If you are struggling with crate training your puppy, with puppy boredom or with an overactive puppy or dog, this blog post is for you! All dogs and puppies are happier, healthier and easier to train when they are mentally stimulated. One easy way to challenge your puppy is to have them work for their food. Every time we set down a bowl of food, we are missing a great opportunity to entertain and stimulate our puppy. These are also great for fast eaters, dogs that suffer from separation anxiety (offer when leaving) and for in crate entertainment. Oh, and in case you have lacked any "intimate time" since purchasing your puppy, these are also great for escaping to your room in peace for long enough . . .
Not sure how to make your puppy work for their food? Here are some examples:
LEVEL ONE - SNUFFLE MATS AND SLOW FEEDERS
Many breeders use snuffle mats with puppies as a part of the weaning and play process. Start by hiding a few high value treats in this mat and work up to feeding an entire meal. Placing a high quality kibble in the mat will slow your dogs eating, entertain them in a crate or pen and allow your dog or puppy to learn to work to find their food. Most LierChonPoo puppies and dogs will have been exposed to one of these options:
Small Snuffle Mat - This mat is inexpensive and travels easily. It's suitable for both puppies and adults.
Medium Snuffle & Play Mat - We love this medium mat with multiple places to hide treats and food for entire litters, households with more than one small dog or larger breeds. We also love that it's easy to wash and we recommend doing so weekly.
Slow feeders are similar but are simply a mechanism to slow a fast eater and are not as stimulating as a snuffle mat. You can increase the entertainment value of a slow feeder by mixing your kibble with a quality wet food which takes significantly longer to eat when spread on the walls of the feeder.
LEVEL TWO - SNOOPS
Snoops are advertised as being an interactive treat dispenser but we regularly use them as a bowl to feed and entertain puppies by placing a mixture of kibble and other food inside and using it as a bowl. We start these before feeding in Kongs because they are easier for the puppy to manipulate. To make it tougher, you can purchase the smiley face insert; however, we've found it easier to simply put a mixture of food and larger components in the Snoop to make it more challenging. For example, we will introduce these with a small amount of kibble mixed with a few high value treats. Once the dog has acclimated we will replace the treats with some larger pieces of cooked chicken or jerky that make getting to the food more difficult. Plugging the whole in the bottom with a treat or kibble or adding something like peanut butter (never with artificial sweetener) or plain yogurt can also increase the challenge. Snoops can be placed in the dishwasher (top rack) and we love that they are coated with a mint oil to help keep breath fresh. Our young dogs will work on these for 20-30 minutes which is great entertainment while we clean their space, sneak out the door for errands, etc.
LEVEL THREE - KONGS
The Kong is perhaps the most popular "work for food" toy on the market. For puppies, you want to begin with the small binkie Kong and get the multi-pack as you will need multiple kongs in order to keep them cleaned and stuffed. As your puppy progresses and grows (or to feed entire meals), move up to the medium. We have done an entire blog post HERE on how to stuff a kong from simple to more complex. What we will repeat here is that the Kong is a great way to make a puppy work for food and a great way to reward and entertain a puppy in the crate.
LEVEL FOUR - PUZZLES & INTERACTIVE TOYS
It is rare that we use a puzzle or toy to feed an entire meal but it can be done. If you are feeding a high calorie dense kibble such as PawTree, you can actually fit an entire meal in one of these toys.
Bob-A-Lot Interactive Dog Toy and Tug-A-Jug are very popular with our puppies but we don't use them as often as they can be difficult to clean and are really only suitable for kibble or treats (no option of mixing in wet or raw ingredients). They can also be a little loud depending on how the dog learns to dispense the treats. Again, if using these frequently, please make sure you are only using high quality single ingredient treats and are factoring in these calories so your puppy or dog doesn't end up overweight.
Puzzle Toys are also fun but with a few warnings. You MUST supervise both dogs and puppies with these type toys as most of them have pieces that can be chewed and even swallowed if care is not taken. They can also be a hassle to clean.
Lick Mats - These popular lick mats are also a hit with our puppies and dogs. We generally pull these out only for special occasions where we want to both reward and entertain the dogs for a while (think furniture being delivered, neighbor stopping by, etc.). In order to successfully use these mats you must find a combination to spread on the mat that is both healthy and irresistible to your pooch. Several of the suggestions we've discussed in Kong stuffing can also work here. For our dogs, we take it up a notch and keep these in the freezer already prepared with one of the following: natural peanut butter mixed with plain greek yogurt, puree pumpkin mixed with peanut butter or yogurt, Ollie dog food spread and re-frozen or Ollie mixed with yogurt.
We hope this post has been helpful and that you'll let us know what works and what doesn't, Please remember that any toy or bowl which doesn't entertain your pet can be donated to your local shelter for a dog in need so it's never a waste to experiment.
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