Thursday, February 14, 2013

Leaving the Bowl Behind

Are you feeding your dog out of a bowl?  If you are, you're missing out on an opportunity.  You can exponentially increase your dog's daily enrichment without a significant time investment on your part, but you have to leave the bowl behind.

Why is enrichment important for your dog?

  • If you have the bouncy dog that desperately needs a job, providing more enrichment can help to satisfy that need.
  • If your dog suffers from behavioral problems stemming from boredom, enrichment can help.  Note: Always seek professional training advice for behavioral problems including but not limited to aggression, separation anxiety, and phobias.
  • If you have an unpredictable schedule that allows you to provide for your dog's exercise needs most, but not all of the time, enrichment can help to fill that gap.

Hunt, Train, or Play for all food.

When I welcomed German Shorthaired Pointers into my life, I adopted the mantra hunt, train or play for all food.  With multiple GSPs in my house - it's served me and my sanity well!

1. Hunt: Having your dog hunt, whether for food or a trained target odor, can be a great way to feed meals.  When hunting for a target odor, I feed a very high value reward initially then add in a handful or 2 of kibble as a secondary reward.  NOTE: To see full comments in the video, you must expand to full screen.

You can even do something as simple as throwing a handful of kibble in your grass for your dog to hunt.  If you have ants in your area, put the kibble in a vented container and hide in the yard or the house. 

2. Train:  Be creative! "Training" doesn't have to be about formal training sessions.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Measure out half of your dog's dinner and reward him with a few kibbles at a time for laying down on his place while you prepare dinner. 
  • Commercial break training is great.  See an example here.
  • Does your dog have a stay?  Try this exercise!  It's quick and easy to do (breakfast exercise!) and a great way to build in distraction to your stay. Buddy's Chance covers this exercise in Master Manners.  NOTE: To see full comments in the video, you must expand to full screen.

3.  Play:  This is where I use food toys.  I've provided a clip of one type of food toy.  This toy was completely new to Vegas, the dog in the video.  Here are the stats:
Premier's Busy Buddy Barnacle
Size: Medium
Difficulty: Medium with small kibble and Difficult with large kibble.
Qty of Food Toy Holds: 1/2 cup of a medium/large size kibble
Vegas' Play Time: 17+ minutes
NOTE: To see full comments in the video, you must expand to full screen.

For more information on introducing food toys, which toys I like the best, and other fun food toy facts, check back for my blog entry Choosing & Introducing Interactive Toys.

In Conclusion
You'll notice there is quite a bit of overlap between each of these.  There is some play in training, some hunting in play, etc.  The most important thing is that you're utilizing meals for enrichment.  So leave the bowl behind, increase the enrichment that you're providing your dog, and give your dog a little more fun.  Everyone wins!