Written by: Dr Jacqueline Boyd, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCHE, CHES, FHEA, MRSB
Nutritional Consultant, Skinner’s Pet Foods
Dogs have an impressive ability to consume their daily food intake in an incredibly short period of time. In comparison to humans, who typically spend one to two hours per day engaged in eating, most domestic dogs will consume their daily intake in only one to five minutes! This means that there is a lot of time to be filled with other activities, but it also creates an opportunity for us to be more creative with our dogs’ mealtimes. This can then have significant benefits for both them and us!
Why does creative cuisine work?
You might be asking, but why do I need to be creative for my dog? Well, for some dogs, spreading out their food intake by prolonging their mealtime can help them feel satisfied for longer. This might be especially useful for dogs under weight management strategies. Equally, creative feeding can help keep your dog occupied for longer periods of time and this might be especially useful for dogs who suffer from separation anxiety or who otherwise get distressed if left alone at times. Creative feeding in the form of “making your dog work” for their food can also be a great way to stimulate them mentally AND physically and again is useful for dogs who might need to increase their energy expenditure in many ways! Being creative is also good fun and can help develop your relationship with your dog further, as you can use food as training rewards and as part of games!
What does creative cuisine look like?
Being creative need not be difficult or expensive, although there are many products on the market that you can buy to support you in your creativity! Let’s explore just some of the ways you can be creative;
- Scatter feed – this works well if you feed dry kibble and have a clean, dry lawn or outside area (best to do it in an area that your dog doesn’t poo in, to avoid the risk of disease transmission). You simply throw or scatter their food in as large or as small an area as you like and then let them go to “hunt” for it. This simple exercise really prolongs feeding time, lets them use their nose, which we know from scientific study has a relaxing effect, and can help tire them out both mentally and physically.
- Snuffle mats/licki-mats, stuffed toys – these are items designed for you to either hide food in or smear food on. Dry kibble hidden in a snuffle mat (which looks like an old-fashioned rag rug!) means your dog must work for it and licki-mats and stuffed toys can be smeared and filled with soaked kibble, some mashed banana, peanut butter or cream cheese. These can then either be given fresh, or frozen to further prolong your dog’s food intake (frozen stuffed toys are especially good fun on hot days – basically they are doggy ice lollies!)
- Puzzle feeders or “brain games toys” – puzzle feeders are bowls with inserts that slow down your dog’s consumption of food. Other variations are games and toys, where your dog must work out how to get the food out, and these can be food dispensing balls, through to complex puzzles that your dog must solve to get their food!
- Training treats – if you feed dry kibble food, use a portion of your dog’s daily meal allowance as training treats! Reward great behaviour with a piece of kibble and you can even be creative with this, by rewarding directly from your hand, throwing the kibble so your dog has then to go and find it (and “foodie” dogs invariably return quickly to see if there is more on offer!) or by using a treat dispenser such as a retrieve toy with a food pouch. You can even get remote controlled treat dispensers so that you can reward great behaviour from your dog, but at a distance!
Being creative with your dog’s mealtimes can be great fun for both you and your dog. If you’d like to learn more about how to be creative with your dog’s mealtimes, the Skinner’s team looks forward to meeting you at Suffolk Dog Day in July where we will be demonstrating some of the ways discussed here.
A Licki-mat – this can be smeared with some peanut butter, mashed banana or even some of your dog’s normal food and given either fresh, or frozen to increase the challenge! (note – always use foodstuff that is safe and suitable for dogs)
Stuffed toys – these are stuffed with mashed banana and have been frozen. They are then great entertainment for your dog to work at getting the food out of them! (note – always use foodstuff that is safe and suitable for dogs)