Day 32 Play: Fun with Food

Welcome to Day 32 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!

Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.

Don’t forget to review all the information leading up to #100daysofenrichment and more here on playing safe. Know your dog!


Fun with Food!

At a glance:

  • play is the ultimate in relationship boosting, stress busting fun
  • games that start with making food fun and then using that to generate the fun in the interaction and engagement
  • social, cognitive and food based enrichment
  • play and engagement form the foundation of relationships and successful training
  • lots of these exercises can get pretty exciting, so it might be better that smaller children not take part but help in preparing training rewards.
    Children can be great dog trainers but require lots of guidance and support.
    Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
  • we are going to be strict with the duration of sessions for these challenges; each session should be no longer than one minute – set your alarm and time it!
    Have as many sessions as you can today.

What do you need?

  • food rewards – you can use your dog’s regular food, a training mix, commercial treats, home prepared treats such as cut up meats, cheese, vegetables or homemade treats such as liver or tuna cake

We will talk about human-dog play throughout this program, and this is our foundation starting point.


Enrichment Goals:

  • to have fun with food
  • to make the fun about the engagement and interaction, and not just the food
  • to build engagement between dog and human
  • to build that bond between dog and human
  • to have a fun and rewarding experience in social situations, between dogs and humans

We are not working on training exercises today but I do want to make sure that we understand that all behaviour is reinforced or punished. Reinforcers increase behaviour, punisher decrease it.
So, if behaviour is happening something is reinforcing it, and if it’s not happening, something is punishing it.

Play is no different. Just like cueing behaviour and your dog responding is a dance of communication, play is too. Perhaps, even more so.

You do behaviour, your dog responds, you respond, your dog responds, you respond and so on and on.
This allows for a wonderfully complex level of communication between two species, forging a most health relationship between our two species.
This is a level of social and cognitive enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.

What goals can you add to this list for your pets?


How can we achieve these goals?

  • keep it really simple today – get a good understanding of inter-species play, and how we humans often get it pretty wrong
  • take your time and work in many short sessions
  • try for 30-60 seconds at a time, 5-10 rewards each session, and then take a break
  • it’s a good idea to film yourself and review the footage (you don’t need to share)
  • portion out your dog’s daily food and allot some for these exercises – these games are excellent for boosting the value of food so your dog wants to work for every day food, because we’ve made it so much fun


  • make a training mix by adding in something yummier and leaving it all to ‘cook’ together in the fridge; the smells will mingle, harder foods will soften a little, and everything will become more valuable


  • remember to adjust your pet’s diet accordingly to accommodate the extra calories from treats added, where relevant
  • split your food rewards into little bowls with just the right number of rewards in each bowl for each session, so that you are ready to go


If you are feeding wet or fresh foods, cut up small or mash to a paste and present on a wooden spoon or spatula. Alternatively you can freeze in small ice cube trays or a pyramid baking tray so that you can use small portions and individual treats.


What adjustments will you make for your pets?

Applications of Fun with Food games:

Play is a tricky thing that we think we would recognise if we see it, but might not be able to adequately define it. And that’s the case in the literature too.

We think that animals play, but we’re not really sure why. The play research suggests we start by defining play so here’s a simple run down…

  • play for play’s sake, because you choose to play
  • play is fun, and that’s enough
  • play feels good and we want to engage in play (you don’t have to play)
  • play can sometimes look serious, but there are important differences; the serious parts happen out of order or in the absence of normal triggers relative to the serious stuff
  • play is creative, spontaneous and improvised
  • play happens when we feel safe – time should fly, you should feel less self-conscious

And although there might be some agreement on how we might define play, when it comes to deciphering the functions of play, there are lots of differences.

Play probably helps animals prepare for swings in emotion, gets them ready and honed for life and let’s not forget, play is fun! Having fun is a viable function of behaviour.


Dogs and humans play differently and dog-dog play differs from dog-human play (and differs from human-human play). But, like in so many areas, dogs and humans share tons of the basic rules of social interactions.

As is so often typical of us humans, we often approach play in the way we think the dog should play or in the way we think the dog should enjoy playing. And this so often turns the dog off play, changes the nature of games and ultimately causes break downs in communication and relationship.

We even have research that looks at how people play with their dogs and how our play behaviours overwhelm our play partner, yet we continue to push, presumably believing that this is fun and this is how it should be done.

I spend a lot of time working on improving relationships between pets and their people; that’s what this entire project is about too. I also spend a lot of that time helping people play with their dogs (certainly not the worst job in the world!).
I incorporate play in almost every training and behaviour program I design. My most common problem is that people don’t appear to know how to play with their dogs and sometimes don’t value play’s importance, whether that be toy based games, or just silly, playing interactions.
Our trainers will tell you that that is something that causes me great stress and concern – I take play very seriously, playfully serious!

I believe that play is life, and play is a way of dealing with life. Improving your play with your dog does so much more than just fun with food.

