Welcome to Day 72 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:
- toys that dispense food when pushed, rocked, or manipulated
- may be commercially available toys or homemade
- food based, cognitive based and sensory based enrichment
- may provide outlets for cognitive challenge and puzzling, but care must be taken to avoid frustration
- get the family involved in this one – for the most part, the dog will be doing all the work but children might like to help prepare food dispensing toys for their pets
- look closely at the sorts of behaviours required to solve the puzzle – most are pretty similar but some will stretch your puzzler’s abilities
What do you need?
- Pringles or similar tubes
- old tennis balls or other old toys
- lattice balls
- commercially available treat dispensing toys
- to encourage manipulation of the toy
- provide outlets for puzzling and cognitive challenge
- to encourage interaction with their environment and help in the development of behaviours/strategies for manipulating the item, acquiring edible parts or dissecting
- to encourage feeding behaviours, beyond just eating
- to encourage a wide range of foraging and exploratory behaviours by offering toys of different design, expanding the dog’s behavioural repertoire
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
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 get to the food and developing dexterous skills in manipulating the toys are examples of cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting and chewing food all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding their way through each food puzzle, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of getting to the good stuff.
Puzzles encourage pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the toy is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
By offering a variety of puzzles, we want to help the dog expand their range of puzzle-busting behaviours and facilitate your pet applying strategies from other puzzles to new ones; that’s a true cognitive gift and is growing your dog’s brain!
How can we achieve these goals?
- provide your dog with a safe, comfy space for working on puzzles
- some of these toys can be pretty noisy so think about playing on softer flooring, like carpet for example, and take care with furniture that might get scuffed and beaten up, so consider the area in which you work carefully
- remember, there might be mess so think of that for clean-up
- try a range of dispensers to assess which your dog prefers and to see which behaviours they need help with
- the more difficult you have made the challenge, the higher the value the reward must be so use HIGH value foods to motivate exploration and experimentation and make it VERY easy to get the food (no frustration!)
- if your dog just dives in, in full on destruction mode that might also be an indicator that they need an easier challenge so they get to experiment with a broader range of behaviours
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of food dispensing toys:
Some of the first and most widely available ‘enrichment’ toys for dogs were food and treat dispensing toys so they have been around a long time, in one form or another. Many pet owners will be familiar with them and will have seen them in pet shops and suppliers.
Because they are so often referred to as ‘treat’ dispensers, many pet owners might think them relevant only to treats and occasional use. Now, there are a wide range of these toys available, in lots of different designs requiring different puzzle busting skills.
I split food dispensing toys into two broad categories, depending on the type of behaviour they encourage: pacifying and activating.
Stuffables and lickables/lappables, when used appropriately, are pacifying encouraging lapping and chewing.
Activating toys, like today’s food dispensers, will invariably encourage the dog to move about, often having to manipulate the toy with more force and movement.
You can use stuffable toys and fill them with drier food and treats which will encourage the dog to bounce or roll them, providing an activating effect.
Because some of these toys are heavier, wobbly or big, some dogs may be cautious of them. But, I am more concerned about how these toys tend to be introduced. There is often limited means to decrease or increase the challenge so dogs are left to work it out, experiencing frustration and the resulting arousal.
This may not be enriching after all.
Food dispensing toys might be homemade or bought.
Because of the home made nature and variable materials used in of the puzzles today, it’s best to supervise your pet carefully when they have access to them.
Know your dog! If you have an ingester, take great care and supervise them closely.
If you are concerned about your dog ingesting non-food items during puzzling, have a pocketful of HIGH value treats and be ready to toss a couple toward your dog, across their eyeline, if you think they are thinking about eating something they shouldn’t.
Making sure the challenge is very doable and they can get to the hidden food rewards quickly is key to modifying their behaviour and expectations during puzzling.
Check all your equipment for this challenge carefully and make sure to remove tape, staples, other fasteners, small pieces and plastic pieces. Play safe!
Care should be taken with bought toys too as they may not be built for chewing or particularly destructive efforts.
Watch your dog closely for behaviours that might eventually help solve the puzzle. Be ready to toss some food rewards to the dog for those behaviours, even if they don’t solve the puzzle. This will help to prevent them becoming too frustrated or destructive.
Homemade Food Dispensing Toys
Make a simple food dispensing toy using a Pringle tube or similar:
You can use any container with a lid too. Just make some holes and secure the lid. If using a larger container, like a lunchbox, you can add some blockers such as scrunched up paper or cardboard toilet roll tubes so that the food doesn’t just fall out.
Use an old tennis ball or other old toy with a hole in (or make a hole):
Any lattice toy (toys with holes) will work too!
If you can get your hands on a giant cardboard roll, from flooring, for example, they make great food dispensers and items of great interest to dogs:
Commerical Food Dispensing Toys
There are a wide range of toys available in shops and online. Most require that the dog move the toy, either with their feet or nose, to move the toy so that food falls out.
Kong Wobblers typify this category of activating food dispensing toys:
Using the Wobbler, or similar food dispenser, in a crate or even a plastic dog bed, can make it easier and less messy:
Introduce these toys carefully to avoid the dog becoming spooked or frustrated by their use. This clip shows how to introduce a toy, in this case a Wobbler, that requires the dog to tip and move it so that the food falls out.
To make it easier, hide a treat under the toy to encourage the dog to tip the toy.
Fill the toy with smaller sized food so that some will spill out easily. Use drier hard foods to that move readily.
To make it more difficult, use more moist foods or add something such as balls of kitchen roll to the toy to slow the movement of food.
There are many, many food dispensing options on the market, for example: this search on amazon.co.uk, toys from zooplus, Busy Buddy range, Nina Ottosson range, Starmark range , K9 Connectables and Kong range.
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!