It is very wind outside, and there is dust and pollen everywhere. I decide to pass on kicking the ball for the dogs outside and instead we play one of our favorite indoor games come dinnertime.
The dogs and I love this game. It is fun, quick and it sure beats eating out of a food bowl with the whole eating experience being over in 15-30 seconds!
Dogs are predators and even though they do not hunt for their meals these days, still are wired to engage in food acquisition behaviors such as orienting, stalking and “chasing” their food. In this case, they are chasing after kibble (dry food).
Dry food constitutes just a small amount of my dog’s food. I like to feed it for occasion such as when playing games in lieu of eating out of a food bowl. I regress- but I do want to mentioned that even though there are many brands of dry dog food, for the most part, this choice is really not the best for our dogs. Sure, we love it because it is so convenient and it does provide with some “crunch” which might be good for the dog’s teeth, but nutritionally speaking there are much better food choices. If you are considering making change to your dog’s chow, I recommend you subscribe to the Whole Dog Journal as they have tons of really good information pertaining many food brands and modalities. The list is revised often and it sure helps consumers make better nutritional choices for their dogs.
I engage my dogs in all sorts of different games when it comes mealtime. I strongly suggest you move away from just filling a bowl for your dog and instead make of meal times (or at least one of the daily meals) an opportunity for some mental stimulation, training and fun.
This particular food game goes like this:
I pour the kibble into a measuring cup and walk to our long hallway. My dogs know by now what this entails and now they are both in their “positions”. Deuce is in the hallway and Rio is in the living room. I am standing between them. I begin to deliver one kibble at a time to each dog. I do my best to throw the kibble in a way that the food will bounce from the carpet or the floor. Kibble is really good for this. I watch with delight as Deuce and Rio chase after their kibble in all directions. I can, of course, by the placement of the food have them run fast or make it a bit easier by throwing the kibble in the direction where they are standing. The game lasts for about 5 minutes. After this portion is all gone, they both get their remainder of their meal (very nutritious dehydrated dog food from The Honest Kitchen) in their bowls.
There is another variation to this game that I like to do as well. I set a few pieces of kibble in strategic places for my dogs to find. I will again segregate both dogs so that each one of them can search in an area without conflicting with where the other is searching. My dogs have never fought for any resources and I must definitively want to keep it that way. Besides, I want to make sure they both get their share.
I cannot say enough about the importance and the difference it makes in our dog’s lives when we make daily events, such as feedings, something more interesting and in accordance to their natural inclinations than serving their meals from a bowl. For many dogs the highlight of their day is their meal so why not make them really fun and engaging?
You could also do a little training at meal times by requesting some downs, down & stays “leave it” should your dog have already learned these behaviors. If mornings are busy times for you, at least try to add more challenge and fun to your dog’s meal in the evening and if not daily then a few meals a week.
Many of our guests comment on how “well behaved” (not obnoxious or demanding) our dogs are. It is true that while both my dogs are active and expect their daily motivation, it is hardly a demanding chore.
The secret folks to having dogs that are mellow and happy is to make sure that we provide daily opportunities for engaging in natural dog behaviors. Most of my training and fun revolves around feeding times since I have to feed my dogs why not take advantage of meal times? Fulfilling your dog’s daily requirement for mental and physical stimulation can be made much easier if we submit to putting it in our calendars.. If you make a point of spending some time investigating activities that fit the bill AND you put them in your calendar, in no time you will reap the benefits of providing your dog with appropriate opportunities for physical and mental stimulation. I suggest newbies begin by establishing these enrichment routines around meal times. Once the routine is set as to when and how you will be providing your dogs you can at your own pace incorporate new games and activities.
The bonus for you is that your dog will learn to relax and be a pleasure to live with.
At the end of the day, I get so much pleasure in seeing my dogs relaxing as we move into our evening routine. They both lie in contentment because their day was met with engagement and fun.