How to make mealtimes more fun
Food does not just provide dogs with energy; it is a useful tool that owners can use to make their pet’s lives more interesting. In the wild, dogs have to hunt to survive so a large part of their mental focus is on finding prey and reaping the rewards. Domestic dogs have their meals simply handed to them – where’s the fun in that? Instead of tipping your dog’s dinner into a bowl, try some of these suggestions to make mealtimes more fun.
Working for food
The best way to train puppies is with positive reinforcement. If a treat is given every time they perform a desired behaviour, they will soon learn the association and a habit will be set.
Puppies need to do this consistently, which can mean a lot of treats. It is far better to measure out a pup’s allowance of kibble and put it in a bag ready to use as rewards throughout the day. This way, your puppy is working for every bit of food so you never waste a training opportunity. It also prevents a dog from over-eating and causing health problems later in life.
Research has shown that dogs prefer to work for their food, which is thought to be due to the endorphins that are released when a dog sniffs, licks and chews. A dog that simply guzzles from a bowl misses out on this.
A dog is never too old to learn and you could get your pet working for their food by teaching them a new trick. How about giving a paw, spinning in a circle or speaking on command?
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There are now lots of ingenious dog feeding devices on the market that really tap into a dog’s natural problem-solving skills. Puzzle feeders give a dog a mental workout at dinner times, exercising their brains and staving off boredom. They are great to use at times when your dog might need to be left home alone or needs a distraction if you are too busy to play.
Some puzzle feeders can be used for wet food while others are better suited to dry kibble or treats. There are ones with moving parts and others that need to be rolled around by a dog’s nose. They also come in a range of difficulty levels so that there is something to challenge even the cleverest canine brain.
Puzzle feeders make meals last longer so dogs eat slower. Dogs that eat too quickly don’t have time to feel ‘full’ before they over eat, meaning that they regularly eat more than they should. This can lead to obesity over time, which is linked to a host of health problems including arthritis and diabetes. Eating too fast can also lead to gastric upset or even bloat, which is a dangerous condition found in deep-chested breeds that can be fatal.
The mental stimulation that dogs get from puzzle feeders can help prevent some unwanted behaviours, such as excessive barking or chewing in the home. A bored dog can be a destructive dog if you don’t give them something to focus their mental energy.
For elderly dogs or those with mobility issues, puzzle feeders are a great way of providing enrichment at home if going for walks is not possible.
When looking to buy a puzzle feeder for your dog, make sure you choose one that matches their ability. You want it to be a challenge but if your dog finds it too hard, they are likely to lose interest.
Use a combination of puzzle feeders so that your dog doesn’t get bored always having the same one, and vary the contents. Differing textures and smells will make the experience more fun so pop in the odd blueberry or cube of carrot for added excitement!
Hide and seek
You don’t have to buy a specific puzzle feeder to give your pet a challenge at meal times. Scatter feeding is something you can easily do with your pet’s usual dry kibble. Throw a handful on the lawn or hide it around your sitting room so your dog has to use their acute sense of smell to find it.
Like puzzle feeding, this will make your dog work for their food as well as slow down the rate at which they eat it.
If you don’t want to hide your dog’s kibble or they are fed wet food which would prove too messy, you can hide other treats or biscuits to make a game of hide and seek, being careful to adjust your pet’s daily food allowance so that they do not overeat.
Most dogs love rummaging around in cardboard boxes so next time you get your Get Set Pet delivery, leave all the packing paper in the box or add some scrunched up newspaper and chuck in a bit of your dog’s dry food. As well as having fun hunting out the food in this doggie lucky dip, your dog is likely to enjoying shredding the paper too.
Cool fun on a hot day
Some dogs love frozen treats, especially on hot days, so you could try freezing some of your dog’s wet food rolled into balls, or kibble frozen in ice cubes. This will help cool them down, as well as provide a long-lasting treat.
You could even try making your own frozen nibbles for your pet. Blend natural yogurt, banana and peanut butter before pouring the mixture into ice cube trays and freezing. Make sure the peanut butter you use does not contain the artificial sweetener xylitol as this is highly toxic to dogs.
You could also freeze a densely packed Kong with a mixture of wet food and treats to provide plenty of fun for your dog if you have to go out. This can be a bit messy though, so you might not want to give it to them on your carpet!
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