Dog feeding for enrichment

Kong Classic Dog Toy

How do you currently feed your dog?

Many people just put their dog’s food in their bowl.  This is a wasted opportunity for enrichment!

Why should you feed your dog using the enrichment method?

  • Your dog’s food provides a simple but effective opportunity to provide some mental stimulation.  This is particularly important for active dogs.
  • Using enrichment methods of feeding has the added bonus of slowing down your dog whilst they are eating.  This is useful for dogs that ‘wolf’ down their food.

What feeding methods can I use for enrichment?

Don’t skimp on dog food quality just because you are feeding for enrichment.  Check out my blog post on food choices.

Feeding dry dog food for enrichment

Dry dog food can be scattered, hidden, or placed in toys for enrichment. 

Scatter feeding your dog for enrichment

  • This is the simplest method of feeding if you are short of time.  This takes no more time than putting food in your dog’s bowl.
  • Get a handful of kibble and throw it out on the kitchen floor.
  • Once your dog gets the hang of this you could throw it out on to the garden patio.  For a greater challenge throw it out on to the lawn.
  • You may wish to consider using a smaller size kibble so there is more to find.

Hiding your dog’s food for enrichment

  • This uses your dog’s sense of smell to find the food.  This is an excellent choice since searching for food is a very natural behaviour for your dog.  Your dog has a large area of his brain that is dedicated to scent detection for this purpose.
  • Put your dog away and then place individual bits of kibble around the kitchen.  Let your dog in to find the kibble.
  • Once your dog gets the hang of this you could hide the food under or behind things.  Just be careful that your dog is not going to knock something valuable over to get to the food!  You can progress this by hiding your dog’s kibble in the garden.
  • You may want to consider using a smaller size kibble so there is more to find.
Pickle the Chihuahua searches for her food

Using dog food toys for enrichment

There are many enrichment toys on the market that you can put your dog’s dry food inside.  These are some of our favourites.

Kong Wobbler
Kong Wobbler Dog Toy
  • Kong Wobblers are a great toy for active dogs who enjoy working for their food.
  • You simply unscrew the base and put the kibble inside.
  • The toy has a hole in the top so that when the dog knocks the toy then food drops out.
Snuffle Mat
Snuffle Mat Dog Toy
  • Snuffle Mats are fleece feeding mats that are excellent for dogs that enjoy using their nose to search out or ‘snuffle’ for the food.
  • Just hide bits of kibble within the strands of the mat.
  • You dog doesn’t need a lot of space to use this enrichment feeding method.

Feeding wet dog food for enrichment

Using dog food toys for enrichment

There are many enrichment toys on the market that you can use with your dog’s wet food.  These are some popular choices.

Kong Classic
Kong Classic Dog Toy
  • The classic Kong toy has been around since the 70s and is still one of the best products on the market.
  • They are available in sizes suiting very small to very large dogs.
  • The basic idea is you put food inside the Kong and then the dog licks the contents out.
  • You could just stuff the Kong with your dog’s wet dog food or alternatively add in a few bits of dry kibble for some extra crunch.
  • Dogs that find it too easy to empty a Kong may find one that has been frozen more challenging.
  • You could also smear a small quantity of some appetising food around the inside of the Kong.  Popular choices are peanut butter, Marmite, cream cheese, or pate.
  • The healthy option is to blend some fruit or vegetables then freeze the Kong so your dog get a fun ice lolly!
Pickle the Chihuahua eating from a Kong Classic
Kong Quest Star Pod
Kong Quest Star Pod Dog Toy
  • Kong Quest Star Pod toys have lots of sections so you can add different food to each.
  • This disc toy stays flat on the floor so is less prone to crash around or roll under a table.
Pickle the Chihuahua eating from a Kong Quest Star Pod
Trixie Snack Snake
Snake Dog Toy
  • Snake dog treat toys are the new big thing in dog enrichment.
  • You can use small treats, kibble, or wet dog food with this toy.
  • The snake is made of rubber with a slit along its belly for stuffing the enrichment food in.
LickiMat
LickiMat Dog Toy
  • LickiMats are great because most dogs love to lick. The act of licking can be calming for many dogs.
  • You can use lots of different types of food on a LickiMat, basically anything that is safe to eat and can go in a blender is good on a LickiMat.
  • Put you LickiMat in the freezer before giving it to your dog for a longer licking session.

Take Home Message

Every time you feed your dog is an opportunity to enrich their life.  Every time you just feed in a bowl you waste that opportunity.

Check out what’s available on Amazon and go enrich your dog’s life now!

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

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