Left in the wild canids (dogs) spend a large portion of their time in the act of finding and securing food; this is their purpose. Over the last 100 000 years, through domestication we have selectively bred dogs for specific purposes for which they have a natural predisposition, such as herding, resource and guarding duties. In their more recent history our dog’s purpose have been moving more and more away from the jobs that they have a genetic predisposition for, to becoming pet dogs resulting in a deprivation of their natural predatory sequence, I.e.: tracking, stalking, chasing, grabbing, holding, chewing & dissecting.
Now imagine the impact this change from predator, scavenger, worker to that of a largely sedentary pet dog have on our beloved canine family member. Largely our pet dogs have a very “good” life with shelter, food & water, and in a large proportion of cases enjoying home comforts and lots of cuddles and love. This lifestyle imposed on them bears the question: apart from their daily walk, if indeed they get a walk, feeding time, over in a flash if fed out of a bowl, what is their purpose for the rest of the day. Where do they channel their energy, their amazing cognitive abilities cognitive abilities? Sadly, in a vast number of cases there no outlets available for a natural outlet with resulting in them practicing and displaying that what comes naturally, behaviours that are largely unwanted. More often than not these behaviours mirror that of the predatory sequence mentioned above, seen by their human family as unwanted.
In this article we will focus on food, specifically food enrichment. Food has an amazing impact on the emotional state of animals, just think of the impact it has on the human race, our dogs are no different. Depravation of stimulation during the feeding process can negatively impact the behaviour and psychological health of dogs. Think about the excitement level surrounding your dog’s dinner time and how than equate to the level of excitement compared to the speed with which this great situation is over with.
So, what can be put in place to address all these perceived negatives around the feeding of our loved canine family members. Let us focus on the concept of “contrafeeding”, the instinctive drive of many animals to gravitate toward situations where they work for food as opposed to eating the often identical yet freely available food in a dish. In order to enhance the feeding experience try and incorporate as many of the predatory sequence behaviours as possible. Avoiding leaving food bowls down all day, instead feed twice a day – feeding twice a day will make the feeding experience more novel. Combine food with training, using a portion of the dogs daily ration of food for training opportunities. Use a portion of the daily ration as a reward for “good behaviour” during your daily walk, combining the two most exciting events in your dog’s day.
So what exactly is enrichment? Enrichment refers to protocols put in place that encourages an animal to engage with their environment and demonstrate natural behaviour, food behaviour specifically focusing on the manipulation of the environment with the goal of enhancing behavioural, emotional and psychological health. The goal of enrichment is to encourage, through environmental stimuli an increase the exhibition of natural behaviour. Establishing a successful enrichment protocol will inevitably help your dog to cope and contribute toward a decrease in unwanted behaviour.
Simple food enrichment ideas: Scattering of food, none work games, puzzle toys, food dispensing toys such as Kong wobbles or green feeders.