The final training blog in our series written by Gretta Ford at The Pitter Patter of Tiny Paws.
Food is surely one of the great joys in many dogs’ (and people’s) lives. Whether your dog is a picky eater or food-obsessed, here are a few tips to make the most of meal times, to really enhance the experience for your dog.
The first thing is to make sure that you’re feeding a good quality, balanced and nutritious food which is also tasty for your dog. It makes me sad when I see dogs that are fed bland, boring and unappetising diets, when there are so many more appealing options out there. It can sometimes take a while to find a food that suits your individual dog but, as long as your dog doesn’t need to be on a prescription diet from the vet, you’re spoiled for choice. For example, The Innocent Hound has a great range of food with different protein sources, so there’s something to suit all tastes.
Secondly, you can use your dog’s food for training activities throughout the day (this also has the potential benefit of moderating your dog’s blood sugar levels, compared with feeding just once or twice a day with nothing in between… if you’ve ever felt ‘hangry’ then you’ll know what I mean!). For example, you can take a portion of your dog’s food from their daily allowance and use it to capture and reinforce behaviours that you like and teach them some new behaviours through positive reinforcement.
Another really brilliant way of using your dog’s food is through scent work/ nose work activities. Giving your dog the chance to search for food using their nose, harnesses their natural instincts and brilliant talents, helping them to feel fulfilled and relaxed. It also tires them out, so it’s a perfect activity for a rainy day when you really don’t fancy another walk!
You can begin by allowing your dog to see you throw a piece of food onto the floor and asking them to ‘find it’ while gesturing towards it with your hand. Then, put another piece down when your dog isn’t looking and, again, cue them to ‘find it’ by gesturing in the right direction. When they’ve got the idea, you can start to ‘hide’ the food in places where they will have to use their nose, rather than their eyes, to locate it (such as behind a chair leg). Again, give them a clue of the direction to search in and encourage their efforts, making a big fuss when they find it (you should hear them sniffing once they’re on the right track!). After a few more sessions, you can start to hide food in various places around a room and then let them in, to search out each piece.
Along similar lines, you can try scatter feeding (throwing food for them to find onto an area of grassy lawn), snuffle mats (tufty, rag-rug type things, in which you can hide dry food) and also sprinkling their food in a large cardboard box, filled with scrunched up newspaper and other (safe) bits of recycling.
At all times, you should supervise your dog to ensure that they’re not doing anything silly and also to make sure that they’re not finding it too hard or getting frustrated. If you think your dog is struggling, try these activities with a little bit of food that you’ve kept back from their meal portion when they’ve already eaten the rest of it, so that they’re not too hungry.
In which ways does your dog find it most fun to be fed?