Feeding your dog should be fairly straight forward, you choose a good food that your dog will eat, read the instructions on the packet and hey presto. However, without adding much extra to that routine, we can make your dog's food do a lot more work for us than just providing nourishment. We can fix behaviour problems, prevent health problems, and build lasting friendships. This also allows you to teach your dog that treats are nothing special, that they will work for their normal food and enjoy it! 

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How to change how my dog eats

We want to get rid of the dog bowl, it is one of the biggest wasted training opportunities out there. Your dog wolfs their daily meal in 10 seconds flat or they pick at it for the day. Either way, it is a solo activity that doesn't yield any benefits other than nourishment (not that that isn't vital in itself).

We want to make sure your dog gets the right amount of food so measure their daily amout out in the morning and split that amount into three. Throughout the day we will give them these thirds in different ways:

  • 1/3 is hand fed to your dog throughout the day
  • 1/3 is put in a food toy for your dog to work on themselves
  • 1/3 is scatter fed, that is, thrown in a controlled area for them to find
We will explain below what exactly we mean by each of these thirds, why we do it, and what you get out of it. Note that the thirds do not have to happen all at once or separate from each other. Work them into your daily routine. So you could scatter feed first thing in the morning, hand feed during the day for training practice or if your dog does anything you really like, and use a food toy for dinner so they take longer and leave you alone during your dinner for example.

1/3 hand fed throughout the day

This part of feeding is just like it says on the title, one third of your dog's food is given to them from your hands throughout the day. Now that does not mean you put a handful cupped in your hands and let them eat it all, instead, it means you feed them one kernel of kibble at a time. It may sound tedious but you will get through it in no time!

You can use a small handful when practicing your basic obedience training around the house, garden and on a walk. It is much more exciting coming from your hands than it is from a bowl. You can also use it to reinforce any behaivours that you really like that your dog offers throughout the day such as sitting prettily at the door, waiting for your attention, lieing down out of the way when someone is coming in the door, and even just for looking pretty. Cute dogs get more attention and so are better socialised.

There are several reasons we do this:

  • It helps build a really strong bond between dog and feeder, so it is very important to get the whole family involved in this work. 
  • It teaches your dog that there is always time to learn something new, so better try good things on the off chance there is food in it for me! 
  • Your dog learns that training time does not automatically mean fancy treats, good food is on offer too.
  • If your dog is nervous with new people or guests, you can have them hand feed your dog throughout their stay, capturing good behaviours around them.
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1/3 in a food toy

There are loads of different food toys on the market (Kong Wobbler, Squirrel Dude, Food Balls) and even more that you can make yourself (blog post to follow!). Not all your dog's 1/3 of food needs to go into the toy at once, you can use it throughout the day at more opportune times. For example, if your dog is a bit clingy, it is a great time to use a toy when you go to the bathroom, out to the shops or off to work. Start small and use it for short durations then gradually build up the time you are away. The point is, whenever you leave something amazing happens. 

Why do we use a food toy (other than the above):

  • We want to give your dog as much mental stimulation as possible, this is just as important as physical exercise, otherwise you will have a bored and often destructive dog.
  • The more your dog uses their brain, the more tired they will be.
  • This balances out the hand feeding so that your dog does not get obsessive with people and food, but learn that they can do work to get self-reward

1/3 scatter fed

Scatter feeding is just as the name sounds, taking a small handful of food and scattering it on the ground for your dog to find it all. When starting off with this, avoid throwing it over a very wide area, focus it in a controlled space so your dog figures out the game quickly. This can be done indoors or outdoors, just watch the weather and how good your dog is at it. If it is raining, scatter in the kitchen or use a snuffle mat, if it is nice out, scatter in the grass for your dog to find it all.

This one is my personal favourite:

  • Any form of scentwork is a 'low-arousal' activity, that means it is mentally stimulating and challenging without getting your dog too excited or wound up, this is especially good for very energetic and excitable dogs.
  • It takes most dogs a bit of time to find all the food, so just as with the toy feeding, it is a great way to give your dog some mental exercise while you are away from them as it provides self-reward for the activity.
  • Dogs are designed to sniff and find things, use that to help build a healthy, well rounded dog.
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