Welcome to Day 1 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- durable toys or items with a hollow space within for stuffing
- food based enrichment
- line them, stuff them, freeze them, hide them, suspend them
- get the family involved in this one – kids love making puzzles for pets and these challenges offer lots of opportunities for children to use their imagination to come up with the best stuffables for their pets.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
- stuffable prep will probably take you 5-10 minutes – do a bulk batch and store in the freezer so you always have stuffables ready to go
What do you need?
- stuffable toys, such as Kongs, K9Connectables, Toppl
- apples, wafer ice cream cones
- a range of food types
- a dog lead (a shoe lace or a length of rope will do too)
Stuffables form the basis of many of our enrichment programs with pet dogs. Although many of these toys can be used without food for play and chewing, they will feature in today’s challenge with food.
Above: Monty shows the fun a dog can have with an empty Kong toy, encouraging a wide range of behaviours from the canid repertoire!
- to encourage lapping and chewing – these behaviours are relaxing for dogs and can help them recover from stress (including excitement)
- to slow eating
- to help dogs settle themselves and soothe themselves
We teach pet owners how to Park their Pups! This can be a great way of helping puppies, new or active dogs learn to chill when everyone else is relaxed and for bringing your pet places such as outdoor cafes (set up clip here).
- to encourage the development of strategies (behaviours) for getting the food out of stuffables
For example, Decker will lie down, holding it with one paw and lap at it; he might chew it, squeezing it in his mouth, to loosen the contents so they come out easier; his favourite is to throw it around the place as violently as possible so that food goes flying out of it in every direction!
Dogs often start with this torpedo approach and sometimes working on it upside down, before learning to hold it under their food for lapping.
While this challenge is certainly food based, they are also experiencing cognitive, sensory and environmental enrichment, with lots of crossover between categories.
Working out how to empty the stuffable and developing dexterous skills in manipulating the stuffable are examples of cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting and chewing food all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding each stuffable, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of getting to the good stuff.
Stuffables encourage pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the stuffable is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
- provide a comfy safe space for working on the stuffable – this means that your pet won’t be approached or fussed with when there so that they can work away on their stuffable without too much pressure
- fill the toy with foods that encourage lapping and chewing
- if the pet is new to stuffables, use HIGH value foods to motivate exploration and experimentation and make it VERY easy to get the food (no frustration!)
- if your pet is a novice, give a suitable stuffable when they are calm and chilled and when the house and humans/other pets are calm and quiet – this will help them to associate calm with the stuffable, which in turns helps to calm them further
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of stuffables:
Once the pet’s use of stuffables is established and they get the game, we can begin to use stuffables in their day to day lives to achieve our enrichment goals.
- make stuffables available after stress or excitement
It’s great to have stuffables ready for after walks, games, training sessions, after people come home or after a more stressful event such as getting a fright, after barking and so on.
- use stuffables to manage and redirect behaviour
Have stuffables ready when guests come in, to keep your pet busy in another room while guests settle and to give to your pet so that they are busy when guests are present.
- help to keep them entertained, busy and to settle
Stuffables can be great to give when you can’t supervise your pet, when you need them to be safe and busy, when you need them to entertain themselves and to settle themselves.
- sometimes stuffables can be comforting to a confined or alone pet
But, it’s not a good idea to use stuffables if your pet is already uncomfortable with being confined or alone, or likely to be. They may still become upset and may associate feeling this way with the appearance or addition of a stuffable.
Stuffables are versatile and you are only limited by your imagination and your pet’s preferences!
Always carefully check ingredients labels for additions that may be harmful to dogs such as onion powder or sweeteners like xylitol.
- pates, meat or fish pastes
- cream cheese, soft/spreadable cheese, cottage cheese, yoghurt, butter or spreads
- peanut butter or other nut butters
- coconut oil
- kibble mash (soak kibble in warm water (or flavouring like a gravy) and mash with a fork)
- cooked and mashed potato, carrot, sweet potato, squashes, apple
- mashed banana
- baby food
- commercial wet food, such as good quality tinned foods
- scrambled egg
- meats such as chicken, turkey, pork, beef, lamb and so on
- offal such as small amounts of liver, kidneys, hearts
- deli meats such as sliced chicken, turkey, salami, roast beef, corned beef and so on
- processed meats such as hotdog, sausages, cabanossi, black and white pudding
- tinned fish such as small amounts of tuna, mackeral, pink salmon, sardines (rinse off oils and sauces before use)
- vegetables (for the most part it’s best that these are properly cooked and then cooled) such as potato, sweet potato, squashes, kelp, spinach, kale, spirulina, carrots, baby sweet corn, peas (I love to use frozen peas as treats!)
