Your dog doesn’t need a food bowl. In fact, if you truly have your dog’s best interest in mind, you won’t give him a food bowl. It is not natural for dogs to simply have their meals handed to them: our dogs’ wild ancestors spent nearly all waking hours in the pursuit of food, while the domestic dog often leads a more sedentary lifestyle with a few walks a day. Because of this, dogs often have excess energy that manifests in problematic behaviors.
One simple way to release this energy is to use food toys and puzzles. These types of toys are designed for dogs to have to work for their food, both physically and mentally: they use their minds to figure out how to get the food out, and then manipulate the toy with their nose and/or paws in order to dispense the food and eat. We often forget that mental exercise is just as important for dogs as physical exercise, and giving a food toy twice a day is a simple way to give your dog much-needed mental stimulation.
Utilizing puzzles and food toys also helps relieve your dog of boredom, which so often leads to destructive behaviors. For instance, when Sasha is bored, she steals shoes and chews on furniture for attention. If we harness this boredom and restlessness by giving her a puzzle to work on, she stays busy rather than causing trouble.
Food toys have the added benefit of slowing down your dog as he eats. Many dogs will practically inhale their meals as fast as they possibly can, which can lead to vomiting or regurgitating the food, or bloat (in extreme situations), which is life-threatening. Using a puzzle or food toy, your dog will be forced to slow down as they eat.
In Sasha’s first few months of living with us, she ate her meals out of a Busy Buddy by Petsafe. The Busy Buddy is essentially a hollow plastic ball with holes at both ends. To get her food out, Sasha would push the Busy Buddy around with her paw and nose in order to dispense the food.
Just yesterday, to give Sasha a new challenge I bought her a puzzle by Nina Ottosson. The great thing about this company is that they label their puzzles by difficulty level. Sasha’s new puzzle is an Intermediate, although I think she will be ready for the Advanced one next. She was so excited when I fed her dinner in the new puzzle, and loved figuring out how to get her food out.
This brings me to the final benefit of food toys and puzzles: when it comes down to it, dogs love them. I think you will find that your dog enjoys the challenge and will benefit from using his mind. So, enrich your dog’s life and go out and buy him a puzzle- and toss that old food bowl!