Updated: Aug 29, 2020
If you’re thinking about ditching the bowl or even just mixing up your ways of feeding below are a selection of ideas to get you and your dog started on giving your dog even more reason to look forward to meal time.
Why would I want to ditch the bowl?
Your dogs daily meal is an opportunity to enrich their lives through mental stimulation, fun and problem solving. When your dog is kept busy and challenged this makes their day more exciting, expends energy and uses their strong intellect; which aids in reducing behavioural issues caused by boredom.
Dogs are wired to work for food, as they are intelligent, hunting food is a big part of mental stimulation for them. By having a bowl of food presented to them this takes away a big part of the fun and enrichment they receive from sourcing their meal. Food is also one of the most powerful tools we have in our training toolset, by our dogs needing to earn their food their manners and behaviour naturally improves.
Our dogs can quite often be bored at home when we’re not there or can’t spend time playing with them unfortunately this often leads to unwanted behaviour problems as they find their own ways to entertain themselves. By providing challenge and stimulation through ditching the bowl activities our dogs receive that mental stimulation they’re craving whilst having fun and tiring them out.
Depending how driven your dog is by their main meal you can use the kibble in replacement of treats for some of these exercises. At the beginning of the day measure out their daily food for you to use for training and the activities below to ensure they are still getting the right amount of nutritious food in their bellies.
For any of these exercises that utilise cardboard and paper ensure you remove the cardboard once all the treats and kibble have been found so your dog is not having a meal of cardboard.
Put a few pieces of kibble in an old toilet or paper towel roll and scrunch/fold over the ends of the paper roll. Fold the roll in half again and then give to your dog. It will take them a few minutes to get in to the roll and get all the food inside.
Cardboard Box I
Get an old cardboard box you can tape shut. Punch small holes into the sides so they can smell the food but it can’t fall out. Tape the box shut and give to your dog to search and destroy.
Cardboard Box II
Get and old cardboard box, some paper - paper towel, newspaper, notepaper etc. grab your treats and place a treat in a piece of paper then scrunch half or completely closed, repeat this several times placing them inside the box so they are all held in place by each other not rolling around in there. Put in front of your dog for them to use their nose to dig around and pull out the food treasure.
Cardboard Box III
Like a set of Russian bowls get a few boxes of different sizes, lots of littles a few medium and a large one. Place treats inside the smaller boxes and them messily stack inside the biggest box. Let your dog explore, sniff and paw their way to their treats and kibble.
Frozen Treasure Hunt
In a plastic bowl put a mix of treats, kibble and even toys; fill the bowl with water and put in the fridge overnight. Give this to your dog ideally outside as it will create a mess, your dog can lick and paw their way to the treasures for a few hours. Great for warmer weather!
You can do this for a few treats just by using an old towel and popping a few treats in the middle then folding in half for your dog to search and paw to get the treats out.
For using half or all their dinner we make it a little more difficult. Lie the old towel out flat and create three lines of kibble lengthways across the towel. Then fold the towel down and up to cover the outside rows, followed by folding in hand to cover the last row. Pop a couple of treats here and fold in half again so you are left with a long folded towel you can then tie in a loose knot. Give this to your dog to work their way through to get their dinner, this will take 15-20min depending on your dog.
Hide and Scent
Hide kibble and treats around the room in easy to access places, let your dog loose to search the room and eat their finds!
Three Cup Monty
A take old this old game where you put a treat under one cup and then mix the three cups up then put into a line with enough space between them so you can be sure which cup your dog is indicating on. Ask your dog to search and when they choose the right up reward them with the treat inside it.
Play a treat in one hand and turn both hands into a fist, put your hands behind your back and switch the treat around if you want. Then put both hands out in front of your dog, when they indicate with more than a light sniff (ie paw or try to get into your hand with the treat; give them the treat.
Muffin Tin Game
Using a muffin baking tin and tennis or toy balls, put a few treats in the muffin spaces and let your dog eat these so they understand the end gem of a treat in the muffin space. Now put a treat in the muffin spaces and cover each treat with a tennis ball, let your dog explore by using their nose and paw they will be able to remove the ball and reveal the treat below.
These are a few ideas to get you started and provide inspiration to create your own activities, keep an eye on our social media for demonstration videos you can follow along to bring these ideas to life.