How can I get my dog to use a food puzzle?

Positive reinforcement dog trainerShelby Semel, uses a food puzzle. One morning, she left both a good puzzle and a full bowl for her dog. When she got home, the food puzzle was empty, but the bowl was still full.

Food puzzles are simply objects, such as Kong toys, that have openings in which to place the food. The dog has to work at it for about 30 minutes, providing, some say, an exciting mealtime for the dog.

Dogs just love them. For one, it brings them back to their roots when the dog’s ancestors had to hunt in the wild. For another, dogs are problem-solvers and they’ll keep working and working on something until they figure it out.

Most likely, your dog will take to the food puzzle fairly quickly, but there may be a little learning curve in the beginning. Dr. Rolan Tripp, DVM, is founder of www.animalbehavior .net, and is a big proponent of the food puzzle. On his website he says: “We can treat boredom using constructive discontent (hunger) to expend energy, and stimulate intelligent problem solving, resulting in pets that are physically healthy, smarter, and more emotionally fulfilled.”

Here’s how you can get her started:

1. First entice her with some tempting treats. You want something soft and chewy, but make sure it has a strong, appealing odor. You can certainly find a wide assortment at pet food stores, but you may be one of the lucky ones whose dog loves fruit (cantaloupe and bananas are big favorites) or even vegetable bits. Don’t overdo it, though. Keep in mind the obesity problem, as well as possible digestive upsets from changing food.

2. The second step is to find a puzzle that lets your dog succeed—they do come in various degrees of difficulty and some dogs do catch on faster than others, so you don’t want her to get discouraged or frustrated with something that’s too difficult. Sometimes it helps if you leave the treat cover off to show him how it works.

Your pet supply store or veterinary expert will be able to suggest the right one for you.

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