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Food Puzzles: Making Your Dog Work For Their Supper

Food Puzzles: Making Your Dog Work For Their Supper

Food Puzzles: Making Your Dog Work For Their Supper

You know that feeling when you’re really, really hungry, and someone puts a delicious meal in front of you, but tells you that you have to do a bunch of tricks before you can eat it? Yeah, me neither – I’m not a dog. But that’s exactly the kind of challenge I like to set for my furry friends when it’s mealtime.

The Benefits of Making Dogs Work for Their Food

As the proud parent of a six-month-old mutt, I’ve discovered that making her “work” for her meals has all kinds of benefits. First and foremost, it helps to build her patience and self-control. When I make her perform tricks or wait patiently before I’ll let her eat, it teaches her that good things come to those who can delay their gratification.

But the benefits go far beyond just obedience training. You see, in the wild, dogs (and their ancestors, the wolves) have to work hard to find and catch their food. It’s not just plopped into a bowl for them. So by making my pup “hunt” for her supper, I’m tapping into those natural foraging instincts – and keeping her mentally stimulated in the process.

How to Turn Dinnertime Into a Game

So how exactly do I turn my dog’s dinner into a fun and engaging game? Well, I take a page out of the rat training playbook and turn her kibble into a puzzle. I’ll hide her food in cardboard tubes, boxes, or even crumpled up paper towels, and then let her sniff and scratch her way to her reward.

Sometimes, I’ll even take it a step further and create multi-layered puzzles, like stuffing individual portions of her food into small containers, then hiding those containers inside a larger box or carton. It’s like a doggy version of those Russian nesting dolls – and watching her work to get to the yummy center is endlessly entertaining.

The Key is to Keep It Positive

Of course, the key to making this work is to keep the whole experience positive and fun for your pup. I steer clear of anything that might be perceived as punishment or deprivation – no withholding meals or forcing her to “earn” every bite. Instead, I make a game of it, praising and rewarding her as she solves the puzzle.

And you know what? It works wonders. My dog no longer sees dinnertime as a chore, but as an exciting challenge. She practically leaps with joy when she sees me setting up her food puzzle, eager to test her problem-solving skills. And me? Well, I get to enjoy the satisfaction of a happy, mentally stimulated dog, all while knowing that I’m tapping into her natural instincts in a constructive way.

Enrichment Ideas to Try at Home

If you’re feeling inspired to try this at home, there are all kinds of fun and easy ways to get started. Stuffing a plastic bottle with kibble and letting your dog nudge it around is a classic, or you could try hiding bits of their favorite treats in cardboard tubes or crumpled paper.

The wide world of interactive dog feeders is another great option, with everything from puzzle bowls to snuffle mats that make pups work for their supper. And of course, you can always get creative and design your own custom puzzles, tailored to your dog’s unique personality and skill level.

The bottom line is, making your dog work for their food doesn’t have to be a chore – for either of you. In fact, when you turn it into a game, it can be a wonderful way to bond, enrich their lives, and keep them mentally and physically engaged. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll get to experience the joy of “working” for my own dinner. But for now, I’ll stick to watching my pup solve her puzzles – and try not to drool too much in the process.

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