Years ago dogs were allowed to roam more… they were not homeless, they were just given more freedom to wander. Dogs were more socialized and more comfortable with their environment. Behavior problems were not as common as they are now.
For very good reason, things have changed and now dogs are kept indoors. Both adults are now working and out of the house more, leaving the dogs long periods to be alone. People enjoy enrichment and are able to find that in books, music, computers, television, food, friends, exercise, travel, gardening, art, companion animals, work, driving, singing along with the radio or in the shower, webinars, education. Dogs only have enrichment when we find the time to give it to them and we decide what to give them. It’s true that dogs need both a physical and mentally stimulating environment to thrive. The daily walk and sitting on the couch with us while we watch TV in the evening, just isn’t enough.
We brought these dogs into our lives and we must do better and we can begin by making mealtime more stimulating. Feeding your dog in a bowl lasts 3 – 4 minutes tops. You can incorporate feeding as a more stimulating and more enriching time. It’s another step to making their lives better.
Scatter feeding is very popular: (if you feed raw, a good alternative would be some dehydrated meat treats)
Take your dog’s food and just scatter it around the ground – it can be indoors or outdoors on the patio or in the lawn. Your dog gets to utilize their wonderful sniffers to hunt down each morsel of food. They find this very fun and it’s very easy for you! Much more stimulating than mealtime in a bowl.
Snuffle mats: You can find some great ones on Etsy or if would like to make your own here scroll down this page to see the directions.
Snuffle mats are made up of lots of strips of fleece knotted into a rubber mat. There will be dozens of places to hide kibble. This engages your dog’s nose while he hunts down those wonderful morsels and allows your dog to concentrate. An added bonus, the concentration tends to be a calming exercise for him.
Introducing your dog to the snuffle mat is pretty easy. Begin with just a few treats scattered on top then start working them into the mat. It doesn’t take dogs to learn the treasure is inside
Multiple food bowls:
Get multiple food bowls (this may be expensive, so you can get some paper bowls or the reusable containers that are now used for takeout from restaurants). Place several pieces of kibble in each bowl and place them around the house for your dog to have fun hunting! I would start with 2 or 3 in plain sight and then work up to hiding more and more. Make sure you have all the bowls when finished because you don’t want ants or rotting food and you don’t want your dog to chew them up.
If you have a multiple dog household make sure your dogs don’t have resource guarding issues and if you do, then you may have to modify these ideas or they may not be appropriate depending on your individual circumstances.
Food enrichment is a wonderful tool. Dogs do prefer the hunt to the finding of the food. The journey is more important than the destination! The act of hunting and the anticipation of the reward increases the dopamine levels in dogs. Definition of dopamine from Psychology Today: “Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter—a chemical that ferries information between neurons. The brain releases it when we eat food that we crave or while we have sex, contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, and attention, and helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses.”
Be creative and safe. Since, our dogs make our lives richer the least we can do is look for ways to make theirs richer.