What is a food puzzle?

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Dr. Rolan Tripp, founder of www.animalbehavior.net is one of many veterinarians, animal behaviorists and trainers who are urging pet owners to make mealtime stimulating and a way to expend energy.

Many behavior-minded veterinarians like him are favoring using food puzzles as opposed to a bowl, as a way to feed their dogs. When you think about the dog’s roots, you realize that they all had to hunt, forage and work to get their food. Mealtime was a lot more than just eating– it stimulated the dog’s brain and body.

Today, though, it’s all very convenient and, sometimes, a little boring. The owner just puts the food in a bowl and the dog will probably gobble it down—in about 10 seconds—and then it’s all over.

Food puzzles are objects, such as the Kong toys, that have openings in which to place the food. The owner then gives the food puzzle to the dog who will have to work at it for about 20-30 minutes in order to eat.

The food puzzle, which is often referred to as “motivated exercise,” also alleviates boredom, because now the dog has a challenge—and dogs are problem-solvers by nature. As an added benefit, it drastically slows the dog’s eating time—what once took maybe ten seconds now can take a half hour.

Food puzzles can be used either with dried kibble or canned food. Tripp suggests dividing the canned food and placing it in several food puzzles to freeze. When you give it to the dog, you may want to place the puzzle in a bigger bowl, he says, because it not only makes the challenge a little more difficult, but will also help to keep your floors clean.

Some examples of food puzzles are:

• Buster Cube: Large, hollow dice made out of hard plastic.
• Busy Buddy Toys: There’s an assortment of treat-releasing toys, so ask your pet store or other expert.
• Crazy Ball: Rolling rubber balls from nylabone.
• Kong toys: Irregular shaped, hollow rubber toy.
• Molecuball Treat Ball: These are made of soft vinyl so they’re pretty quiet on floors.

Some detractors insist it’s cruel to make a dog work so hard for its food, but New York City positive reinforcement trainer Shelby Semel couldn’t disagree more. “For one thing, it builds the dog’s self esteem and gives her/him a sense of accomplishment.”

Then she added, “After all, don’t we humans have to work for things like money?”

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