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Since 2019, there has been a massive change in the dog training world. Since Absolute dogs introduced their “#DitchTheBowl” movement, more and more trainers, owners and behaviorists have been moving away from conventional feeding in favor of feeding in ways that promote mental enrichment and physical activity.
There are many alternative ways to feed your dog. Here are our recommendations of ways to feed your dog in a more creative way.
Why Ditch the Bowl?
Ditching the bowl may seem very backwards- why get rid of something that makes life so easy for you and your dog?
Dogs have a naturally stronger seeking system which comes from their time as scavengers. Dogs were bred from wolves that lived around the edges of human settlements, and often lived as scavengers within them. This desire to find items to eat is still present in dogs to this day.
Consequently, when dogs work for their food, they get the rush of a neurochemical called dopamine, which is a reward chemical. This makes dogs more likely to work hard for their food and enjoy their mealtimes more. This scientific principle is also known as contra freeloading, whereby animals will work for food even when there is food freely available.
While making feeding time more creative for all dogs is incredibly important, it is especially important for food-motivated breeds like types of Labradors, Beagles, and Bulldogs.
Ditching the bowl and feeding your dog in this way is also a great way to reduce the risk associated with speedy eaters! It also you to slow down your dogs feeding and help to control their weight!
- Puzzle Feeders
Giving your dog their meals in an activity toy is a great way to mix up mealtimes. Toys that stretch and challenge your dogs and make them work for their food, thus encouraging them to slow down and enjoy the challenge of working for their meal.
Though you can buy puzzle feeders online, you can also make your own at home with various household items. A classic example of this is putting treats in a muffin tray and covering each opening with a tennis ball, meaning your dog must sniff out which opening to uncover! There are many household enrichment options online for you to try out with your pup!
- Scatter Feeding
Scatter feeding is another excellent option – especially if you are on a budget! If your dog eats kibble, scattering their breakfast on the floor and encouraging them to sniff it out is a great way to start their day.
If you have multiple dogs at home, you may wish to do this in separate rooms in order to remove conflict around feeding. This is also important if your dogs are on different foods!
Scatter feeding also works well on walks! If you have a dog who can become overexcited on walks, getting them to sniff and work for their food while outdoors can help with this! Using the grass to hide the treats adds a new level of difficultly and really gets your dog working for their food.
Training with your dog’s daily food allowance is super important if you are concerned about your pooch piling on the pounds!
As previously stated, getting your dog working for their food makes them more excited about it! Training is also great for working on your relationship with your dog as it gets you working towards a common goal.
Though training life skills with your dog is important, training for fun is just as critical. If you or your dog no longer enjoy training, then it becomes a chore! A great trick to train for fun is a roll over. This trick is best taught using a technique called luring. With a small treat between your fingers and your dog lying down in front of you, place the treat to your dog’s nose and encourage them over. If they don’t make it all the way the first few times, this is okay, you can break it down into an even smaller movement for your pup.
- Activity Toys
Similar to puzzle toys, activity toys are items designed to keep your dog busy. These toys get your dog working on activities such as sniffing, which are naturally tiring for dogs. Another advantage of sniffing is that it aids the release of neurochemicals such as dopamine, which help to make your dog feel more relaxed and happier.
Though you can buy many excellent toys online (such as kongs, lickimats, and k9 connectables, among others), you can also make activities toys for your dog at home. One toy you can make is a snufflemat. To make this, you will need some felt and a rubber doormat with holes in it. Simply cut your felt into 2 inch long strips and tie around the doormat. Once the whole doormat is covered, you will have an activity toy in which you can hide treats for your dog to find!
- Hide & Seek!
Teaching your dog to find things on cue is a great way to keep your dog busy and get them working! As previously discussed, sniffing is very important for encouraging feel-good hormones in your dog’s life, and encouraging them to do it on cue has a multitude of uses.
For example, if you are on a walk and you notice something coming that you don’t want your dog to see, being able to ask them to get their head down and sniff will serve as a great distraction from the environment.
To teach this, start by saying “find it!” to your dog and dropping a treat in front of them. After repeating this process several times, you can start to put two treats down at the same time, one in front of your dog and one to the side. Encourage your dog to sniff out the second treat. As your dog gets better, you can start to add more and more complex elements to the training. For example, placing a treat down behind the dog, or throwing them out so the dog has to cover more distance.
- Freeze it!
On particularly hot days, having a way to allow your dog to cool off is a godsend. Freezing some yummy treats for your dog is a great way to keep them busy whilst also keeping them cool and hydrated.
If you a planning to give your dog ice, it is important to always do this under supervision first. This is especially important with small dogs or puppies, who’s teeth can break if it is not handled correctly!
Ditching the dog bowl sounds intimidating, but it need not be! Gradually making changes in your dog’s daily routine and phasing out your dog bowl may be the best thing you do!
Do you use a dog bowl at home or does your dog live their life bowl-free? Leave us a comment below telling us all about your dog’s daily routine at home!