One of the easiest ways to add some enrichment to your dogs days is to get creative with how you feed them. Rather than giving them all of their daily food allowance from a bowl, setting some of it aside for some enrichment activitites is a great way to keep them entertained and also means they're only getting fed their normal amount of food without needing extra treats that pile on to their waist line!
Food enrichment activities are a great way to encourage fussy eaters to eat as it adds a fun game to the food, and it's also great for dogs who are the opposite and gobble their food too quickly as well as it slows them down.
So, what kind of things can we try with their food?
This is the easiest way to use food for enrichment - simply scatter their food! You can start with something really simple like scattering some on the kitchen floor so they have to search round to find all the pieces then gradually increase the level of difficulty, for example you could try scattering it in some grass as a next step where it's a little more challenging to find. As your dogs confidence grows you can keep adding levels of difficulty such as scattering it out of sight so they have to search it out. Scatter feeding is a great way to build confidence too, for example putting some food inside a cardboard box so they have to put their head inside. It's important to tailor the level of difficulty to your dog - making it too difficult too soon can cause your dog to lose interest in the activitiy all together, and even if they enjoy the more difficult levels try mixing in some easier levels from time to time too. The most important thing to remember is to make sure the activity adds something fun and interesting to your dogs day and isn't something that's pressured or frustrating for them.
There are so many different types of these available in the pet shops and online. Two of our favourites are the classic Kong and the lickimat. Kongs are great for keeping your dog occupied and making their food last a bit longer. You can fill it with their normal dog food, or try out some of the many recipes available on the internet - mixing in a really tasty treat along with their food is a great way to add some variety and keep their interest. Like with scatter feeding you can change the level of the kong to suit your dog. If your dog is easily frustrated or gives up before all the food has gone, try putting the food into the kong loosely so it falls out really easily to keep their interest. If they're enthusiastic with this level you can start to pack the food more and more tightly so getting the food out becomes increasingly challenging, and then you can work up to the ultimate difficulty level of freezing the kong! The great thing with Kongs is that they are self rewarding for the dog - the more they work to get the food, the more they get out of it.
Lickimats are silicone mats that have grooves in to spread your dogs food on so they have to lick it off. It's a great activity for dogs fed wet or raw food, although you can mix dried food with some water, or use a tasty treat like peanut butter or low fat yoghurt. You can also make something similar from an ice cube tray. As well as slowing down your dogs eating, these are really handy for things like grooming or bathing (particularly if keeping still isn't really their thing!) as it keeps them still and occupied letting you get on with grooming.
There are so many different interactive dog puzzles on the market with varying levels of difficulty so there is something to suit every dog. The important thing with puzzle toys is to work with your dog to help them figure it out so they don't become frustrated trying to figure it out on their own! Puzzles from brands such as Nina Ottoson come with a great guide to help you and your dog get the most from the puzzle and tips on how to vary the difficulty to suit your dog.
Training is often overlooked as an enrichment activity but there's so much for your dog to gain from a training session. Training helps to build a great bond between you and your dog, it gives them something to think about, and getting it right is great for building confidence too! Whatever level your dog is at, there's always something new to try whether you want to teach some basic behaviours like sit, lie down and stay, or you want to take it to the next level with a dog sport such as agility, obedience or fly ball. Your dogs daily food is a great way of rewarding them for getting it right, and you can always add in some high value treats as an extra special reward!