Interactive feeding

Interactive feeding

Analysing our dog’s day, we can easily see that it doesn’t have many opportunities to act on its needs. Most often we go out with the dog for a short 2–3 walks on a leash, which does not allow the dog to do what it wants, for example, discovering the environment at its own pace or sniffing around carefully. All these activities are extremely important to dogs. During a walk, the dog cannot satisfy its social needs as well as the needs of exploration and the hunting instinct. It is important to enable it to do so and not to limit its natural instincts so much. Let’s try to give it more space so it can snoop around where it wants to, go to different places and meet other dogs without a leash. Another issue is our long absence (often 10–11 hours), when we are at work and our dog stays completely alone closed within four walls. These issues are the cause of most behavioural problems. The easiest solution to provide mental stimulation and prompt the dog to some activities during your absence is interactive feeding.

What is interactive feeding?

Interactive feeding is about mobilising your dog to get food, and not being used to a standard eating from the bowl. Thanks to such a change, the dog does not get bored, has something to do, and the effort put into this activity causes it to stimulate the brain. When the dog gets the food, endorphins are released, which make it feel more satisfied with its achievement. Moreover, the search for food increases its motivation and ability to predict the reward.

How to adjust the appropriate level of difficulty?

It is very important that the level of difficulty is properly adjusted to the dog’s emotional capabilities and motivation. If we start with a high level right away, we may alienate our pet with it, so the fun has to be properly adjusted to motivate the dog to act. It’s best to start with very simple steps such as serving wet food or pâté to a toy with a large opening. Another idea could be to use layers of wet and dry food inside the toy. Then we can try to freeze the toy with the contents to make it more difficult to pull out. If the animal can’t handle the task, go back to the simpler one. Moreover, let’s not help the dog because it will stop thinking and will ask us for help. After a successful game, we can move on to other activities, which consist of moving, pushing, opening or rolling.

How to ensure safety?

Using such toys for the first time must take place in our presence. You should observe the dog and check that it is not destroying the toy or swallowing dangerous parts. Of course, it can tear the cardboard boxes with food inside, but you should watch to see if it doesn’t eat the inedible parts later. Toys, such as kongs or treat balls, should be appropriately sized (so that the dog cannot swallow them) and should be made of appropriate material (so that they are durable enough).

What are the types of fun activities?

  1. Rolling. This is where the dog rolls with its nose or paw a toy, which is shaped like a ball or roll, from which the food is poured out.
  2. Opening. Compelling your dog to open a closed object, such as sundews, boxes, drawers, crates. Let’s switch toys in terms of their structure – they may be stuffed, made of plastic, wooden or their method of opening can vary; they can be opened by lifting the paw, using teeth or moving or sticking out.
  3. Searching or olfactory games. We can introduce searching by means of a simple olfactory game and teaching the command “seek.” If you want your dog to have something to do during our absence, it is worth trying out sniffing mats. You can make them yourself or buy them; there are many types available on the market.
  4. Licking. Licking has a very calming effect on the dog. This game should be used if you want your dog to calm down (e.g. during the journey). There are various types of rubber toys that can be stuffed with pastes, pâtés or wet food. If you want the licking process to last longer, you can freeze this stuffed toy.
  5. Chewing. Chewing is a very important need for dogs (as well as licking) and has a strong calming effect. If your dog bites the furniture, shoes, etc. at home, you should consider whether its need to chew is satisfied. In this case, pigs, rabbit or beef ears, antlers and horns and wooden torgas toys will be suitable. If you want to increase motivation, you can also hide such a chew toy, for example in a paper box, newspaper or blanket, so that the dog has to get to it first. This relieves stress of your dog.

What should I feed my dog during training?

One of the prizes we can use during the training is food. Dr Seidel’s food and treats are ideal for this purpose. Please note that using only delicacies can cause your dog to become obese.

When is it best to feed your dog?

If you want your dog to calm down, you can choose toys that can be licked or chewed for a long time. When you want to stimulate your pet, you can throw a single bite at it during training or serve food from a toy that is running away. Sniffing mats or a ball with treats will prove useful in situations difficult for a dog, e.g. the arrival of guests. But if you leave your dog alone for a long time in the apartment, ensure to leave it with the safest toys and chewing toys. Remember to give your pet food when it is behaving well, so that you reinforce this behaviour.

Photo by: Iga Paczyńska i pies Tommy

Photo by: Iga Paczyńska i pies Tommy

Photo by: Agata Kokocińska-Kusiak i pies Pinia

Photo by: Agata Kokocińska-Kusiak i pies Pinia

Dr Agata Kokocińska-Kusiak

21 May 2020