- fruits such as apples, pears, banana, mango, melon, berries like strawberries, raspberries, blue berries
- breakfast cererals such as Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes
- pasta, rice, porridge oats and other grains
- beans, in small amounts, such as kidney beans, chickpeas, butter beans (make sure they have been soaked and cooked correctly before feeding)
- good quality kibbles or dry foods
- good quality wet foods like canned foods
- commercial dog treats such as biscuit dog treats, soft dog treats, freeze dried treats, meat based treats
- commercial raw foods such as minces and nuggets (stuff the toy with them as frozen and then you don’t need to freeze the entire toy)
Use ice-cube trays to freeze small portions of wet, raw or other foods for stuffing into stuffable toys or using, like treats or kibble, in other enrichment activities, like sniffing, and devices.
- meats, offal, deli and processed meats, and harder cheeses like cheddar – stuff in at the bottom of the stuffable and use to jam the opening too
- long chews such as chicken or turkey feet, pizzles, fish skins and so on – jam through the toy and the mix of foods within
Gravies and flavourings
To entice your pet and to make the stuffable better for freezing, mixing the contents with something yummy is usually a winner!
- yoghurt, soft and spreadable cheeses
- low-sodium stock
- gelatin (small amounts as it causes flatulence)
- mash wet foods into pastes, add water to thin if required. to make a ‘gravy’
- meat or vegetable juices/water (allow it to sit so that the fat can be skimmed and removed)
- baby foods
Devise recipes for each stuffable by pulling a couple of examples from each category.
Choose a liner and add a tantaliser to the bottom. Mix a gravy with stuffers and fill the toy. Top with a tantaliser.
Searching the internet will give you lists and lists and lists of stuffables ideas but work on designing ones that work best for you and your pets. Here are some simple ideas, just for fun:
Tuti Fruiti stuffable:
- mash some banana or cooked (allow it to cool) apple to line the stuffable
- layer fruit and cream cheese throughout the stuffable
Meat & 2 Veg:
- layer meat and two mashed vegetables throughout the stuffable
- pour in a gravy/flavouring and freeze
Breakfast smoothie stuffable
- jam the bottom of the stuffable with cheese
- allow a small amount porridge oats soak in water or yoghurt over night
- add yoghurt and oats mix with berries, melon and mango
Option 1: Line it
Using a spreadable, line the inside of the stuffable.
If your pet is new to stuffables, this is the place to start!
- spread the lining at the widest most accessible point or on the outside of the toy to encourage interaction, without frustration
- spread the lining throughout the toy
- spread the lining throughout the toy
- freeze it
Having lined stuffables ready to go in the freezer is a convenient tool for managing dog behaviour!
Simple lined stuffables with cheese slices mashed into the toy:
Option 2: Stuff it
Stuff the toy with your pet’s regular food, with treats or chews, or with meats, vegetables and fruits.
If your pet is just starting out with stuffables, get them working for lined-stuffables first so that they get the game. Then you can begin to loosely stuff the toy and increase the challenge as they develop strategies to empty the toy. Use your pet’s behaviour guide the extent of the challenge.
Take care when stuffing toys if blocking one or both of the holes in the toy. There is lots of talk online about dog’s tongues being suctioned into the toy and swelling. This is exceptionally rare and am not sure how much we should worry about it – I have fed thousands of dogs probably a million Kongs and nothing like this has even remotely happened.
But, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen and that we shouldn’t put measures in place to prevent it.
If stuffing a toy, it’s best to add some kibble or other hard food to the bottom around the second hole, just to allow for some air flow, especially if freezing the toy.
Freezing the stuffed toy with a drinking straw down through the toy, out through both holes, may also help to maintain air flow, although once the dog starts to work on it, every thing will move about so care may still be required.
