In the wild, dogs and cats often walked kilometres a day and scavenged for their food which gave them a good physical and mental workout and lots of enrichment. That doesn’t happen with today's domesticated pets. Dogs that do not expel all their energy through physical exercise or mental stimulation or have an outlet for their energy can become obese, bored, frustrated or anxious which can lead to a variety of emotional and behavioural problems.
Enrichment means making life happier and more rewarding by adding something to it. Where pets are concerned we can make their lives more enriching and hence prevent unwanted behaviour by training them, allowing them to exhibit normal behaviour (e.g. allow a dog to behave like a dog), through social interaction and environmental enrichment.
Enrichment through training basically means enriching your pets life by providing it with training. Training helps you to communicate with your dog or cat (yes, you can train cats too), build a strong bond with them, is a great way of physically and mentally exercising your pet and teaches them what is a desired behaviour. For example, if you have a dog that jumps on guests you can teach them to sit or lay down on the ground when guests come through the door. This is a much more desired behaviour.
Life enrichment is where you allow your dog to behave like a dog, e.g. chew something it is allowed to chew (see Kongs below), dig in a sand pit or a clam shell filled with soil as digging is a natural behaviour for dogs and use its nose to sniff out food (see scatter feeding and snuffle mats below).
Social enrichment involves interaction with both people and other animals that doesn’t cause stress or conflict to either animal. Group walks, play dates or trips to the beach with friends and their dogs is great social enrichment for your dog so long as it is comfortable around the other dogs. It also helps the dog to learn acceptable behaviour from other dogs.
Environment enrichment means adding something to your pet’s environment to make it more meaningful. This is where food dispensing toys come in. Continue reading below to find out all about them.
Food Dispensing Toys
Many dogs are motivated by food and food dispensing toys are a great way to feed your dog while also giving it a good mental workout. A lot of dogs and cats are fed from a bowl but as you know if you have a pet that almost inhales its food, the food is gone in a matter of seconds. A good way to slow down their eating is with a food dispensing toy. By using a food dispensing toy you are helping to mentally exercise your pet and use up its energy which can help to ease frustration, boredom and prevent problem behaviours. It is also much more fun for dogs and cats to get their food this way than out of a bowl.
Here is a list of a few food dispensing toys but many more come on the market each day. When choosing a food dispensing toy choose one that is right for your pet, not too big or too small, no small parts that can break off and remember to supervise your pet. As with all toys rotate the food dispensing toys so your pet doesn’t get bored with it. You may have to show your pet how to use the toy when you first introduce it.
Kongs are a great way of feeding your dog as it has to figure out how to get the food out of a Kong, my dog usually does this by picking the Kong up and dropping it on the ground to make the food fall out or by holding the Kong down with his paw and licking the opening.
Kongs are great in the Australian summer as you can stuff them with food and put them in the freezer. It takes a lot longer for your dog to empty a frozen Kong and it keeps them entertained for quite a while. There are many recipes for stuffing Kongs from filling it with meat and chicken necks (one of my dogs favourites) to putting mashed up fruit and vegetables in it and sealing the opening with peanut butter (make sure the peanut butter doesn’t contain xylitol as it is toxic to pets). Checkout the Kong Company website for recipe ideas.
Kongs help teething and mouthing puppies (especially frozen ones as they help to relieve teething pain), they work as boredom busters (especially in wet weather) and help your dog work out its brain and tire it out. It is very important to ensure you get the right size Kong for your dog and its breed. Go by the sizing chart on the Kong before you buy it.
There is also a range of Kong food dispensing toys for cats too.
Nina Ottosson food dispensing toys are wonderful for challenging your dog’s brain to figure out how they will get to their food. Remember to start off with easier toys and work up to more challenging ones so your pet has a chance to build up their puzzle skills.
Other food dispensing toys:
Busy buddy twist and treat
……..and many more
Dunk for a Treat
In the summer fill the bottom of a clam shell with water and throw treats into it as a great way to get your dog to cool down while having fun finding treats. It is also a nice way of introducing your dog to water and getting their paws wet.
Scatter feeding is a good way of getting your dog to use its nose to find its food. Start of by scattering food on the floor by your feet and letting your dog find its food. Gradually scatter the food further and further away until you are able to do the same thing in the garden (again, start close to you and gradually scatter the food further away). This helps your dog realise what the game is about. Make sure the food/treat smells nice so your dog wants to find it. Scatter feeding helps your dog slow down its eating, work for its food and work its brain. If you have multiple dogs and one or more resource guard their food, play this game with one dog at a time.
A snuffle mat is a mat with holes in it that has numerous strips of fleece threaded through the holes. You can make it yourself and it is very easy to make (although a bit time consuming). When it is finished it is a bit like a shag rug for your dog. You scatter your dogs food in it and it works in the same way as scatter feeding. Your dog has to use its nose and paws to find its food. How to make a snuffle mat by Lindsay Kinney at KinneyK9Academy
Ice blocks are great in the summer for helping to cool your pet down. In Australia it can get into the high 30’s (celsius) in summer. Pour some water into a plastic container and add your pets food and/or treats to it and place it in the freezer. When it is frozen remove it from the container and give to your pet. Keeps them entertained and helps cool them down. Adding bone broth to it is a nice way of adding extra nutrients to it too.