How to provide food enrichment for dogs
Food-based enrichment for dogs is one of the most common types of enrichment for dogs. For more on the six types of enrichment for dogs see here. This is because it is one of the simplest ways to provide enrichment for your dog as most dogs are food motivated to some extent.
In addition, dogs are by nature a scavenger and to forage and seek out food is a very natural and instinctive behavior. It has been traditional to feed our dogs from a bowl. However, it is becoming a more common practice to use feeding as an opportunity to provide enrichment for our dogs by making them work for their food.
If you currently give your dog their meals in a bowl, consider giving them some or even all of their daily food using food dispensing toys or by using food enrichment activities.
Providing your dog with sufficient exercise for their needs is crucial for overall health and to prevent boredom and the resulting behavior issues. For a guide to how much exercise your particular dog needs see here.
Mental stimulation and enrichment are just as important as physical activity and can, in fact, tire a dog and prevent boredom just as much.
Here are some recommended food-related enrichment ideas and activities you can try with your dog.
Food dispensing and enrichment toys
Interactive puzzle toys are one of the best ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog. These generally involve your dog having to work out how to get a treat or food stuffed inside out and can keep your dog busy for a long time. For the best puzzle toys for dogs see here.
In addition to puzzle-type toys, food stuffing and dispensing toys are also a great way to give your dog some or all of their meals. My top picks for toys to feed your dog their meals are:-
Kong for dogs
The Kong for dogs is a must-have toy for all dogs. You can never have too many Kongs. This way you will never be caught out if you have a ready-to-go stuffed Kong. For how to use a Kong for dogs see here.
The key at first is to stuff the Kong loosely so the food can come out easily. Once they have become more proficient at getting the food you can stuff it more tightly and even block the large hole with a large treat or paste. Alternatively, mix wet and dry ingredients and freeze the Kong. This heightens the experience by providing a longer-lasting and stimulating task.
It is very strong and can be used as a chew toy alone. At one stage the manufacturer claimed that the Kong was indestructible but I think there may have been a couple of dogs that disproved this. They must have been pretty tough dogs as I have never seen a dog destroy one of these. If your dog is one of these super tough dogs I would recommend the Kong Extreme which is the toughest of the range.
Apart from the Extreme the Kong comes in a range of models including; the Classic (the standard red one), Puppy which is a softer customized rubber suitable for puppy teeth and gums, and Senior with specially formulated rubber for aging dogs.
In addition, the Kong Classic comes in a variety of sizes from small to large. I recommend finding the size that you think is best for your dog. Then get the next size up. They tend to not hold as much food as you think.
View the Kong for dogs on Amazon
This one is great for a fun game or as a food-dispensing option. The Kong Wobbler holds a good volume of dog kibble or treats to occupy your dog for a reasonable amount of time. Because of its unique shape your dog can bat it with their paws or nose sending it off in all directions dispensing food. It is also ideal for dogs that gobble down their food too fast or are on a diet as it makes them work for their food.
View the Kong Wobbler on Amazon.
Zogoflex Qwizl Puzzle Toy
This is great for stuffing treats and will keep your dog occupied for a long time. It is also made tough and durable so they won’t just destroy it to get to the treats inside.
View Zogoflex Qwizl Puzzle Toy on Amazon
Enrichment box for dogs
To make an enrichment box you simply need a larger cardboard box, some smaller boxes, empty toilet rolls, and newspaper. Put treats in the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap them in newspaper and fill the box up. You can also put in a chew toy or stuffed Kong so they have something to settle down with when they are finished.
You may have a mess of shredded paper to clean up. But what are a few minutes of tidying for hours of fun and enrichment for your dog?
Watch the video to see how to make an enrichment box for your dog.
A Snuffe Mat is another great way to provide for your dog’s natural foraging instinct and to provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. A Snuffe mat is a mat that is made of fleece and you can hide dry food or treats into it.
If you are someone that is good at crafts you can try to make one yourself or check out the range of Snuffle Mats at Amazon.
Lick mats are a great enrichment mat for your dog. Perfect for dogs that eat too quickly or who get bored easily. Just fill with tasty food to keep your dog entertained. These mats can be used as a boredom buster or to make smaller meals last longer. They can also be used to encourage calm behavior in stressful situations such as fireworks. The mats are non-slip and easy to use.
To use the Lickmats, all you have to do is spread soft food on the top surface of the mat. We recommend using, peanut butter, mashed-up dog food, or natural yogurt.
You can even freeze the Lick mat for a cooling treat on a hot day and to make the treats last even longer.
View Lick Mats on Amazon.
Chewing is a natural instinctive behavior for dogs. It is not just a good way to occupy your dog. Chewing is also a powerful stress release for your dog. When a dog chews they release endorphins to their brains. This gives them a relaxing and good feeling helping to relieve stress.
Provide your dog with dog safe bones or edible dog chews. See edible dog chews on Amazon.
Hide treats or food stuffed toys around the house or yard for your dog. The first time you do this let your dog see where you are putting the items. This is a great way to keep your dog entertained when home alone. For more ways to keep a dog entertained when home alone see here.
Dogs love having to hunt and forage for their food. Scatter feeding can be a great way to satisfy this urge. Simply sprinkle their kibble or treats around the house or yard and let your dog search it out.
Summary – Food enrichment for dogs
Food enrichment for dogs is all about providing a mental challenge making them work for their food. Consider replacing your dog’s food bowl with food stuffing or dispensing toys and activities to stimulate their minds while filling their tummies.
Let us know in the comments whether you feed your dog from a bowl. Or do you use mealtime as an opportunity to provide mental stimulation and enrichment?