- line the toy first with a high value spreadable
- add some of your dog’s favourite treats or high value foods like meat or tinned fish
- loosely pack the toy so that food comes out readily
Try adding your dog’s favourite long chews to a Kong toy or similar. Jam the chew right through the toy. Once the toy is a safe and appropriate size for the dog, when the dog chews down to the Kong, he will have eaten the safe length of the chew. This also allows you to easily monitor the size of chews as your dog works through them.
For dogs who find Kongs, K9 Connectables frustrating or difficult to empty, you might try a different toy. I particularly like the Toppl from West Paws, which is more open and easier, while still being a satisfying stuffable.
- line and stuff the toy
- add something yummy first to the bottom
- layer your pet’s regular food with something yummier to fill the toy
- if using kibble, add it in dry and loose so it’s easier to get out but as your pet improves you can first soak the kibble
- line and stuff the toy, freeze it for extra challenge
- jam a long chew through the toy
- add a yummy tantiliser to the bottom of the toy
- layer yummies and regular food to fill the toy
- if using kibble, soak it and soften it first
- pack the opening of the toy with something delicious
- freeze the whole stuffed toy
Use flavourings and leftovers to make tantalising frozen stuffables:
Option 3: Pupsicles
No stuffable, just stuffing needed for this one!
This option might be particularly useful for dogs who are likely to ingest stuffable toys, and when they can’t be supervised.
Because we are using ice, essentially, this may only be suitable in warm, comfortable temperatures. Don’t give dogs ice cold things to eat if they are very hot or after exerting exercise – allow them to cool a little first.
- Line a lunchbox or tub with a freezer bag (or just use the bag) and add water or low-sodium stock. Add some kibble, regular food, treats, meats, vegetables.
- Close the bag and freeze for a couple of hours.
- Remove the frozen mix from the tub and peel away the bag (reuse it for the next one!)
- Give to your pet to work on.
You can also use gravies, yogurt or cream cheese instead of or mixed with the water.
Freeze with in a dog bowl or other container, such as an ice cube tray or cup cake pan for smaller, ready-to-go treats.
Option 4 Edible Stuffables
Like Pupsicles, these provide options when a toy isn’t available or safe to leave with a pet. These also provide different exploration options for pets and they can eat the entire stuffable!
These also might provide more options for dogs in kennel accommodation, for example, as there will be less clean-up and improved safety.
We have found the ones that work best are apples and wafer ice-cream cones.
You could also use fresh lamb or bovine hearts and serve raw, frozen or cooked and dried beef trachea or gullet can also be used, although I am careful about not feeding these too often.
Although ice-cream cones are certainly better for small dogs and puppies, Decker loves the frozen, stuffed ice-cream cones and they are great for scavenger hunts. I like to hide them around the house and garden for him to sniff out and enjoy!
Stuffable cones are lighter than other stuffable toys so can be handy for travelling or bringing stuffables out and about.
Coring and hollowing out the apples requires a little work and I have found that red apples are a little easier. They are probably preferred as they tend to be less sharp and a little sweeter too.
These also make great wild bird feeders, lined with peanut butter and stuffed with seed, so if your dog doesn’t mind sharing, you can help out the birds visiting your garden too!
Option 5 Suspended Stuffables
Suspending any puzzle provides entirely new challenges and sensory experiences for animals. Not only does it look and act differently, they now need to develop new strategies for figuring it out!
In this clip, the stuffable toys used are stuffed with baby food and frozen, but you can use an lining, stuffing and/or tantaliser.
This is a puzzle that’s best introduced for pets who have had some practice with different types of stuffables and levels of difficulty.
- suspend a couple of lined stuffables
- suspend at your pet’s head height – tighten the line they are suspended on so that they don’t move too much
- suspend against a wall or other surface
- suspend different types of stuffables
- leave some slack in the line so that they vary in height and move a little
- freeze the stuffables for longer lasting fun
- suspend against a wall or other surface
- suspend different types of frozen stuffables
- suspend it freestanding and leave some slack in the line so there is lots of movement and challenge
Even working on stuffable toys, with the rope or line running through them, not suspended, changes and increases the challenge.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!