It’s pretty standard, although often ignored, advice to feed your dog from puzzle-type toys. Ian Dunbar is a big fan, and Silas’s behaviorist insisted on it. We need to use the parts of their brains that were built for foraging and for living in complex and changing environments. Personally, I’ve noticed that Silas does seem calmer on days when he’s done his Nina Ottoson Tornado Toy
or even just had a plain old Kong.
There are a lot of really great puzzle toys out there to this end. Unfortunately, many of them just don’t work if you can’t use kibble. I’m not sure that Silas’s Buster Cube (not to single them out; it’s a good toy) would have even held his old kibble, which was in pretty big pieces. His treats, which are all either big chunks or dry and powdery are out of the question, let alone his wet raw food.
I’m always on the lookout for a good solution. Here are some of the things I’ve come up with. Please feel free to recommend more!
1) Hide your dog’s food. If your dog is eating something that really just has to stay in a dish, hide the dish. Silas especially loves this one–“Where’s you’re [whatever]?” is one of his favorite phrases. Bonus points: this takes almost zero effort, which is why so far we’re mostly using it at breakfast.
2) Use a dehydrated food. I can get away with some of Silas’s puzzle toys if I crumble up freeze dried food. His big Kong Wobbler works this way, although it helps if I have something a little heavier to mix with it. The Wobbler has a quite large treat opening and is easy to take apart and wash. (I love Primal’s freeze dried food, because each cube is equivalent to one ounce. That makes it easy to substitute for a meal now and then, and Silas loves it.) You can also dehydrate plain meat or organs to use in a similar way; just keep track of the before/after weight so that you don’t overfeed. A pound of turkey hearts, for instance, dehydrates down to about four ounces.
3) Look for toys that don’t require your dog to knock treats out. The ones designed to be batted around are often harder to wash and usually rely on a tiny dispenser. His Tornado toy, in the video, is a series of little trays. They’ll hold Honest Kitchen food (which rehydrates to be like a thin canned food), anything ground or in reasonably small chunks, and even chunky treats that are too hard to break up. A lot of Nina Ottosson’s other toys are built on the same shape of compartment, so they should also work. Although, my husband washes all the dishes, and he was not pleased by this workaround. Make sure your toy isn’t too hard to wash before you fill it with raw meat.
4) Accept your limitations, and go for time rather than difficulty. Ground food or veggie mix packed into a Kong and frozen isn’t much of a brain teaser, but it does take your dog time and energy to eat. We’re also loving the Bionic’s take on the simple stuffable.
5) Do a different kind of puzzle. There are lots of hide-a-toy options on the market now. I’m especially fond of ones that aren’t stuffed, although toys like Hide-A-Squirrel are classics.
This Kyjen Cagey Cube has been a big hit. Only the one hole is big enough for the tennis ball. The material is along the same lines as the JW Pets Holey Roller ball:
which we’re about to break out for a similar purpose. These stretchy rubber shapes can be used to hide treats of any size (and now I’m having a vision of putting a turkey neck in one, LOL), but Silas is also quite happy to figure out how to remove a smaller toy from inside.
6) Create your own puzzles. One of our favorites is to rummage the “good stuff” out of the recycling bin. Hide treats, toys, or even your dog’s dinner among your boxes and clean plastic containers, then send the dog to “go find” them.
Does your dog like puzzles? What are your favorites?