Dogs are natural hunters and scavengers – they’re problem-solvers! When we bring dogs into our homes and feed them out of bowls, we’re asking them to do something that goes against what they are programmed to do…they need an enriched environment!
Food is a valuable resource – sure, it sustains life, but it can also enrich environments, create positive associations, reinforce desired behaviours, and be the source of a lot of fun. Every kibble in a bowl is the tragic loss of an opportunity for one of these things above.
Get rid of that food bowl and start enriching your dog’s environment! Give them something to DO. A mentally stimulated dog is a good dog.
If you are currently “free feeding” (food is left out all day and your dog grazes), let’s put an end to that now. For the next week, put their food in a bowl and give it to your dog as you normally do. Set a timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, check the food – is your dog eating? Is the bowl empty? If you answer “no” to both of those questions, put the food in a sealable container and put it away. At the next meal, put that food back. Repeat until your dog is eating at those structured times.
It might take a few days – even a week! Don’t worry – your dog will not starve (if they ignore food for 3 days they should see the vet regardless, but we’ve never seen that happen!). Once your dog is eating at structured times for a week consistently, switch to feeding out of a food toy! They will be food motivated by that point and the toy will make it a little harder for them!
Here is a list of my Top Ten food dispensing toys that will keep your pet busy for much longer, utilise their brains and eliminate boredom-based issues, potentially relieve anxiety, and reduce nuisance behaviours such as excessive barking and chewing of inappropriate items.
Oh, how I love me a good Kong #ad. I have 13 of these babies stuffed and stashed in my freezer at all times. You never know when you’re going to need a “Playstation” for your dog. Maintenance person coming over? Pop your dog in the crate or behind a gate with a stuffed Kong and you’ve got 20-60 minutes of quiet and the maintenance person leaves with all their fingers!
Want to slow your dog down a little because they eat too quickly? This is a great solution. Have a puppy or adolescent dog who is teething? This will wear out that jaw perfectly. Have a barker? No problem. This is a good face-workout. Seriously. Is there any problem a Kong can’t solve? World peace. (The blue ones are softer for puppies and seniors, the red ones are a little more durable for dogs who aren’t strong chewers, and the black ones are for serious chewers. I prefer the black ones, personally, because they last way longer after much dishwashing and microwaving on top of chewing!) Not sure where to start when stuffing a Kong? Check out our quick n’easy Kong-recipes, and be sure to watch the videos on how to stuff and clean a Kong.
2.WEST PAW ZOGOFLEX TOPPL
The West Paw Design toys #ad are so incredible - they are actually even more durable than Kongs! Can you believe it?! You can stuff them and stack them, making them a ton of fun and even more challenging. They’ve got Zogoflex Toppl toys, which are stuffable, but they also have really great tug toys, retrieve toys, toys that float, and more!
3.Nina Ottosson PUZZLES
Nina Ottosson #ad really ups the ante when it comes to dog food puzzles. Her toys range from easy to challenging and they are a serious fan-favourite. Pop your dog’s meals into the various compartments and then sit back and watch while they figure out how this thing works. Over time they’ll get faster as they get better at it, so you’ll have to change it up with yet another Nina Ottosson toy. There are many to choose from and they’re really affordable.
4.Outward Hound Fun Feeder
We have a stack of these Fun Feeders #ad at our school to keep pups busy during class or if they’re feeling a bit antsy. They’re a quick and easy way to feed a dog a meal or keep them busy for a few minutes. If you wanted, you could invest in a few of them and they could easily hold a full meal of kibble, home-cooked, or raw food! Super versatile!
5.Northmate Interactive Slow Dog Feeder
I love this grass-puzzle #ad! I remember when I got this years ago, the day it was released…my dogs absolutely had a blast with it and then promptly passed out from exhaustion. I’ll bet their tongues were so tired from stretching that they needed a good 4-hour nap to recover.
Sprinkle your dog’s kibble/treats into this toy (takes as much time as tossing it into a bowl!) and let your dog have at it! It’s durable, easy to clean, and really challenging.
Dogs love a challenge and each of these provide a different type of challenge, so they’re great to change up from day to day. Super affordable and relatively long-lasting. (The Tug-a-Jug is very easy to break, so it’s not my first choice for large dogs or chewers. I never leave this one unattended.)
7.BIG CITY BIRD DOG SNUFFLE MATS
Full disclosure, Cheryl is a friend of ours but that doesn’t mean she automatically gets a place on this list - she has earned it! Her snuffle mats and tug toys are so awesome, they had to make the cut. Big City Bird Dog Co. is owned by Cheryl’s dog, Berk, who we love more than we can even explain.
You can get small, medium, or large snuffle mats that are machine washable and super durable. (Note: these are not meant to be used as a chew toy!) Sprinkle your dog’s kibble or treats into the mat’s fabric “grass” and let your dog snuffle and forage to their heart’s content.
Another fan-favourite! I also have two of these Kong Wobblers #ad. They’re durable and they hold a lot of food, but they’re also pretty challenging in the grand scheme. The downside is that your neighbours downstairs might not be thrilled if you’ve got hardwood floors, AND these get stuck under couches easily so you’ll have to be on duty during play. What I love most about these is that the Pet Tutor remote fits inside of this so perfectly, turning it into a target object for the food dispenser. (See Pet Tutor later in this list.) It’s a really versatile toy but it does need small kibbles or treats as the hole is pretty small.
9.Rockin Treat Ball
This Rockin Treat Ball #ad is SUCH a fantastic toy for anyone who is tired of pulling lost toys from under the couch. This one doesn’t fit under most couches, so it’s fantastic!
It’s quite durable (not meant to be chewed) and easy to fill. The food does get dispensed a bit quickly for my liking, but in all honesty, this one is still one of my favourites and probably always will be.
I had to save the best for last. Pet Tutor is an absolute genius toy and if you have the funds, I strongly recommend this. It’s addictive and life-changing. You can secure it on a base that collects the treats/kibbles that are dispensed, or you can turn it around and the treat/kibble will shoot out of it, creating a fun game of “get it”.
There’s a “small treat” adapter (I strongly suggest getting this) that allows you to use tiny treats and crumbly ones without issue. You can get the crate-attachment which allows you to hang it on the outside of the crate and dispense inward (it’s got amazing aim!), or you can simply sit it on top of the crate to drop the food right in. It’s bluetooth-enabled, there are apps to customise the experience, a remote “clicker” and a computer activated system that allows users to change intricate settings to suit your needs. Seriously, this should have been built in the year 2030 based on how freaking amazing it is on the technology side. Wes is constantly upgrading it and updating the software, plus he provides incredible customer support.
I only have two of these. Can you believe it?
You can get a couple of other types of remote/automatic food dispensers, but truthfully, I love the Pet Tutor most of all because of its versatility, but also because the founders of the company are super keen to support positive reinforcement, force-free training, and that’s a really big deal to me.
The low-range alternative (that I find a bit glitchy and easy for dogs to open) is the Manners Minder #ad.
The medium-range alternative (that I quite like a lot) is the Furbo #ad. I love the video aspect!
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