For many of us January means cold weather, short days, and dogs spending too much time just hanging out inside. One easy way to give your dog more activity is to feed meals in puzzle toys. This will slow down his eating and help keep him occupied, even if you are busy doing other things. These toys can also be used to hide treats, but why not let your dog get some more enrichment and excitement from the calories he would be consuming anyway?
If your dog is new to puzzle toys, starting out easy is usually the best approach. Offer a meal in a muffin pan or other household item. If you don’t mind some shredding, letting your dog work to get his food out of a cardboard box is another option. This may not be a good choice for dogs competing in scent work though- cardboard box destruction can get you in trouble in that sport.
The next level challenge for many dogs is a commercial slow feed bowl. These come in plastic or metal, but metal will last longer and be easier to keep clean. The Clever Hounds eat dinner most nights from these bowl. I set up their food in the morning and freeze it into the slow feed bowls to make dinner a longer lasting and more interesting meal for them. A similar challenge is a snuffle mat. These are also helpful for stressful situations like dog shows or the arrival of guests, because foraging in the mat for treats can serve as an alternative behavior to barking or worrying. A similar options for dogs who prefer soft food is the Lickimat.
If you are able to closely supervise your dog while he solves a puzzle, there are several options, such as Nina Ottoson’s Brick that require skills like moving items with a paw or opening small doors to access food. These toys are not as sturdy as some of the other choices, so you’ll want to be nearby while they are in use.
For harder chewers or times when you can’t supervise, filling a Kong toy with fresh food or kibble that has been soaked in water and freezing can keep dogs busy for quite a while. If you feed kibble, there are many other options such as the Kong Wobbler or PVC pipe toy that are sturdy and will dispense food slowly.
There are many other puzzle toy options on the market, but those listed above have all worked well for the The Clever Hounds. What is your dog’s favorite puzzle?
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