Feeding time is an exciting and important part of your dog’s daily routine but just because it’s routine doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.
The key is enrichment; protocols that you can put in place, simply, to provide your dog more appropriate outlets for natural, doggie behaviour.
Why enrichment for pet dogs?
The “wild”, that idyllic place that’s considered the model we should mimic even though in actuality it is a dangerous, dog-eat-dog place, has nonetheless caused the evolution of a wide range of feeding behaviours that take up plenty of an animal’s energy and keep them busy.
Animals will naturally work for their food, with or without your help (or knowledge!):
Dogs also appear to experience that ‘eureka’ feeling when working on challenges – working on a puzzle is rewarding to dogs, even if they don’t solve the puzzle successfully (i.e. get the tangible reward such as a food treat).
Dogs are natural-born-puzzle-addicts!
Ian & Irene work on puzzles for the first time, in puppy class; they work harder relative to the value of the food reward – they are in it just for the fun:
When animals don’t get the opportunity to engage in enrichment and are lacking outlets of natural behaviour, they can develop all sorts of difficulties.
At the very least, those behaviours that dogs are compelled to carry out will become a problem for us – dogs need to chew, dogs need to chase, dogs need to sniff and track.
And you might not like the outlets they choose for those behaviours.
All the puppies learn to settle themselves in a busy class with the help of a food puzzle and lapping & chewing, which helps dogs to chill:
Think of all the things your pup can’t do if he is chilling out, working on a food toy?!
Dogs that are unemployed, become self-employed…
With all that free time on his paws, your dog may also engage in other behaviours that become a problem for you such as barking, digging, escaping, jumping up, being obnoxious.
It is not easy to live with a self-employed dog because the jobs they choose for themselves are usually not particularly preferred by humans…
First step, ditch the food bowls.
Why do we HATE food bowls?
food bowls do very little to encourage interaction between dog and owner
food bowls do little to teach the dog that good things come through their owner
feeding from a food bowl wastes hundreds of reward opportunities by presenting them for free all in one go
your dog would probably prefer to work for his food than get it for free
modern pet feeding practices encourage a sedentary way of life for our pets
there is a limited range of behaviours demonstrated so dogs will need to display them in other ways (which may cause problems for people)
chasing, chewing, tracking and using their brains are important for dogs and modern feeding practices often don’t encourage any or much of that
Food bowls are human convenience devices – toss food in bowl, leave on floor, dog eats….dog is fed and my job is done.
But feeding your pet can be soooo much more…
Dogs come with predatory behaviour, built-in
Dave Mech, the wolf guru, outlines canid predatory behaviour in a sequence of behaviours called, not-surprisingly, a predatory sequence. These are behaviours that are innate in all dogs and to greater or lesser extents in different types of dogs and individuals.
The dog predatory sequence might look something like this:
These are the behaviours that your predatory pet needs to do – provide acceptable outlets otherwise he will find his own, and you might not like that.
Watching dogs play with pals gives you an insight into just how relevant these behaviours are for even modern, pet dogs. A good proportion of normal play behaviour will be feeding related with games of stalking, chasing, take downs, neck biting, and of course enjoying being chased too!
You will see your dog practicing these behaviours in other non-real-life scenarios too – give your dog a tissue or soft toy and watch him chew and dissect it, throw a tennis ball or play tug and flip the switch, turning on those in-built behaviours.
But feeding behaviour isn’t just about feeding…
Dogs engage in all sorts of feeding related behaviour, and many activities revolve around feeding.
Dogs enjoy actively scavenging for food and, let’s face it, non-food items – they will devote plenty of time to this sort of activity and often learn to do it when their owners are not watching…!
Although dogs prefer their own space when eating (not big on sharing!) they have evolved plenty of behaviour for negotiating social contact around food.
For the most part, this can cause trouble for us living with modern dogs, but it can be easily managed, with the right guidance.
Competitive interactions, that may lead to resource guarding and even social facilitation have been shaped over millions of years and generations, and despite a few hundred years of pretty intense selective breeding modern dogs still show these behaviours strongly today.
Digging/burying and hoarding behaviour may be employed by many dogs, often much to their owner’s disgust (especially the green-fingered owners). Some dogs appear really bothered when they get something quite special, carrying it from place to place, vocalising, difficulty settling…
This may be frustration related at not having a safe place to work on their treat or indeed at not being able to stash it away for a rainy day.
Grass and plant eating can cause concern for many owners. But for the most part where this behaviour isn’t excessive or too intense, it’s probably nothing to worry about and a normal part of canine behaviour.
