Raw Feeding & Enrichment – a guest blog from Amanda at Cognitive Canine Co
When our dogs are bored they can start to make their own entertainment, doing all sorts of things we’d rather they didn’t, from constant barking and hyperactivity to destructive behaviour like chewing or digging!
Adding some enrichment and mental stimulation to your dogs day can have so many benefits – alongside preventing boredom and the associated problems, enrichment activities are naturally calming and stress relieving for our dogs, and enrichment has even been shown to decrease perception of pain. This means as well as keeping your dog occupied, it’s great for nervous dogs, reactive dogs, dogs that have a long term health condition or limited mobility, or those that are recovering or require a period of crate rest or restricted exercise for any reason. Providing mental stimulation is just as tiring for your dog as physical exercise, creating a happy, relaxed and chilled out dog!
One of the easiest ways to add some enrichment to your dogs day is to get creative with how you feed them. While feeding from a bowl will keep your dog occupied for 2 minutes, we can use that same food to create some fun activities that will give their brain a workout and keep them entertained for longer. Using their food for activities is great for their waistline too as there’s no need to give excessive treats – we’re just using their dinner!
If you’re feeding your dog a raw diet like Cotswold RAW, it can seem more challenging to create enrichment activities than with a dry food, so we’ve put together some of our top tips for enrichment activities that are really easy to do with raw food.
The most important thing to remember with all these activities is that it’s meant to make your dog’s life more interesting, not more difficult, so always start off easy and gradually build up the level of difficulty over time. It’s also important to make sure the activities are safe for your dog – if your dog is likely to eat any of the items suggested, or they have a health condition and you’re concerned about their ability to try the activities then seek advice from your vet or other healthcare professional first.
One of the simplest, yet most effective enrichment activities is scatter feeding – it’s as easy as scattering your dogs food on the floor and letting them use their sense of smell to find it all. If you’re using raw food you probably don’t want to be scattering it all over the house, so there are a few things we can do!
Scatter feeding can be a great activity to try in the garden or in some long grass (try rolling some of their food into small ‘meatballs’ to make it easier to scatter).
If you want to scatter raw food inside, then using the small silicone or paper cupcake cases is a great way to do it. Put some food inside each and scatter these around the house (just make sure your dog isn’t likely to eat the cupcake case too! If your dog is likely to eat the cases, then some small plastic tubs might be more suitable). You can also try spreading these around while your dog is out of the room to create a really fun ‘Find It’ game.
Cardboard boxes make a really fun enrichment activity, and as they’re normally on their way to the recycling bin anyway we don’t need to worry about the hygiene aspect of cleaning them afterwards. Start with an empty cardboard box that’s a comfortable height for your dog to reach inside, and scatter some of their food in the bottom so they can reach in to get it. If they’re happy doing this you can start to make it more interesting by adding some crumpled up paper or toilet roll tubes into the box for them to rummage through to find the food. This is a great confidence building activity too as we’re encouraging the dog to explore things that might move or make a noise when they touch them.
Another great cardboard box game is to get boxes of various sizes, such as shoe boxes, cereal boxes etc. Put some food inside each box, then loosely put the boxes inside each other so your dog needs to figure out how to solve the puzzle. You can start off easy, and gradually add in more boxes if your dog is enjoying it.
Packaging with recesses such as egg cartons make great (and free!) slow feeders. Try using these instead of a bowl by spreading your dogs dinner in each compartment – they’ll have so much more fun!
Apples make a great alternative to food dispensing toys like Kongs – they’re also perfectly safe for your dog to eat so great for strong chewers. Simply core an apple making quite a big hole through the middle, then stuff the hole with your dogs dinner and give it to them to enjoy! If your dog is enjoying it or getting through them really quickly, you can try freezing the apple once you’ve stuffed it for a more challenging and longer lasting treat.
DIY Food Puzzles
There are lots of great puzzle toys on the market available in varying levels of difficulty that are great to use with raw food as they tend to be plastic so can easily be washed. If you want to create your own puzzle, a muffin tin tray makes a fun DIY puzzle. Put some of your dog’s food in each of the compartments, then cover them up with something like tennis balls that are safe for your dog to pick up and move to uncover the food.
When you’re training your dog, you can really quickly start to get through a lot of treats! While it’s slightly more tricky to train your dog using raw food, there are ways around it so you don’t need to have raw food all over your hands! You can buy empty squeeze tubes that are great for filling with raw food, and you can squeeze to dispense a treat sized portion while you’re training (similar to the kind of thing you get Primula Cheese in – just Google ‘squeeze tube for dog training’ and you’ll find lots of different sizes etc available to order) . Piping bags that you can buy for icing are also really handy to use in this way too!
Food Dispensing Toys
There are a lot of food dispensing toys on the market such as Kongs and Lickimats that are perfect for raw food. These make mealtimes into a longer lasting activity that’s a great mental work out for your dog. If you’re new to food dispensing toys then it’s best to start off making it simple, with the food loosely packed so it’s really easy for your dog to get. If they’re happy with this you can make it more challenging by packing the food more tightly or freezing it for a longer lasting treat.
There are lots of healthy treats on the market such as the Cotswold RAW dried treats that will really compliment your dogs raw diet and are perfect for activities and training where raw food just isn’t suitable. These can be perfect for training, scatter feeding, or food dispensing toys more suited to dry food.
Chewing is a naturally calming activity for dogs, as well as being beneficial in maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Chews are a great way to help your dog wind down after an exciting walk or play session, or to encourage them to settle while you’re busy. Uncooked bones are a brilliant chew for raw fed dogs – just make sure that they are an appropriate size for your dog and that they’re supervised while eating them. There are also lots of natural long lasting chews that are great for keeping your dog occupied such as cows ear, rabbits ears and beef trachea.
There really are some huge benefits to adding some enrichment to any dog’s life. By trying just a few of the activities we’ve mentioned you’ll soon start to see some positive changes creating a happier, calmer and more settled dog!
Amanda owner of the Cognitive Canine Co