During these long winter months, our dogs can suffer from boredom. When the winter weather prevents us from providing adequate exercise routines, you can use some simple enrichment techniques that provide your dog with mental stimulation and a food reward. You can use these techniques as part of the meal-time routine or as a separate activity. Just be sure to adjust your dog’s calorie intake accordingly if you do this in addition to a meal.
1. Activity bowls such as the one in the video on our YouTube channel can be used to slow down the eating process and add mental stimulation as your dog figures out how to get food items out of all the nooks and crannies in the bowl. Wedge larger chunks of food or treats into the bowl, paste peanut butter or canned food into the grooves, or just scatter the kibbles in there. It is a simple and fast way to lengthen your dog’s mealtime without posing too much of a challenge. I like to use kibbles and fresh vegetables in Jackson’s activity bowl.
2. The Towel Burrito: Using an old towel, you can scatter kibbles and treats within as you roll it up. CAUTION: NEVER use pastes or liquids in this situation as some dogs may be prone to eating the towel! The tighter the towel is rolled, the trickier this gets for your dog. Remember, always keep it simple to start. Monitor your dog for signs of frustration as you want this to be a positive and rewarding activity for them. If it appears too difficult, then either add some assistance or make it easier for them by unrolling a section or placing more food near the start of the roll. The first time my dog Jackson tried the towel burrito, he did not figure out how to unroll it. In the video, you will see him digging and pawing the towel which also works, but not everything falls out this way when you roll the towel very tightly. So, I took it away and made the challenge easier. By the second time, he had nailed the challenge! He was pretty excited about the next time I presented this puzzle for him.
3. Using sealed disposable containers filled with treats or meals are an inexpensive and simple way to provide stimulation for your dog. Always monitor your dog throughout the meal to prevent ingestion of the container. If your dog is prone to ingestion of toys or other non-food items, this is NOT A RECOMMENDED technique for you to try on your dog. Also, it’s a good idea to train your dog to release or give up food and toys readily before trying any of these techniques but especially this one as you will see in the video. I used a cardboard paper towel roll filled with treats and folded over the ends of the tube. Your dog can then chew and paw open the cardboard roll to get at the food within. However, you will see in the video that Jackson began to lick the cardboard and it got quite wet. I didn’t want him to ingest it. So, we traded it for something better. He readily gives it up as a trade because we practice this regularly. Always have something ready for a trade just in case you need it.
4. Muffin Tin and Tennis balls: Take an old muffin tin or something similar with compartments and scatter food and treats throughout. Cover the openings with balls. In the video, we used a selection of balls of different weights and textures to increase the difficulty level. To start, use a treat that has a high value to your dog, so they don’t give up too quickly. Some dogs will learn this trick fast and others, like Jackson, may need a few tries at it. Your dog may paw or scratch at the container. We added a non-slip mat to stop the container from sliding around and making the challenge easier for Jackson. However, after the third meal using this technique, he had figured out that he could lift each ball and discard it to get at the food faster.
Written by: Jill Whitfield, Hospital Manager