Keeping Your Dog Happy and Healthy year round or “Why the Bowl is Boring!”

Winter can be a tough time for dogs.  Just as we spend more time indoors during the cold winter months, so do our dogs. Many dogs receive less exercise and often get into mischief due to reduced outlets for pent-up energy.

How can we keep our dogs happy and out of mischief? It’s quite simple. Interactive toys such as treat balls, puzzles, and Kongs can open up a whole new world for you and your dog. Many “destructive” behaviors we see in dogs are the result of boredom and a lack of mental stimulation. Dogs are scavengers and love to seek out food and hunt. Rather than hunting, their dinner consists of 2 minutes of quick eating out of a bowl. Since mealtime doesn’t provide an outlet for their instinctual behaviors, they find other negative ways to drain that energy.

So how can you and your dog have fun during winter (or any time of the year)? Feed one meal a day in a puzzle feeder and in one frozen Kong a day. Stuff a Kong with canned food, peanut butter, and treats and pop in the freezer. Dogs are usually more active in the morning and evening (their ancestor’s hunting time). This is a great time for the Kong! Puzzle feeders and Kongs are available for purchase online – be prepared Amazon has over a thousand. You can also make your own toys with something as simple as a water bottle.  Simple games like hiding treats around the house for your dog to hunt will also keep your dog’s mind busy and satisfy his natural instincts!  When dogs seek and hunt, they get a hit of dopamine, a feel-good hormone too!  Licking in a licking tray or Kong is also a calming, soothing behavior. Training with a portion of his food is another great way to drain energy and use his mind.

It can take a few days or even weeks for your dog to use these tools but don’t give up. Studies show dogs that work to earn a reward are happier than those that are just given a reward (McGowan et al 2014). Studies also show most species prefer to work for their food. Contrafreeloading is a behavior in most species showing a preference to work for their food.  The term Contrafreeloading was coined by animal psychologist Glen Jensen in a study where gerbils were given a choice to choose between food in a bowl or other means and choose to work for their food (Jensen et al 1963). Similar studies have confirmed this behavior in species from gerbils to chimpanzees and we know dogs love it, too!

Dinner time will take on a whole new meaning for you and your dog. Give it a try, and you will have a happier dog with fewer behavioral problems. Want more tips on improving your dog’s life? Contact Carol for a private consultation for behavior challenges, training or even enrichment!


McGowan RT et al. Positive affect and learning: exploring the “Eureka Effect” in dogs. Anim Cogn. 2014 May;17(3):577-87. doi: 10.1007/s10071-013-0688

 JJensen, G. D. Preference for bar pressing over “freeloading” as a function of number of rewarded presses.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1963,65, 451–454.


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