10 creative ways to give food to your dog

Giving food doesn’t have to always look the same. Actually, changing the way you deliver it can make the food more valuable to your dog. It’s a very useful trick if your dog can only eat a few types of food or if they have just done something amazing and you only have kibble on you.

straight from your hand

This is the simplest way of delivering treats, but simple doesn’t mean bad. Giving treats in the same place (for example in front of you or by your leg) and with the same speed creates a predictable pattern and it can help keep the arousal level down. Well-planned reward delivery can make training faster and more precise.

thrown into the air, so that your dog has to catch it

This game requires some training both for you and for your dog. If your aim isn’t that great, your dog will have their work cut out for them! This delivery method requires focus and skill from your dog but it can also get them quite excited.

Don’t play it if your dog has orthopaedic issues!

scatter feeding

Sniffing and chewing calms dogs down and it fulfils their natural need to scavenge. You need no training and you can adjust the difficulty level as much as you need:

  • vary the size of the treats (the smaller they are, the harder it is to find them)
  • work with contrast (cheese on pavement vs. kibble on the ground)
  • play with smelliness
  • try different locations (balancing on a stone, searching through tall grass, searching above nose level on low hanging tree branches)

Sky is the limit here! Just remember that is supposed to be fun, not frustrating.

swimming in the water

This is a great activity for the summer. Even dogs who are suspicious towards water might be tempted to go in. It is also quite challenging! However, be cautious:

  • Don’t put the treats too far in the water, don’t push your dog beyond their comfort level!
  • Some dogs drink a lot when they do this, pay attention that they don’t drink too much (as usual less is more!).

bury them in the sand

Some dogs love to dig. Providing a safe outlet for this hobby can save your garden and it is fun for your dog. The better their nose, the deeper you can bury the treats.

roll it on the pavement

Most dogs get a kick out of chasing things – this is another situation where providing a safe outlet for their needs can strengthen your bond and save you from trouble. Consider this technique especially if your dog likes to hunt.

  • Dry, roundish treats are the best here.
  • Make sure your dog is paying attention to your hand when you roll the treat (otherwise they might miss it).
  • Be careful! Only do this with healthy dogs.
  • Rolling the treat can increase its value for the dog. It’s useful when you know your treats are not as good as the distraction your facing.

teasing/stalking

This game can also feel quite satisfying to dogs who like to hunt. Move the treat slowly, make sure your dog is following it with their eyes. You can add a step or two and have the dog “stalk” the treat. After 2-3 moves (or more if your dog is a pro) throw the treat away, let them catch the prey 🙂

treat tree

Trees and fallen trees are perfect places for a treat search. If you place them on low hanging branches the dog has to sniff above nose level and get up on hind legs to get the treats. Or you can spread them out over a fallen tree trunk and the dog has to balance on it to find them. This game can help improve your dog’s balance, coordination and body awareness.

  • As usual make sure your dog is not in pain!

leaf search

There is nothing better (or more challenging) than throwing a handful or treats into a pile of dry leaves. This is quite hard so if your dog is a novice use larger pieces of food and help them if they need it!

shredding master

Dogs also love to shred. Make small toilet paper roll packages or simply crumple up paper with a handful of treats.  Your dog can have fun tearing it to pieces to get to the food and you just put your garbage to a good use this way! This is also a good way to occupy little piranhas (I mean puppies), just make sure they don’t swallow the paper.

Original post by Donau Dogs.

Help, my dog pulls on the leash!

Intro

In this series we have written time and time again that equipment cannot replace training and you should not use anything that causes them discomfort and pain to make dogs stop pulling (or barking, or jumping…). At the same time, many dogs are very strong and they pose danger:

    • to their owners (sprained wrists, leash burns, injuries from falls…),
    • to themselves (running blindly under cars), and
    • to other dogs (especially if they get loose).

In this post you will learn how to manage the situation while you train them to stop pulling (preferably with a competent professional).

