People are slowly becoming more aware that dogs need mental stimulation as part of their everyday lives as well as physical exercise.
Mental stimulation is a type of thinking stimulation and includes things like problem solving, using their senses i.e. sniffing and co-ordination.
The wild dogs use their mental energy by just surviving, for example sniffing out and hunting for food as well as avoiding any dangers that might be present. When we share a home with our dogs, we provide their food for them and protect them from anything that is potentially harmful BUT our dogs still have the need for the mental stimulation.
Taking the above into consideration we have replaced what used to be a dog’s daily hunt for food to a few minutes each day eating all of their food rations from a bowl. Eating from a bowl uses up no mental stimulation at all. Sometimes the dog may be asked to wait or sit before he eats but most of the time our dog food is chucked into a bowl where the dog scoffs the lot in under five minutes and then he is ready to play again. We could instead be using our dog’s food to make our dogs lives so much more interesting and stimulating.
Firstly we could get rid of the dogs food bowl altogether! Instead make the dog use some energy or problem solving skills to work out how to get his meal out of a food toy for example.
This is one of the easiest things we could do. You can even prefer multiple food toys at once so they are ready when they are needed. A great example is the Kong, you could fill one with your dog’s food and then let him figure it out, you can even freeze them to make it slightly more challenging for your dog. The Kong wobbler is another great toy if you feed your dog biscuits, it requires your dog to knock it to release the food so not only does this use mental energy but physical energy too!
Depending on the type of food that you feed your dog, you could scatter feed. For example you can scatter your dog’s food into the grass in the garden for him to sniff out or hide his dog biscuits around the room he eats in for him to find himself. A great toy is a snuffle mat, basically a mat with long pieces of fleece woven into it. You simply hide your dog biscuits among the layers of fleece.
A great way to use your dog’s food is to use it for training exercises throughout the day. This not only is a good way to mentally stimulate them but also means your dog is getting rewarded regularly for good behaviour! So not only will you have a calmer dog but also a better behaved one. Many people forget to reward their dog throughout the day when they do something we like, for example not begging or settling in their bed. You could use their food as rewards for learning a great new trick.
Use household objects and turn them into food toys. An empty carboard box filled with scrunched up paper, an empty bottle with the lid taken off, or a cardboard egg box filled with the dog’s food are just some examples of things you could do.
Yes, using a food bowl is quick, convenient and so easy to do. But why waste the opportunity to make our dogs’ lives more stimulating. By just being a bit more imaginative in the way we feed our dogs we are able to make food time more interesting, tiring, stimulating and will also slow down any dogs that scoff their food down. Don’t feel like you have to use just one of these ideas, you could half your dog’s food; half into a puzzle toy and half to be used in training. A dog that is mentally stimulated is less likely to exhibit behaviour problems such as excessive barking, destructiveness and other boredom type behaviour. This just proves that it can really be worth discarding your dog’s food bowl.
Feel free to share any other ways you have found to feed your dogs!
Jayde Davey M.ISAP CTDI
Jayde Davey M.ISAP CTDI – I am an aspiring dog trainer, supporting positive reinforcement methods. I currently am studying an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management and have just passed my test to become a Certified Trick Dog Instructor. I have my own blogsite with connected social media and I also run a Facebook Dog Trick group where I help people to teach their dog lots of fun tricks. I am a member of ISAP or the International Society for Animal Professionals and also have a diploma in small animal care. I own a deaf Dalmatian called Logan who I do most of my training with; he knows lots of tricks like take my socks off, fetch my a tissue and wipe your feet but I also regularly work with a miniature poodle, a cocker spaniel, a jack Russell and a border collie. I one day hope to become a professional dog trainer.
Blog site: www.blogthatdog.com