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Turn Mealtime into Playtime: The Joy of Enrichment Feeding for Your Dog!

As we transition back to work or school after the holiday season, it's crucial to consider how this change affects our furry friends. The shift in routine can be challenging for dogs, often leading to increased anxiety and boredom. This is where enrichment feeding plays a vital role in easing the transition for your pets.

 

By utilising enrichment feeding tools and methods, you can help mitigate some of the stress and separation anxiety your dog may experience. This approach can help to keep your dog engaged and mentally active while you're out of the house.

 

Remember, while physical exercise is important, mental stimulation is equally vital for your dog's overall well-being.



Turning Mealtime into Playtime!

Imagine transforming your dog's daily dinner into an exciting treasure hunt. That's exactly what enrichment feeding does! It's a game-changer for mealtimes, turning the simple act of eating into a fun, brain-teasing activity. This approach goes beyond just putting food in a bowl; it's about engaging your dog's natural instincts to sniff, paw, and play their way through their meal, just like they would in the wild.

 

Why is this so important? Well, dogs are more than just loyal companions—they're intelligent, curious creatures who crave mental stimulation just as much as physical exercise. Regular feeding routines can become mundane, which can lead to boredom and negative behaviours. Enrichment feeding, on the other hand, lights up their brains, keeps them on their paws, and adds some fun into their day.

 

This article is for you to explore the playful world of enrichment feeding, where every meal can be an engaging experience for your furry companion!


Understanding Enrichment Feeding

Typically, a dog's meal is simply placed in a bowl. Enrichment feeding, however, turns the meal into a mentally engaging activity. This is especially important for dogs who might otherwise eat too quickly - by slowing down the eating process, enrichment feeding may help prevent issues like bloating in dogs that tend to gulp down their dinner too fast​​. It can also help to prevent "picky eating" behaviours in dogs by making meals higher value, as dogs perceive food they work for as more rewarding. This method encourages them to be more interested and engaged in their meals, reducing tendencies towards selective eating.

 

The importance of mental stimulation in dogs’ parallels that in humans. Just as people can become bored, frustrated, anxious, or depressed due to a monotonous routine and lack of mental engagement, dogs can experience similar negative effects from a lack of stimulation. Many behavioural problems in dogs are linked to boredom or insufficient mental activity. Providing mental enrichment through feeding routines has been shown to improve mental health & cognitive function, build confidence, alleviate stress, and strengthen the bond between dog and owner. Essentially, a mentally enriched dog leads a happier and more fulfilled life​​!

 

The Definition?

“Environmental enrichment is based on the idea that providing animals with more complex environments enhances their physical and mental health.”

 

The Goals?

  • Increasing healthy behaviours

  • Increasing positive interactions with the environment

  • Increasing the dog’s ability to cope with challenge.


The History!

The history of enrichment feeding in zoo animals dates back to the late 19th century, when zoos were essentially laboratories for studying animal species. This period marked the earliest research that would evolve into modern environmental enrichment practices. Initially, these steps were taken to protect the physical health of animals in captivity. By the 1920s, observations by psychobiologist Robert Yerkes showed that the well-being of captive primates improved with interactive apparatuses. This was further expanded in the mid-20th century by psychologists like Donald Hebb, who demonstrated through experiments that enriched environments positively impacted the problem-solving abilities and behaviour of animals. In the 1960s, studies by Marian and Keller Breland revealed that captive animals, despite being well-fed, needed activities like foraging or "working" for their food, highlighting the importance of meeting innate behavioural needs through enrichment​​.

 

In contrast, the concept of enrichment feeding for domestic dogs is a more recent development. A significant study investigated the usage of enrichment feeding in pet dogs, which involved the use of toys, puzzles, or games to provide food instead of a traditional bowl. This study, primarily conducted through a survey, found that dog owners believed enrichment feeding provided mental stimulation and prevented boredom, with time and cost being the most cited barriers. The research also indicated that enrichment feeding could contribute to the treatment of obesity, and the management of behavioural problems in dogs.

 

We see a common theme in the progression of enrichment practices; both in zoos and in homes, the initial focus was on physical health and has evolved to include mental and emotional well-being. Zoo research has a longer and more documented history, heavily influenced by early 20th-century psychology and behaviourism. In contrast, enrichment feeding for domestic dogs is still an emerging field, with recent studies beginning to explore its potential benefits.



