Will Work for Food

By Beth Adelman

Will Work for Food
If your dog were a wild dog, he'd spend his days hunting with his dog pack. He'd use his nose to sniff out prey, and his eyesight to single out which prey animal his pack should go after. He and the other dogs would carefully plan a strategy for their hunt, and then would work together, using their wits and their physical speed and strength, to get their meal.

Hunting is the main way wild dogs exercise their minds and bodies. But in your home, all your dog's pre-meal exercise may consist of is getting up off the couch or coming in from the yard. And as for strategy -- well, mostly he just spends his time trying to figure out how to make you feed him more often.

Canine behaviorists say our dogs may be missing out on something important by not having to work for their food. The mental and physical exercise is good for them, and there's nothing dogs enjoy more than a task or a treasure hunt that ends in a meal.

How can you get your dog to work for a meal? Interactive toys are one easy way. There are balls and cubes and rubber blobs sold at most pet supply stores that you can stuff with food. The dog must then manipulate the toy to get the food out. Choose a toy where the food comes out one bit at a time, so your dog really has to work to get his supper.

You can also simply feed dry dog food one kibble bit at a time. Toss the kibbles one by one across the floor, so your dog has to chase each bite. Mix this up with tricks and commands, such as sit, stay, and roll over, so your dog is working for his meal and practicing his training at the same time.

Set up a treasure hunt, where your dog must search for little food caches you've hidden around the house. Start by placing him in a room and shut the door. Then divide up his meal into several small portions and hide them where they're not too easy -- but not too hard -- to find. Leave a trail of kibble bits from one cache to the next, let your dog out, and tell him, "find it!" He may need help at first, so point out the food trail and encourage him to follow it (eating as he goes). Use lots of praise and make it a game. Eventually you can place the food hints farther and farther apart, and then stop giving hints altogether, so your dog will have to use his nose to find his supper. Just like his wild cousins!

Beth Adelman is a renowned journalist on animal topics. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Cats magazine.

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