We may not think of our dogs as needing to work, but remember, many dogs were originally bred as working companions for hunting or herding. Now that most dogs enjoy the life of luxury as pets, their job is just to be a Good Dog. However, pet dogs still need the mental stimulation that working provides. Basic training provides your dog with a job to do, but so does working for a feeding.
As I’ve shared before, mental exercise is as tiring as physical exercise for our pooches. A wonderful way to give your dog mental exercise is to make her work for her food. When I say ‘work’ I mean a type of task that is stimulating and fun!
A bonus of giving your dog a job is that it relieves boredom and the destructive behavior that many dogs engage in to relieve boredom. Many trash cans and couch cushions have been ravaged by a bored dog.
One way to get your dog working for her food is to feed her from interactive puzzle toys rather than just tossing her kibble in a bowl. Some popular starter toys I recommend:
- Kibble Nibble
- Kong Wobbler
- Nina Ottosson Treat Maze
If your canine has mastered these or you think she’d like an extra challenge, look at these:
- Nina Ottosson Miracle Puzzle
- Nina Ottosson Dog Tornado
- PetSafe Magic Mushroom
Give Meal Portion as Training Treats
Another way to make your dog work for a feeding is to use individual pieces of a meal as training treats. If you’re going for your morning walk and your dog pulls, take the same amount of food she would eat at breakfast and use it to reinforce walking nicely at your side. (See our blog post “I Told You to Walk This Way.”) Throughout the day you can also dole out a meal to reward her for good behavior. Ask her to sit before going out the door, reward with a piece of kibble, then open the door for her. As her to look at you instead of chasing the cat, and deliver a steady stream of kibble while she stays focused on you while kitty passes through the room.
By using a meal portion as training treats, you avoid adding lots of excess calories to her total daily intake. A good general rule of thumb is that special treats should make up no more than 10% of a dog’s daily calorie count. If your dog isn’t terribly motivated by her kibble, try this method for making plain kibble more enticing without adding excess calories to your dog’s diet:
- Portion out kibble into a bowl
- Take a piece of freeze-dried beef liver and a fine grater, such as a zester
- Grate the cube of beef liver over the zester and allow the fine dust it creates to fall into the bowl of kibble
- Stir the kibble and continue to grate the beef liver until all of the kibble has a light dusting of beef liver powder
Both of these types of work, using puzzle toys or working for a meal, will give your dog stimulating mental exercise and provide him with a job to do. Working is good exercise, and as we all know, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.
By Pampered Pets Lead Trainer Valerie Balwanz PMCT, CPDT-KA
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