There he goes: just sitting around the house with nothing to do again, just like yesterday. No, not your teenager!, rather, your beloved canine companion. Dogs have been human’s best friend for all of recorded history. The canine’s distant relatives were pack hunters whose day comprised of searching and hunting for food. This was physically and mentally challenging for our four legged companion. She even helped out on the human hunting. It kept our canine friends physically active, trim, and mentally sharp. Fast forward to today: our dogs now eat ready-made food, dished out at predictable intervals in consumption-made-easy bowls, and now lunch and dinner are over in the blink of an eye. They also spend a lot of time just resting and sleeping. This makes for bored, overweight, and unhealthy dogs. But we can make it better for them!
Let’s talk about that dinner time. Your dog’s brain is wired to chase and hunt FOR HOURS for her daily calories. She needs that process to stay mentally sharp and physically fit. Many behavior problems that we find among our pet dogs arise from a general lack of physical and mental activity. Alas! To make your dog’s mealtime more “interesting” and stimulating, quit the preverbal bowl or plate you've been using forever and fully switch to feeding devices that require your dog to do a little thinking and lots of physical manipulating before being rewarded with a full meal. These 'food-reward toys' or 'food-dispensing-gadgets' can be picked up at pet stores, online, or even made at home. Some work like mazes or puzzles for your dog to complete. A very simple home-made version is putting dry kibble in a used plastic soda bottle or gallon milk bottle (caps/rings removed for safety). Hide the bottle and challenge your dog to find his dinner. He must then figure out a way to get the kibble out. Do I kick it? Or toss it in the air? Or bat it around the floor? These little, daily mental exercises will engage your dog’s natural curiosity and his instinctual need to “hunt” for his food. It will engage him in a new way, prolong the mealtime and increase satiety. You should make this switch for 100% of all meals.
There are many commercial options. Among the favorites are ball-shaped devices that hold kibble inside and your dog must roll the ball around to have a piece of kibble fall out. Others have finger-like projections that require your dog to lick out or pick at before eating. In addition to the commercial versions, at our house we cull from our recycle bin anything that we think might serve as a 1 or 2-time 'feeding toy' for our two dogs. It increases the variety of items and helps to spare the purse. Just remember to remove the small swallow-able parts first. One of the biggest benefits of feeding this way is preventing your dog from bolting her food. This happens all too frequently, often in larger dogs, and can lead to digestive problems.
Lastly, there is no substitute for daily and direct exercise. Sure, it’s good for you, but it is vitally important for your dog. It may be the only exercise he or she gets that day. Your dog uses that experience to interact with the world, to learn and to gather new information. So, grab your leash, grab your dog, go for a long stroll, and on return, feed him his lunch from a slow-release maze bowl or similar. Enjoy and Bon Appetite!