Food enrichment for dogs – tips for making food fun!
Eating the same food from the same bowl every morning and night can become a snooze.
Your dog can quickly get bored of their daily feeding routine. Food enrichment is a great way to teach dogs use their brains to work for their food!
Using toys bought from your local pet store, or ingredients from your supermarket, food enrichment is a simple way to keep dogs occupied with an interactive activity while you are at work or if the weather is too severe to take them for a walk.
Food enrichment is important because it can help decrease dogs’ boredom and stress levels by providing them with mental stimulation. Think less destructive behaviour, barking and whining!
With that in mind, we’ve put together a food enrichment starter-pack for dog owners.
Wobblers and puzzle toys are designed to encourage the dog to work for their food using their paws or snout to move the object to reveal the food from the inside.
It’s a good idea to fill puzzle toys up with dry kibble – don’t use wet food as it won’t come out of the puzzle toy, can frustrate the dog and can be extremely hard to clean out thoroughly!
Tip: Have a few different puzzle toys and swap out with each meal to keep your dog interested and enthusiastic.
When carrying out all food enrichment, wait for your dog to be calm. Ask them to “sit”, place the toy down on the floor and monitor your dog for the first few minutes. If they become frustrated or uninterested you may like to try a different food enrichment activity or you may need to encourage them to start by playing with the toy yourself.
This activity is really simple and stimulating for dogs. All it requires is a room, some objects, tasty treats and your dog! This activity starts by hiding treats in plain view so your dog can find them. Once you’ve hidden a treat, step back and say “find it”. Let your dog explore till they do. Once they find the treat mark this behaviour with a “click” from a clicker or verbal praise.
Advance the game by hiding multiple treats in, behind or on objects while your dog is in the room. Once they’ve mastered that you can hide the treats while your dog is outside of the room.
A TV dinner is a frozen whole meal. They can be made in various moulds such as ice cream containers, silicon baking moulds or small buckets or tubs. This food enrichment is great in summer to keep dogs cool in the hot sunny weather!
How to prepare TV dinners:
- Ensure the mould has been thoroughly cleaned before preparing the meal.
- Place two cups of dry kibble into a mould.
- Add a few tablespoons of wet food (gravy-based wet food is best).
- Add two cups of water. Instead of water you can also use chicken or beef stock.
- Mix thoroughly.
- Cover, date and freeze.
Once frozen, serve up to your patiently waiting pooch!
*this recipe is for a medium-large size dog. Reduce the recipe for smaller dogs.
Tip: ensure the floor area is an easy cleanable surface as this food enrichment can make a mess!
A slow feeder is a bowl that is specifically designed to prevent dogs from gulping their meals.
The design of the bowls mean that your dog will have to work to reach their food, slowing down their eating as well as providing mental stimulation.
Slow feeders can be filled with various dog-friendly foods but a good way to start is to scatter dry kibble throughout the slow feeder and add a small amount of wet food to encourage the dog to start eating the food.
Pass the parcel
Just like the children’s party game, pass the parcel for dogs is the same concept – hiding goodies inside wrapping paper or a box!
How to prepare pass the parcel for pooches:
- Step 1. Use a sturdy cardboard box (removing any staples or cellotape that may cause harm if swallowed).
- Step 2. Place bits of tasty treats on the inside of the box along with scrunched up newspaper and a selection of soft or hard toys.
- Step 3. Wrap the box using newspaper!
- Step 4. Make sure you hide treats in the wrapping so they can use their senses to dig it out.
Remember, it’s okay if they make a mess – it’s part of the fun!
Frozen treats are easy to make and can be used in hiding games or simply as an alternative treat for your dog.
Frozen treats can be made with various dog-friendly foods, however our most common recipe is:
- Step 1. Mix chicken or beef stock with peanut butter and hot water.
- Step 2. Place the mixture in different moulds and place biscuits on top.
- Step 3. Cover, date and freeze.
You can also try a sweet option with plain yoghurt, blueberries and banana.
Tip: You can make your treats using a mix of different wet food and biscuits or stock, so get creative and see what your dog prefers!
KONGS and food dispensing toys
A Kong is a rubber food dispensing toy which comes in various sizes and strengths for all types of dogs!
Preparing a Kong is easy. They can be filled with various dog-friendly foods but we recommend filling them with kibble and wet food, or peanut butter.
You can also place a stick-shaped treat in the end of the Kong to create a popsicle-style treat. If you want to prepare your Kongs in advance, simply put them in the freezer. Just make sure you use them within three days of making!
Tip: Do not use gravy-based wet food as the gravy leaks out before it gets a chance to freeze!