Getting Started with Enrichment Feeding:

Setting up enrichment feeding for your dog involves a few basic principles, the most important of which is tailoring the experience to your dog's specific needs. This includes considering factors such as your dog's age, breed, and overall health! Introducing your dog to new feeding methods should be a gradual process.

 

It’s important to note that enrichment activities, while beneficial for mental stimulation, should not increase their overall caloric intake. The food used in these activities should be a part of the dog’s daily calorie allocation, not an addition. The quantity of food you’re feeding to your dog shouldn’t change, just the delivery method!

 

Safety is paramount when introducing new feeding methods. Always supervise your dog during enrichment activities to ensure they are engaging safely and not ingesting any non-edible parts of toys or puzzles. Monitoring your dog's reaction to these new methods is important, as some dogs might find certain types of enrichment too stressful or frustrating, so it's important to observe their behaviour and adjust the activities accordingly to ensure they remain fun and engaging. If they seem disinterested or frustrated, simplify the activity or try a different type of enrichment tool.



DIY Enrichment Feeding Ideas:

Enrichment feeding doesn’t have to be expensive! DIY toys and puzzles are an excellent way to stimulate your dog's mind and engage their natural instincts. Here are some simple yet effective ideas to start with:

 

  1. Egg Carton Puzzle:

Utilize an empty egg carton by filling each slot with a few pieces of your dog’s food. Close the carton for an instant puzzle. To increase the challenge, you can hide the carton, ask your dog to find it, or secure it with a ribbon​​.

 

2. Towel Roll:

Spread a towel flat and scatter your dog’s food over it. Roll or fold the towel with the food inside, then let your dog figure out how to unroll or unfold it to get to the food. This can be made more challenging by twisting the towel or tying it in a knot after adding treats​​.

 

3. Muffin Tin Game:

Place your dog's food in the compartments of a muffin tin and cover each with a tennis ball. Your dog will need to remove the balls to access the food. For added difficulty, use smaller balls or crumple up food inside pieces of paper in each compartment​​.

 

4. Hide n’ Seek:

Hide your dog's food in small piles around the room. Ask your dog to find the food using cues like “find it!” This game also helps with impulse control and can be progressively made more challenging by hiding the food in less obvious spots​​. This method encourages them to investigate and work for their meal, like how they would in a non-domestic environment.

 

5. Toilet Paper Roll Feeder:

Save empty toilet paper rolls and create a simple toy by cutting slits into each end, folding one end, filling it with food, and then folding the other end. These can be hidden around the house for an added challenge​​.

 

When customising these ideas for different dog sizes and breeds, consider the size of the toy or puzzle relative to your dog's size, and ensure that any items used are safe and non-toxic. Always supervise your dog during these activities to prevent accidental ingestion of non-edible materials.


We recommend the following:



Commercial Enrichment Feeding Tools:

When exploring commercial enrichment feeding tools for dogs, there are several types to consider, each offering unique benefits and challenges. These tools are designed to mentally stimulate your dog and emulate their natural foraging behaviour.


  1. Stuffable Chew Toys:

These are typically hollow and made from durable rubber, allowing you to fill them with your dog’s food or treats – they can be filled with a combination of wet and dry foods. These toys often have a large opening for ease of filling and can be frozen to provide an added challenge.

  • What we recommend: ZIWI Peak canned food, ZIWI Peak FD, NORM Freakshakes mixed with lactose free yoghurt

  • Stick a Bell & Bone dental chew, a ZIWI Lamb Trachea Oral Chew, or ZIWI Weasand Oral Chew into the canned food before freezing for additional variety!

 

2. Treat Balls and Dispensers:

Best suited for dry food, these toys release the food as your dog plays with them. The challenge level varies with different designs, so you can choose one that best suits your dog's skills.

  • What we recommend: ZIWI Peak air dried food & FD toppers, The Paw Grocer FD treats, ONE treats

 

3. Puzzle Feeders:

These toys can be a lot of fun and offer a significant mental challenge. However, they might require more time to set up and may frustrate dogs who give up easily on tricky tasks. Puzzle feeders are less practical for feeding full meals but can be an excellent activity for dogs that enjoy problem-solving. Puzzle feeders typically work best with dry food or treats.

