dogs are not pre-programmed at birth to know how we want them to behave. They do not know, automatically, right from wrong. They don’t know we will be upset when they chew up our shoes, pull on the lead, or dig up our lawn, they just know it is great fun. When we invite a dog to be part of our family, we need to do so with a commitment that we will help them to be the best dog they can be. We will provide them with the training, enrichment, socialisation, and exercise that will let them show us how awesome their doggy behaviours can be.

If this is too much responsibility, then you can purchase a Tedda from your local pet store instead – they are very cute!

Wilbur Reviews the Kong Wobbler

The Kong Wobbler is one of our most used food toys here at Treat. Play. Love. It looks like a giant version of the classic Kong, but it is made from hard plastic instead of rubber, and it has a weighted bottom so that when the dog knocks it over it immediately pops back up. The bulk of the toy is a hollow cavity, and there is one small hole for the biscuits to fall out of. The toy unscrews for easy filling and cleaning.

kong wobbler review

What can you put in the Kong Wobbler?

The Kong Wobbler is ideal for dry biscuits and treats. I use a variety of odd shaped treats in Wilbur’s one to make it harder for the biscuits to fall out. The cavity for food is very large, so if you wanted to feed a whole meal from this toy it would be easy to do. Being hard plastic the toy is easy to clean thoroughly, so you could put semi-moist food into the toy as well – something like “chunkers” might work quite well.

How does the dog get the food out?

Due to the weighted bottom keeping the toy upright, the dog needs to push and paw at the toy repeatedly to get the treats to fall out of the single hole. Some dogs figure out how to step on the toy and keep the hole face down, so for those guys (or for anyone wanting to make the toy harder) you can try putting a tennis ball or a couple of golf balls in the toy with the food, or some scrunched up paper. Either of these options slow down the rate at which the food will drop out. This toy generally takes Wilbur under 5 minutes to empty completely.

Durability

As with all the Kong products i have tried, this is a winner for durability. You can see in the above photo that Wilbur has managed to make some scratches on the plastic with his teeth and nails, but he hasn’t been able to cause any real damage to it. I think this toy would be great for some of the bigger chewers.

In Summary

We love this toy for its capacity, ease of use (for the human), and the level of activity required to get the food out. There is always plenty of pouncing and running around after the spinning toy (talking about the dog now). Often we will use this toy for a large portion of Wilbur’s daily biscuits, while using other toys for smaller quantities of biscuits, treats, or even wet food.

Wilbur Reviews the Aikiou Bowl

One of our lovely friends gave us their old dogs Aikiou Interactive Dog Bowl the other day. We are very excited about this, because it was on our “wish list” but it’s a little pricey so we hadn’t got to it yet. The Aikiou Bowl is a paw-shaped, plastic bowl which has 6 compartments in the centre and 8 compartments in total on the four toes. Plastic covers need to be moved back and forth or around to access all the compartments and get the food. This can be done either by pushing the covers with a nose, or pulling them with a paw. The Aikiou Bowl has rubber pads on the bottom of the bowl to stop it sliding around too much, as it is quite light weight.

Wilbur using the Aikiou Bowl

What can you put in the Aikiou Bowl?

This toy is completely plastic, and can be taken apart to clean thoroughly in the dishwasher, which means you can put anything you want in the bowl! As far as capacity goes, it is supposed to hold several cups of dry food so it isn’t too limiting for large dogs. Wilbur enjoyed working to get his measley half cup of biscuits and a couple of teaspoons of wet food.

Difficulty

The parts on the Aikiou Bowl move quite easily, which means that the toy is not difficult to use. Even a dog that isn’t experienced at using their nose and paws to access food should be able to accidentally make something happen with a bit of sniffing. The toy is lightweight, so i would suggest it be used under supervision to ensure it isn’t carried off and chewed up! Wilbur did attempt the push and flip methods of emptying the toy.

In Summary

This toy is pretty cool, and makes a good option as a slow-feed bowl. I like that it can be taken apart and cleaned, so i’m not limited in what surprises i can hide in the different compartments. I think i would prefer the plastic covers be a little more snug, so that it is just a tad harder for Wilbur, but i don’t hear him complaining so that’s ok. Another good toy to add to our collection!