Continue reading “Help, my dog pulls on the leash!”

Are you walking the dog or is the dog walking you?

This topic is important to me because – like so many of us – I walked Leus too much. Then I learned that she has arthritis and had to change my attitude. And then I went to a conference where I heard countless professional dog trainers talk about over-exercising and over-stimulating our dogs. During another conference that I attended there was a whole presentation dedicated to the question of our dogs’ “workload”. Here is what I learned:

Trust your dog. If your dog likes running, they will run a lot. You don’t have to plan extra activities like jogging or dog sports – just provide your dog with the right kind of environment where they can decide if they want to run like crazy or just sniff around.

dog in the bushes at dawn
I like walking Leus in the morning when the world is quiet.

Dog sports (agility, dog cross, flyball etc.) are a bit controversial, some trainers consider them unethical. They argue that dog sports satisfy our needs, not the dogs’ needs. I don’t want to make a blanket statement about all dog sports. However, be aware of the physical toll that high-speed sports can have: all these jumps and rapid turns are not necessarily good for the dogs. If you really want to do dog sports consult a veterinarian first and make sure there are no contraindications (for example German shepherds and bulldogs tend to have congenital hip problems).

Moreover, these high-energy activities also increase adrenaline production – they stress your dog. Stress in itself does not have to be bad but if your dog is already easily (over)excited, this might not be the way to go. You might end up with a very fit, very fidgety dog simply because they can’t bring their stress levels down enough to rest.

2 people walking 2 dogs in the fields
If your dog has good recall, they can enjoy off-leash privileges.

Playing ball is an example of a beloved activity that should actually be approached with caution. If you (or your dog!) insist on this activity, try re-thinking it:

  • If your dog loves chewing the ball – let them! Just make sure they don’t swallow pieces of it. Chewing also relaxes your dog so it is good if your dog does it.
  • Ask your dog for a stay and hide the ball, then let them sniff it out. It might also be a great alternative for dogs who love playing ball but should not chase after it anymore for health reasons.
  • Don’t make them fetch. Once they understand the principle they will bring the ball back to you if they want to play. I know that watching them chase and fetch is incredibly satisfying, but this is supposed to be about them, not about us.
  • If your dog loves the ball you can use it as a reward in training (for example throw it after a successful recall).

The most important thing is to give your dog choices. The dog training world is buzzing with phrases like “learner empowerment” and “initiating a training conversation”, and for a good reason: research has shown that the more dogs are allowed to make their own decisions and interact with their environment on their own terms, the more self-confident and calm they are. That does not mean that you let your dog do whatever they want all the time. But try to let them choose as much as possible. I mean honestly, does it really matter if you go left or right at that particular intersection in the park?

a park, people on benches, runners, people walking
A busy place full of joggers, people on picnics, children and other dogs can stress out your dog.
empty-ish island shore, city in the background
The less you have to control your dog, the more you can both enjoy the walk. If possible, just pick a less frequented path with fewer distractions.

The sense of smell is another thing we theoretically all know about, but in practice we often fail to acknowledge its relevance. I don’t think there is any way we can imagine what smelling things means to dogs – it has been compared to us reading the news or scrolling social media, which may or may not be close. The fact remains that dogs engage with their environment best through their sense of smell. So let them smell. Imagine if every time you started reading a post on facebook, someone interrupted you. Not very nice, is it?

Which brings me to my last point: take your time when you walk your dog. Remember, the walk is for them, not for you. If your dog doesn’t feel like running that particular morning then let them be. You can still spend that hour outside (if they want to walk at all), just try to refrain from telling them what they should do. Dogs actually get tons of mental stimulation when they sniff and at the same time it has a calming effect (it literally slows down their heartbeat), so after an hour of intense sniffing around your neighbourhood they might be more relaxed than after playing ball.

This does require a change of attitude from walking the dog to walking with the dog. But watching them be happy is, I think, inherently rewarding to all of us and it’s really worth it.