  • What we recommend: ZIWI Peak air dried food & FD toppers, The Paw Grocer FD treats, ONE treats

 

4. Snuffle Mats:

These mats encourage your dog to sniff and search through the fabric for their food. Snuffle mats typically work best with dry food or treats.

  • What we recommend: ZIWI Peak air dried food & FD toppers, The Paw Grocer FD treats, ONE treats

 

5. Licking Mats: 

These are designed for spreading soft food, and they can also be frozen for a longer lasting activity. They're easy to use and can be a good distraction for dogs during bath time as many of them can stick to the wall! The material is generally durable, but not designed to be chewed.

  • What we recommend: ZIWI Peak canned food, NORM Freakshakes mixed with lactose free yoghurt

      

Interactive Dispensers:

These toys hold a large amount of food and are suitable for feeding full meals, especially for larger dogs. They usually rely on a tipping motion, which keeps them more stationary and less likely to get trapped under furniture.

  • What we recommend: ZIWI Peak air dried food & FD toppers, The Paw Grocer FD treats, ONE treats


Enrichment Feeding Techniques for Dogs with Unique Requirements

For puppies, enrichment activities should be simple and safe. Puppies are still learning and developing, so the complexity of puzzles and toys should be minimal to avoid frustration. Stuffable soft rubber toys can be ideal as they are gentle on developing teeth and can be filled with puppy-appropriate treats.

 

What we recommend!



ZIWI Canned Range:

  • All of the ZIWI recipes are suitable for All Life Stages! They can be used as a complete and balanced diet for puppies from 6 weeks of age.

  • Chicken – a gentle protein that's less likely to cause stomach upset, making it ideal for their developing digestive systems.

  • Tripe & Lamb – a highly palatable recipe with digestive health benefits.



NORM OG Freakshake:

  • This recipe suits everyone!

  • Protein rich chicken hearts (great source of amino acids like taurine).

  • Goats milk is highly palatable, has pre/probiotics and digestive enzymes, and is more easily digested than cow’s milk.

  • Spirulina is considered a superfood – it is rich in antioxidants and beneficial compounds. It may even help with allergies!


Dogs with health issues or dietary restrictions need enrichment feeding tools that accommodate their specific needs. For instance, dogs with diabetes or weight issues should have toys that can be filled with low-calorie, diabetic-friendly treats. Always consult with a veterinarian before introducing any new food items to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your dog’s health condition.

 

What we recommend:

The ZIWI Venison range is a low fat, novel protein, limited ingredient diet that may be suitable for pets with dietary allergies or intolerances.




Senior dogs often have reduced mobility and may suffer from dental issues or a decreased sense of smell. Enrichment feeding for them should involve less physically demanding activities. Puzzle feeders that require minimal movement and toys that are easy to manipulate are preferable.

 

Maintaining cognitive health in senior dogs is crucial! As dogs age, their mental faculties can decline, leading to issues like confusion and decreased engagement with their environment. Enrichment feeding stimulates their brain, helping to slow cognitive deterioration. It encourages problem-solving and memory use, vital for preserving mental agility. Mental work outs not only help in maintaining cognitive function, but also enhances overall quality of life, keeping older dogs alert, happier, and connected to their surroundings.

 

What we recommend:

  • ZIWI Canned Mackerel & Lamb – A recipe rich in omega fatty acids to support your senior pet!

  • ZIWI Canned Tripe & Lamb – A highly palatable diet with digestive health benefits

  • ZIWI Freeze-Dried Boosters Gut & Immunity, Skin & Coat

  • NORM Gold Dust:

    • Ram (sheep) testes are a unique and highly palatable ingredient rich in protein and essential fatty acids.

    • Goji berries are incredible for supporting eye health due to high concentrations of zeaxanthin and lutein. It also has compounds that promote immune-modulating, anti-aging, and antioxidant properties. Antioxidant rich foods may also help prevent cognitive decline in aging pets.

    • Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, which can support joint health and overall well-being. May also assist in preventing cognitive decline, supporting liver health, and boosting the immune system.

    • Coconut milk is easily digestible, is a rapid source of energy, and is highly palatable. This easy source of energy is great for elderly pets.





Looking for more ways to mentally support your dog?

Check out how Shy Tiger aromatherapy products can help!





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