Dog Behaviour, Dog Training, Puppy

Banish the Food Bowl

There are many behaviour problems that can be resolved in our dogs by just providing them with mental and environmental stimulation. One way of doing this is by Interactive feeding. For many years we have fed our dogs out of food bowls, as this is the way we eat ourselves off a nice clean plate. Many dogs don’t enjoy eating this way, some may take the food from the bowl and then eat it off the floor, others may regularly go off there food, especially the ones that have one large meal once a day (not good for many reasons) or ones that have their food left down all day, imagine me leaving your roast dinner on a plate all day and expect you to eat it, you might pick at it because you are hungry, but would you really enjoy it! Now if you look back in history at how dogs evolved, you will find that they are natural foragers, eating small quantities up to 12 times a day or more and of course hunting is a strong instinct that we have bred into them too although most dogs no longer consume prey. Although a large number of dogs are now bred to be family pets, they still have these instincts hard wired into them. You see this when they raid the bin, when they watch the floor like a hawk when you are preparing food, just incase you drop a bit, when they pick up everything that looks like food on their walks. Dogs have natural instincts and needs to but we are so busy making them conform to our lifestyle dictating how, when and where they do things, they can often get frustrated as they have no job to do. When dogs are lacking mental stimulation they often go what we like to term as “Self Employed”. Your dog may hunt socks, the remote control, chase shadows or reflections, pace the house looking for something to do, chew, start barking at things and more. Now I don’t recommend exactly encouraging them to use the hunting skills they were bred for i.e. hunting birds, local vermin or the neighbours cat but we can provide them an equivalent.

It’s time to change the way we feed our dogs!

At the very minimum dogs should be fed their daily recommended allowance twice a day, this helps sustain their energy levels, but splitting it down to 3, 4 or more meals is even better. After all how often do we eat if we include snacks.

Use every meal time, everyday for the rest of there lives, as an opportunity to mentally stimulate your dog, there are many ideas out there nowadays  and the good thing about this type of stimulation, is you can do it no matter how old your dog is. Here are a few suggestions:

Please note: It’s important that your dog enjoys it, feed differently at different meal times to keep it interesting and make sure it is not so hard that it’s almost impossible to get the food out

  • The simplest way to start off with (if your dog is on a dry complete food, wet food could get messy!) is by scatter feeding, which literally means throwing the food all over the kitchen floor, out in the garden or even on your walk, just make sure other dogs are not around, alternatively use a snuffle mat you can make your own too see here.
  • Hide some portions of the meal around the house or in the garden in small piles, at first let your dog see where you put it and say “find it” once your dog understands what you are doing make the game more challenging by hiding it whilst they are out of sight.
  • There are obviously the classics like the Kong or the cheaper version Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude, which are so versatile you can put the dry food loose in them to start off with making it easy, then if you have multiple ones you can then hide them in different places around the house. You can soak their dry food, stuff them with it and then freeze them, making a popcicle for hot days or just use feed wet complete food stuffed in it. These are good for when visitors arrive too.
  • There are plenty of other Interactive feeding toys on the market now, like the Kong Wobbler or the Buster Activity Mat, just ensure they are not too over exciting or frustrating. see the following link for many more ideas

Of course the cheaper alternative is to make your own. If your dog likes to chew and consume then some of these ideas are not for them, always supervise your dog and remove the item when empty, and completely if you have any concerns of them choking on or swallowing bits. Again there are some innovative homemade ideas out there:

  • Snuffle mat
  • Refill old marrow bones
  • Fill up Plastic bottles (with lid and ring round neck removed) with there dry food
  • Old slightly split tennis balls can be filled and dotted round the house or garden to hunt and find
  • For your diggers out there; take 1 cardboard box and hide the meal between layers of fleece, towels, plastic milk cartons, toys etc
  • Wrap the food in an old blanket or towel
  • Take one juice carton, remove any plastic, rinse, dry and fill
  • Buy a cheap kids ball pit, scatter the food in with the balls

With some of the interactive toys you might need to help them to start off with, showing them how it comes out. You must then leave them to try and work it out themselves, this is how it becomes stimulating for them. Always make sure the toys are not left down after they have finished with them, to keep them novel and interested the next time. Ensure your dog has opportunities to rest, there should be a balance between mental stimulation which includes sniffy walks as well as ample opportunities to rest and sleep.

Be inventive and share your ideas in the comments below.

Lets make our dogs lives even more interesting.

Thats me for now, will blog again real soon…

14 thoughts on “Banish the Food Bowl”

  1. I already do this for the house rabbit (no dog yet), she “works” for every dinner. Treat balls, interactive toys, boxes, etc…
    I’m also a dog walker/pet sitter and do try and explain to people with destructive dogs that the best thing they can do is to have things for them to do involving food! Its hard to change people’s views though when “dogs have always been fed in bowls”


  2. All we can do it spread the word. All pets benefit from mental stimulation in this way, parrots, hamsters, cats, Guinea pigs and more, so great that you are doing it with your Rabbit, what fun and it makes you become really creative too!


  3. I let my grandchildren hide my dog’s food under plastic flowerpots all around the house. Daisy has to knock them over before she gets fed. A very cheap way to keep the children and Daisy happy.


  4. I have three dogs, including one small one who would happily eat all three dogs’ food! Any ideas?


  5. Hi Jo thank you for the message, feed separately this prevents them from practicing resource guarding, then the others can eat in peace. On The modern dog training and behaviour Advice Facebook page, a lady sent me a picture of her 9 German shepherds all feeding together on a scatter feed, but any of yours guard the food it’s always a good idea to feed seperately so they get to enjoy the games and food rather than feeling they need to compete.


  6. Hi Joanne, I am feeding prepared raw, minced with bone, meat, offal in the right proportions. I tried diy but one of my dogs had a bad experience with a splintered bone (I nearly lost her) so I now stick to pre-minced. I use slow feeder dishes sometimes and kongs and they do like them but get bored if I use them too often. They LOVE Sprinkles in the garden.


  7. Hi Linda Stuffed Hooves are a good one for wet food, you can get a few and hide them round for them to hunt out saying find it. The Buster maze is another good one, acts like a slow feeder and a few of the Kong Stuff a Balls are good too. Even some of the Nina Ottosson puzzles would work the plastic ones of course. All dogs are different so it’s trying to find what they enjoy the most.


  8. Thank you Jo, for replying. I’ll definitely try the hooves and take a look at the Stuff a Balls too. Most feeding games are so hard to clean!


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