Wilbur Reviews the West Paw Tizzi

Wilbur went to the pet shop and bought himself a new toy with his pocket money today, and we just tried it out so thought we would share our thoughts. The toy is by the USA brand West Paw, and this particularly one is called the “Tizzi”. It is actually designed as a throwing/fetch toy, and is marketed as being durable as a chew toy too. It has a hollow cavity in the base of the toy, which a fellow trainer i know has used with great success for stuffing food into. This toy was pricey, but that is pretty typical of USA made toys. It is also eco-friendly, dishwasher safe, and protected by a chew-damage guarantee which means you get one free replacement if your dog wrecks it.

west coast tizzi

What can you put in the Tizzi?

Depending on the size you purchase, the cavity in this toy is not terribly large. This toy is ideal for stuffing with wet food, peanut butter, or cream cheese and freezing. That’s what we’ll be using it for! For today’s test run we stuffed it with some light cream cheese with a baked dog biscuit stuffed in there too.

How does the dog get the treats out?

The Tizzi has got, for want of a better word, legs which you can cross or uncross. Crossed legs make accessing the treats much harder, and that is how Wilbur was given this toy. To get to the treats, the dog can either lick around the crossed legs, or maneuver the toy in such a way as to uncross the legs and make the task much easier. Wilbur managed to achieve this by throwing the toy a few times so that it bounced around. Then he was able to chew and lick the treats out. It lasted about 15 minutes, but will last much longer if the treats are frozen.

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Appearance

I can’t be the only one who can’t look at this toy without laughing uncontrollably. It only gets worse when your dog starts passionately licking at the treats. I’m not sure what the design team was thinking, but it sure is funny.

Overall

Humour was a large part of the reason for buying this toy, but i am pretty impressed by the time it took Wilbur to fiddle around with it getting the cream cheese out. It will happily work its way into our rotation of food toys.

Wilbur Reviews the Buster Cube

Welcome to the “Wilbur Reviews”! Wilbur is our 7 month old, 11kg, crossbreed puppy, and the purpose of these reviews is to show people the different food toys that are available to keep our four-legged friends busy. Not only that, but we’ll let you know what we think of them, what types of food they work well for, and in some cases the things we don’t like about them.

For our first Wilbur Review we thought we’d show you the Buster Cube, because that’s what Wilbur is eating his breakfast from as I type. The Buster Cube is a very solid, hollow plastic cube with a round opening on one side. It comes in 2 sizes, and 4 different colours. Wilbur has the mini size, in the pink colour (randomly selected by the eBay seller). The mini size cost about $15 delivered, there are LOTS of online sellers to choose from.

buster cube

What can you put in a Buster Cube?

The Buster Cube is good for dry food and treats only, you cannot use it for wet food. It has a fairly large capacity, which means that i could fit Wilbur’s whole 1/2 to 3/4 cup of breakfast into the one toy if i wanted. To fill the toy you drop the food in the hole and shake the food down. There is a plastic cylinder through the centre of the toy, which makes the food harder to get out – it also makes it harder to get the food in! I mostly put dry biscuits in Wilbur’s Buster Cube, and i’ll sometimes add in a few dry treats too as little surprises.

How does the dog get the treats out?

Wilbur’s standard approach to most dry-food toys is to push them with his paws and nose. This causes the Buster Cube to roll around, and as it tumbles on its different sides the food falls through the cylinder piece by piece. Wilbur has the most success with this toy on a hard flood, such as indoors or on the patio, and when he plays with the Buster Cube on these surfaces the treats come out in all directions as the toy spins around. Wilbur also picks the toy up in his mouth and throws it, which is another successful way to get treats to fall out. In our home this is a HIGH ACTIVITY toy, and there is a lot of running, pouncing, swatting, and throwing involved. The only downside of this is that the hard plastic is very loud on the tiles! Compared to some of our other toys (to be revealed in future posts) this toy takes a long time for Wilbur to empty, up to 20 minutes if it doesn’t get stuck beside the fridge or under our blue-tongue lizards tank.

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How do you clean it?

Cleaning is a bit of a downside. The cube doesn’t come apart, which means the only way to clean it is to rinse it and leave it to dry. But it isn’t too much of a problem as nothing wet or sticky goes in the cube anyway.

Overall

This one is definitely a winner with Wilbur, and it isn’t too much hassle to fill it when you consider how much food you can put in there and how long it lasts. I love how active it keeps Wilbur, and it is hilarious to watch him in action. I would highly recommend this toy to other dog owners, especially for dogs that have experience with other toys that need to be pushed and rolled to get biscuits out – this one is just a little harder which is great!