When you first got your dog, whether they came home with you as a puppy or later in life as an adult, you probably took a trip to the store to pick up all the doggy essentials for your new furry family member. I imagine you had the typical items on your shopping list: collar, leash, bed, toys, food, and of course, a food bowl. If you are like most households you probably measure out your dog’s kibble once or twice a day and place it on the floor for their consumption. Your dog quickly learned the daily routine and now everyday as the hands of the clock get closer and closer to that magical time they probably watch your every move waiting for you to once again dole out their daily portion. But what if you didn’t feed your dog out of a bowl anymore? For those of you that you just read that sentence and said to yourself, WHAT?!?, stay with me while I explain.
Do you know that dogs can get bored? Ever find a shoe or the remote control that your dog has added a little toothy decoration to or found your dog digging a hole in the backyard like they are planning a trip to China? This behavior is your dog displaying their desire to occupy their bodies and their minds. If you have not provided them with ample opportunity for what we would consider desirable activities you can be sure they will find some of their own choosing which may not be to your liking!
One of the most under-utilized opportunities for training and enrichment is your dog’s meal time. Instead of placing a bowl full of food in front of your dog that they did not have to work for at all, think about that food as potential tasty rewards. Rewards that your dog will work to earn. The best part is they are working for KIBBLE! So you can save those fancy treats for special occasions!!
Although my dog may not be a contributing member of the household when it comes to chores or paying the bills I do want them to have an understanding of what it means to work. Some dogs are born with this innate sense of drive and they may require an even higher level of enrichment (I would recommend you consider one of the many dog sports available for these dogs). Not only does performing a task provide mental exercise for your dog it also improves focus and a desire to interact with their environment (and you) in a positive way. For nervous or fearful dogs this will help increase their confidence allowing them to more successfully navigate the world around them.
If your first thought is, “I don’t have enough time in the day to train my dog at every meal”, don’t worry, there are lots of options that don’t involve a whole lot of participation on your end….Muffin tin game, Recycling game, Food puzzles (Kong Wobbler, Canine Genius, Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble, etc), Snuffle Mat, Scavenger Hunt….just to give you a few ideas.
If you are able to set aside 5-10 minutes and train during one meal a day that just may become your dog’s favorite time of day. Not just for the food but because they are spending time actively engaging with you and after all isn’t that one of the reasons you got a dog? Whether you choose to practice obedience skills or teach them some new tricks, we all know practice leads to improvement. If the end result is a happier, more engaged, more confident pup with more skills you will be glad you set aside those few minutes a day for some quality training time!