Bowl game

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 | Blog

Way back before they embarked on their life of leisure in our homes, dogs got their food the old-fashioned way – they earned it. Swift, strong and rugged, these canine ancestors spent many hours each day pursuing prey in a never-ending quest to fill their rumbling bellies.

When they teamed with early humans, our four-legged friends developed special talents to help us. Ancestors of greyhounds and whippets detected prey with their sharp eyes then it was off to the races, no mechanical rabbit necessary.

Evolving scent hounds smelled the footprints with the stamina to follow them for hours. Terriers cleared our farms of vermin.

Getting food took skill and cunning, using the brain as much as physical attributes.

Fast forward to the 21st century and now these highly evolved specialists have checked their tools at the kitchen door, as they simply show up and a meal is plopped into a bowl and shoved under their noses. Because the meal is typically consumed so quickly – wolfed down – it can easily become the canine version of fast food; something that puts it squarely in conflict with an intense hunting history.

Like modern humans, dogs lead lives of luxury today when compared to the struggle for survival in the past. The life of plenty is a good thing, but it tends to make dogs overweight and underutilized.

Dogs weren’t bored when they had to work for food. Famed animal behaviorist and animal training publisher Ian Dunbar says that by not allowing pets to pursue and earn food, we steal their life. When we steal their life, they become like a really rich person who doesn’t have to work and is unhappy just being served. “Without a doubt, regularly feeding a new puppy (or adult dog) from a bowl is the single most disastrous mistake in dog husbandry and training. Within seconds of gulping, the poor dog now faces a mental void for the rest of the day with nothing but long, lonely hours to worry and fret, or work itself into a frenzy,” says Dunbar.

So how does a dog person put some challenge back into their dog’s eating?

The answer: Replace the dog’s food bowl with a variety of food puzzles and hide them around the house.

When Diamond eats a meal of kibble out of her Leo toy, it takes about a half an hour or longer to push, paw, roll, grab-and-drop the bowling pin shaped toy to get kibble to drop out of the spout or crosscut openings.

Watching a dog work “soooo hard to eat” makes some people comment, “They seem frustrated about getting food out of that puzzle. Isn’t that cruel?”

Behaviorists call this food motivated exercise, “constructive discontent.” We can treat boredom using constructive discontent (hunger) to expend energy, and stimulate intelligent problem solving, resulting in dogs that are physically healthy, smarter, and more emotionally fulfilled.

Having a job to do, a challenge, a problem to solve that is within your abilities to do is what keeps us alive, aware and engaged in our lives and the same is true for our canine companions.

(We love songs and their lyrics, in fact, our company’s name, Working Like a Dog, was inspired by the Beatles tune, “A Hard Day’s Night.” Today’s blog title comes from “From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”)

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"I love my pink Leo. Last night I even carried it into bed. FM put some treats in it and I searched under the covers for every bite-sized piece. Delish!"
— Diamond —

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