Just because you (think you) utilise reward based training, R+, “force-free” or whatever “positive” label, doesn’t mean it’s a happy, playful learning experience. Teaching playful behaviour isn’t the same as playing.

The beauty of establishing these foundations is that the more you play together, the more you will each shape one another’s behaviour. Your behaviour will evolve, adapt and adjust to your player.

The ultimate goal in play is to get really nice play-interactions, without treats or toys. The two players, dog and human, are participating for the pure joy.


Play starts with an invitation and consent, the players make eye contact and ask if they want to keep the game going; play is cooperative so we ask and answer. Play involves mirroring of behaviour and balanced participation.

Today, we start on the road to wonderful, consent-full, choice-led, partnership based play between dog and human. What could be better than that?

Enrichment Options

Option 1: Play with your food

Everything can be fun and playful, even boring food. Start by introducing these games into your repertoire – food and toy play are gateways to wonderful, playful and engaging interactions.

I love these games for dogs who are OTT about food and for those who are little less enthusiastic about food.

Play with the most boring food that your dog will work for – you can always increase value, if needed.

Play with your Food Games:

  • Which Hand? – great just for fun and to keep your dog occupied if you are waiting around
  • Catch! and Catch on the Move – fun for talented catchers to keep them focused and responsive to you, even around distractions
  • Goal Keeping and Kibble Chasing – fantastic rainy day game and to keep your dog occupied and focused
  • Go Geddit! – another great rainy day game
  • Find It! games – hide under a blanket (Day 29) and get them snuffling, put it on cue so you can use it any place, any time (Day 20) – wonderful to divert their attention, help them calm and keep them busy


Deck and I play with kibble and these games, that we have been playing together forever, are the reason Decker will joyfully and ENTHUSIASTICALLY work/play for boring, everyday cardboard kibble in any situation.


Option 2 Fun with Food

These games are played in levels; when you get true two-sided, playful engagement at one level and you are ready for the next.

These are the starter levels that will lay a wonderful foundation in play, beyond the #100days. Practice today, tomorrow and beyond and slowly, incrementally build that all important and often elusive engagement. (More engagement and play to come over this project!)

Level 1

Take a look at the Play with your Food games.

  • 5 pieces of kibble (or 5 food rewards), set the timer for 30 seconds (or there abouts)
  • a different Play with your Food game for each piece
  • plan your moves ahead of starting with the dog
  • match your dog’s enthusiasm – if they are quiet, you are quiet, if they are up there, you are up there
    It’s a common mistake that pet owners (and trainers) will try to up the ante on enthusiasm to draw the dog’s excitement out and subsequently overwhelming the dog. For play, meet your dog where they’re at. 


Take a break after each session but do try to have as many sessions as you can.

Here’s me playing with a novice dog, inexperienced in playing with humans and a little cautious about the world (we had also just met). Her name is Sasha and she had a pretty rotten start but is now in a wonderful, loving home and is blossoming.


Such a nice ice-breaker to play with an unfamiliar dog. Short and sweet is the key to play with dogs, especially at the beginning.

Level 2

This time we are going to add a little fun between each kibble/game.

  • 5 kibbles or food rewards
  • a different move each time
  • some fun in between that doesn’t involve the food
  • be careful – keep your dog’s interest and don’t over play…meet your dog where they’re at


It doesn’t have to be quite so nutty as with crazy-boy and I. Deck and I are experienced players and have been playing these games since we first met (over six years ago).

If your dog is in to a little moving around, add that, but your play in-between can be more static and might even just involve a couple of seconds of baby-talk or goofy faces. That’s play too!

Level 3

Now, we’re really going to challenge your ability to keep your dog engaged with you and the game.

Please don’t push this. Play should be fun, not goal oriented and rule-led. Work on Levels 1 & 2 for as long as necessary – there are no prizes for getting to Level 3. It won’t be enjoyable for your dog should you push to this before you are both ready.

  • 5-10 kibbles or food rewards from you
  • a bowl of the same food rewards on the floor and accessibly
  • keep the dog with you
  • the game, with the food, is more rewarding and fun than the food for free


This isn’t a training exercise so no cues, such as leave-it or recalls. If your dog goes for the free food, so be it. Go back and work on Level 2 some more.

In this session, you can see by placing the food I toss too close to the bowl on the floor, we have some close calls. I use our engagement skills and excitement to keep him with me – I am more fun and my food is more fun than the free food (the same food).


Have fun…with food!

Play Dos and Don’ts


  • play in really short sessions
  • get their attention first
  • invite play
  • get consent
  • and keep asking if they would like to continue…
  • practice – play is like any other behaviour


  • bring too much intensity
  • push the toy at the dog
  • make it too exciting when the dog is just starting to show interest
  • expect too much
  • rely on food too much
  • get stuck
  • play too long

Your challenge

Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!

Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂

We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!

My favourite playa, whose capacity for joy, fun and play apparently knows no bounds and has me in amazement and awe (and sometimes bewilderment) every day.