However, where dogs do this a lot, or try to, and/or where there has been any changes to this behaviour have a chat with your vet as soon as possible.
Intense eating of grass, plants or other non-food items (behaviour called pica) may be linked with gastrointestinal upset and stress.
And you thought feeding was just about putting- food-in-a-bowl…
In Part 2 we will be looking at things to get started enriching your dog’s life!
This WWW is covering some of the best pieces doing the rounds last month; a bit of a catch up!
Not only are dogs great companions, but they are very much ‘in‘ in scientific research right now. This brings lots of benefits in our understanding of canine health and behaviour, but also in terms of human health too.
Research into the DNA markers related to certain cancers in Golden Retrievers and canine compulsive disorders (like OCD in humans) has great implications in their treatment in humans too. This means that we will generate lots of important information that can help dogs and people – win-win!
If you want to improve your training, one key is to develop your shaping skills. You already know how to shape behaviour in yourself and others – at its simplest, it’s just breaking up a big task into smaller components.
When you were learning to drive you first learnt the controls and pedals, then how to get started, how to stop, how to turn, how to combine these skills and so on until you became a fully-fledged motorist! You (hopefully) weren’t brought out to a dangerous, fast motorway and expected to cope 🙂
Any time you want to teach your dog (or learner of any species) a behaviour, start working with them at home where it’s easy to concentrate and gradually increase the challenge as they improve – that’s shaping!
We can use freeshaping to teach any animal a behaviour that is complex and doesn’t quite occur naturally – check out this fantastic in-depth guide to all things shaping!
Fear can strike any dog, but it can be tough to help a fearful or shy dog. Check out these great tips.
No matter if your dog is confident or shy, it’s important that you act as a good advocate for your pet. This means not putting him or her in any situation that may cause them to practice unwanted, problem or even dangerous behaviour – the buck stops with the human end of the leash!
Sometimes, this might even mean offending someone or causing discomfort: No, you will not be meeting my dog!
Of course, being a good advocate for your dog means keeping them safe and being a responsible pet owner – unless you have trained a reliable recall it’s best to have your dog on leash; here’s why!
One such situation in which our dogs will often benefit from a little extra support is during vet visits. Luckily a whole movement has really begun to pick up steam in fear-free veterinary care.
Lots of coverage of Dr Marty Becker + team’s campaign so let’s help promote this movement all over – vet visits don’t have to be scary!!
Cancer is a scary word and disease for both dogs and humans and of course we want to do anything we can to ensure that our pets don’t suffer and that we choose the best care and treatments for them. It’s extra important that we consult evidence-based remedies, because in our desperation it’s easy to reach for less effective options.
This wonderful piece looks at the relationship between nutrition and cancer and evidence based interventions that may be available.
And while we’re talking about health, would you know what to do in an emergency? Check out this pet CPR infographic
If you really want to learn what to do, why not become a Canine First Responder – we will have a new course running soon, just send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add you to the list!
And considering it’s probably pretty good for you (and your dog), go ahead, love your dog: Gimme Some Lovin’
We know that dogs are pretty sensitive to their olfactory world, but what about their visual perception – How do dogs see the world?
And just how do dogs use that visual information – one way is for them to attempt to understand the perceptible abilities of others. Some work shows that dogs appear to understand when a human’s senses may be limited, giving the dog the opportunity to get away with behaviour they may not if their human is watching them – Do you know what I can see?
Remember, dogs do what works – but this doesn’t mean that they are being sly, conniving or spiteful!
Showing further evidence for dogs’ ingrained relationship with humans, recent work adds further to the growing evidence that dogs apparently can recognise human emotions via more complex processes.
Always be tentative about interpretations that appear to show that dogs have greater and greater cognitive abilities. Although important, it’s just as important to view the field as a whole and consider a range of findings.
Dogs are wonderful, whether we find them to have greater cognitive abilities or not 😉
Enrichment is one of our favourite topics! Contrafreeloading is a term that describes the way in which many animals appear to prefer to work for access to food, rather than just have the same food for free.
Research has shown that contrafreeloading, even though it doesn’t seem to, may actually be adaptive and beneficial for animals because developing problem solving skills is helpful when sourcing food in an ever-changing environment.
On top of that, dogs have also been shown to not only experience reinforcement when earning the goal of their puzzling (the food or reward) but also apparent pleasure in doing the puzzle and solving it successfully!
This is why we HATE food bowls – dogs NEED puzzles!
Check out this amazing puzzle and super-smart dog working out how to get his ball 🙂