Food is one of the biggest assets that you provide your dog with daily. Please do not waste the precious resource by simply pouring it into the food bowl and putting it on the floor. All hungry dogs are food motivated as a sufficient caloric intake is vital for their survival. However, if you serve the food in the bowl without requiring your dog to expend any effort, the food becomes a dull resource that is taken for granted.
Challenge your dog’s physical and mental capabilities by:
Hand-feeding your dog from the hand – it will strengthen your bond;
Giving the food during training – dry kibble works great to motivate hungry dogs;
Rewarding behaviours that please you, e.g., when your dog is calm or walking next to you;
Dispensing the food in a way, so it is hard to get it out, and your dog needs to work for it; more about it below.
Hand-feeding also helps your dog feel more comfortable with your touch, especially if they are shy or anxious. When hand-feeding, be sure to offer small portions of food at a time and allow your dog to lick it off your palm gently. You can also use training sessions to provide your dog with meals. This approach is particularly helpful for dogs that are highly food-motivated. Using dry kibble as a reward during training sessions can be a great way to reinforce positive behaviors and help your dog learn new commands.
Every morning weigh your dog’s daily portion and place it in a jar that you can reach throughout the day or fill your pockets, and treat pouches with it. For fussier dogs, you can mix in the daily portion some treats, so your dog is occasionally surprised by a tastier piece, and their anticipation is maintained high. If you mix in treats, then reduce the amount of food portion.
A great way to help your dog relax and settle down, especially when left alone, is to give them a chew toy or a game that will require your dog’s effort to get the food out.
On the market, there are many hollow chew toys that you can stuff with food. You can soak dry kibble in chicken broth and stuff it in the toy or put some dry kibble and then stuff the opening with canned food, so it acts as a cap. To make it even more challenging, you can freeze the hollow toy overnight, so the ingredients don’t fall out easily.
Lick mats are great for spreading wet or soaked food and making your puppy’s tongue work on it.
One way to dispense food in a challenging way is by using a puzzle feeder. Puzzle feeders come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from simple to complex. They can be made of different materials, including plastic, wood, and rubber. Puzzle feeders are designed to keep your dog engaged and entertained while they work for their food.
Another option is to use snuffle mats. Snuffle mats are made of multiple layers of fleece fabric, with small pockets created by tying the fabric together. You can sprinkle dry kibble or small treats between the layers, and your dog can use their nose to search and find the food. Snuffle mats are great for dogs that love to sniff and forage.
You can also use food-dispensing balls. These balls have a small opening that dispenses food as your dog rolls the ball around. This type of feeder is great for dogs that love to play and be active.
Keep in mind that puzzle feeders, snuffle mats, and food-dispensing balls are meant to be used under supervision. Make sure to choose the right size and difficulty level for your dog, as well as to clean them regularly.
If you have nothing at your disposal, another great way requiring no equipment is to scatter the food on the grass or the ground, so your dog has to sniff and search. Remember that creatively feeding your dog is a great mental and physical exercise for your dog and reduces behavior that arises from boredom.