There are numerous ways to add dog enrichment activities into your daily routine, even when you don’t have a lot of free time available. One solution is to simply take advantage of your dog’s feeding schedule.
Feeding the dog is a once or twice a day routine (more often for young puppies). Why not use that time effectively? Rather than just dropping food in a bowl and walking away, meals can do double duty as an enrichment activity. Feeding time can be a learning event if you teach a trick or practice obedience behaviors using the meal as a reward. Or you could require Fido to engage problem solving skills by using puzzles or toys such as the Toppl to enjoy their meal.
I realize this might sound stressful for you and I. Humans engage in lots of activities throughout the day, so we prefer to rest and eat our meals with minimal effort. Dogs don’t have that busy lifestyle though. (At least most dogs now-a-days do not and their genetic makeup isn’t well suited to a sedentary lifestyle.) It is important to remember that dogs descended from wolves; despite the fact that they no longer need to work as an apex predator in order to survive, they still retain many of the innate behaviors. Dogs gain fulfillment having the opportunity to sniff, search, and hunt. They enjoy being able to savor the experience of consuming their food (think of a wolf gnawing on a fresh carcass) rather than just gulping down a quick bowl of kibble. The activity of tearing, gnawing, and chewing brings fulfillment to a canine.
Most modern dogs now wait all day at home for us to finish the workday. They have very little to do that brings them a sense of purpose or enrichment. They suffer from boredom, and sometimes anxiety. The lack of physical and mental activity can manifest into behavior problems. This can all be overcome by proper exercise and focusing on “micro-training” moments.
Rather than feeling the need to carve out 20-30 minutes, two or three times a day, enrichment can be done in small segments…and one of them is feeding time.
What can you do to make meal time more enjoyable for your dog? Practice obedience behaviors, simple tricks, or teach a new skill while doling out portions of the food as the rewards. If you don’t have time for that, put the food in something other than a bowl so the process of eating takes longer and requires more effort to eat. There are lots of choices for puzzles, food mats, and hollowed out rubber toys that work well for this.
If you are a fresh food feeder, I believe you already have an advantage. Not only is there a long list of health benefits, but also the texture of eating a variety of foods provides your pup a more interesting experience. Gnawing on a bone or consuming a piece of liver is likely as primal as it gets for a dog!
I mainly feed my dogs Volhard Dog Nutrition, which is a porridge consistency when combined with water. They get their meals in a variety of ways including spread on a Mine Pet Platter, portioned in a muffin tin, or stuffed into a Kong toy. Occasionally, I will bake it into a bar form to use as training treats.
It is easy enough to make mealtime a dog’s enrichment activity. It only takes a bit of creativity, and the commitment to want to do what is best for your best friend.