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Feeding for Enrichment-4 Creative Ways

New research shows what some dog trainers and dog owners have speculated for years. Dogs seem to prefer working for their food rather than just having it handed to them.  (The link to the study is at the bottom of this article)

As a dog trainer, I have often recommended that my clients change up the way they feed their dog. Changing up your method of feeding from time to time can add additional mental stimulation to your dog’s daily life. A feeding game that involves training exercises can also have significant effects on how your dog perceives and responds to training commands.

When we look at how dogs find and consume food in their natural state, we generally see the participation in scavenging and predatory behavior. Therefore, food games and certain training exercises that resemble the dog using one or both of these food seeking processes can add enrichment to the dog’s life.

Here are 4 differnet examples that you can incorporate into you feeding routine:

1) Food Scatter- Scattering your dog’s food in the yard or designated area inside the home is a great way to allow you dog to use that amazing nose they have.  This game resembles scavenging behavior and adds mental stimulation to the dog’s daily routine. It can also add additional excitement to the day when you do not have time for an exercise or training session. It is a very simple procedure:

  • Measure the amount of kibble you generally feed your dog
  • Take it to a location in the yard where the dog does not go to the bathroom and begin spreading it around.
  • As you scatter the food, tell the dog to “Find it” and let them sniff out their meal.
  • If you want to make your dog’s kibble a little more appealing with a stronger scent, you can add a tablespoon of chicken broth to the kibble.

2) Use in training- Using your dog’s meal periodically for training exercises will help keep your dog’s response to commands polished and dependable. It also adds the benefit of the dog forming a positive emotional association to various commands such as sit/down/stay/come/ leave it/ go to bed, etc.

  • I generally don’t even make a plan on what I am going to work on. Just let it happen naturally and see what ensues.
  • Try to keep it upbeat and let your dog have fun trying to figure out how to get their meal.
  • You can feed handfuls of kibble at a time rather than feeding only one piece of kibble for one behavior.

3) Place in toy or object- There is a reason why the availability of products such as food puzzles and food dispensing toys have increased significantly over the past few years. Dogs enjoy them and it keeps them busy.

  • You can pick up a food dispensing toy at your local pet store
  • Simply add the kibble to the toy and give it to your dog and let them figure out how to remove the kibble.
  • You can add an additional element to the game by letting your dog find the toy before they get to work on it. When you are first teaching your dog to find it, make it simple. Here are the steps:
  1. Put the dog in a different room as you load the toy with the food
  2. Place the toy in a corner of a room in the  house
  3. Bring the dog out of the room and say “Find it” and encourage your dog until they catch the scent of the food and find the toy.
  4. Make the search more difficult when they start to understand how the game works.

4) Practice follow the Leader- This is an exercise that can be fun for the dog and has the benefit of increasing your dog’s response to coming when called. It works like this:

  1. Put your dog somewhere out of sight
  2. Hide the dog’s food in a few different locations in the home or in the yard
  3. Bring your dog out to the area where you have hid the food
  4. Go to the first location where you placed the food, and then call your dog to you. Drop the kibble on the ground and let your dog begin eating.
  5. As your dog is eating, go to the next location where you have hidden the food.
  6. When your dog finishes eating the food on the ground, call your dog to you using your Recall command: “Cooper Come!”
  7. Repeat this process until your dog’s meal is gone

Summary

Using your dog’s food in a variety of ways can help add excitement to an otherwise uneventful day of being confined inside the home. After all, you are going to feed the dog anyway, so might as well make it as fun for your dog as possible. Dogs enjoy fun activities and the more activities that we can provide them, the healthier and more enriching their lives become.

Here is an interesting article on an experiment that was conducted in Sweden. Check it out here

Published on July 23, 2017

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