Are you utilising your dog’s meal times in the best way you can? In a way which provides mental stimulation, relieves boredom and enriches your dog’s life?
Dogs are natural scavengers and are designed to work for their food. Some people may think it is ‘mean’ to make their dog work for his food, but there are many benefits to allowing your dog work for his food and most dogs will enjoy the mental workout this can provide. If you have a dog that guzzles his food in seconds, changing the way you feed your dog can slow his eating down, leaving him feeling fuller and more satisfied, whilst also reducing the risk of bloat. Dogs that are destructive through boredom can expel some of their excess energy in a productive way which doesn’t damage your furniture! A mental workout can be more tiring than a physical workout and can provide entertainment for your dog, resulting in them feeling more satisfied. Think about it from a human perspective, does going for a 30 minute walk entertain you and provide mental stimulation for you, in the way that watching tv, reading the newspaper or browsing the internet does? It is the same for your dog; mental stimulation is a life necessity.
There are many ways you can add some excitement to your dog’s mealtimes, and not all of them require a hands-on approach from you.
Use that nose!
Dogs love to sniff! Use this instinct to your advantage and provide your dog an outlet for his sniffing. A good way to do this is to scatter your dog’s meal out on the floor; you can do this indoors or in the garden. Start off by making it easy for your dog by scattering the food over a short area, as your dog starts to understand the game you can scatter over a larger area and provide obstacles such as putting food under plant pots, under towels or behind walls.
There are many different styles of food toys available for dogs. Kongs are a well-known favourite. The hollow rubber type can be stuffed with food and can be frozen for added difficulty. You can stuff them with your dog’s regular dry or wet food, or you can soak your dog’s dry food, stuff it in the Kong and then freeze it. When you first give your dog a stuffable food toy, be sure to pack it lightly so that it can be emptied easily, if you make it too hard to start with your dog will get frustrated and may give up.
There are many types of food toys and puzzles available, the ones that dispense random treats, such as the Kong Wobbler can be great for dogs that guzzle their food, only a couple of pieces of food are dispensed at a time, encouraging slower eating and better digestion.
Work For It!
A great way to get some training in with your dog, without adding extra calories, is to train them using their meals. If you are in a rush even picking out a few pieces will ensure that you get some training in. If you have 30 mins or an hour or so to spare, measure out your dogs food and drop some training sessions into that time slot. One of my favourite ways to train my dogs is to measure out their food and if I see them doing any behaviour I want to encourage (lying quietly on their bed, not jumping on visitors, doing a down stay whilst I am working, or paying me attention when I call their name) I will give them a few pieces of their meal. This has the effect of a) rewarding good everyday behaviours, and b) making me aware of all the good behaviours my dogs do, instead of just noticing the not-so-good ones!
Hand feeding your dog (even just a few piece of each meal) can be a great way to teach your dog how to use their mouth gently and is a great exercise to do with young puppies. Simply hold a piece of kibble between your finger and thumb, if your dog snatches or bites harshly, keep hold of the kibble, once you notice a slight difference in the pressure of your dog’s mouth, allow them to take the food. You will be teaching them that in order to get the food they have to have a gentle mouth.
Let us know what YOU do to making meal times fun and stimulating for your dog! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or let us know via our facebook or Google + pages.
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