Enrichment is very important for the mental well being of our pets. I recommend that my clients ditch the dog food bowls (and cat food bowls too!) and use a variety of food puzzles for their pets’ meals, whether they have a dog, a cat, horse, parrot, bunny, or ferret. Giving our pets the opportunity to engage their brain and senses to find food reduces behavioural issues, tires them out, and engages their seeking systems which leads to feelings of well being and contentment. Studies have shown that animals prefer to work for their food as opposed to it being offered to them; this is known as contrafreeloading.
As with all new activities/games/behaviours, we start at an easy level to encourage the animal and build confidence, then increase the difficulty; otherwise they may get frustrated and quit.
Muffin Tin Game
-1 muffin tin (to hide the food in)
-Handful of yummy food (to place in the muffin tin)
-12 toys/balls/pieces of fabric to cover the food in the muffin tin *Make sure your pet won’t ingest the toys/balls/fabric!! Supervise while they play this game!
-Put a piece of food or a treat in a few of the cups. Offer it to your pet so they can see the food, and let them get the pieces out.
-Next, put treats in a few different cups, cover them up with a ball or toys or fabric, and let your pet use their nose to sniff them out, and then work out how to get to the treats underneath.
-Once you can see that your pet has figured out to win the game, you can put treats in a few of the cups in the tin, but cover all of the cups up (even the empty ones), and let your pet work it out.
Egg cartons are great to use for this game too! If your pet won’t ingest the carton pieces, you can close the carton and let your pet rip it apart. Make sure to supervise!
-1 or more blankets/sheets
-Pieces of treats/food
-Put blanket on floor and scatter treats over top of it. Loosely crumple it up, then let your dog use their nose to find the food. As your dog gets better at this game, you can crumple the blanket up more tightly, or add layers of blankets/sheets to make it more challenging.
Yoga Mat Game
-1 old yoga mat
-Pieces of food or treats
-First session, place a couple pieces of treats on the unrolled yoga mat, and let your pet eat them.
-Roll the mat back up, leaving a few inches exposed; put treats on the exposed section, then roll the rest of the mat back over to cover them.
-Let your pet have access to the mat, and watch them work out how to get the treats using their face or paws to push the mat open.
-Increase the difficulty over time, until you’ve used the whole length of the mat.
Paper Towel or Toilet Paper Roll
-1 inner cardboard tube from a paper towel or toilet paper roll
-Pieces of food or treats
*make sure your pet doesn’t eat the cardboard!!
-First session, place some yummy food in the roll, and place it on the ground to let your pet explore it.
-You can probably then pick it up and do another session right away, but this time lightly fold the ends of the tube over.
-As your pet is more proficient at opening the ends, you can increase the difficulty by folding the ends over multiple times. This will encourage them to use their teeth more, so make sure you are present and observing them while they play this game, to make sure they don’t ingest it!
As you can see from this video, kitties love it too! This is Marco, working for his breakfast