7 Mealtime Enrichment Activities - Calm Dog Games

7 Days of Mealtime Enrichment Activities

If you find enrichment a little overwhelming, the easiest place to start is with something you do every single day - feeding your dog!

Enrichment activities engage a dog’s natural instincts, making mealtime a more satisfying and fulfilling experience.

They also add problem solving and mentally stimulating sniffing opportunities to your dog's day, which helps to reduce arousal levels and promote calmness.

Here are 7 days worth of simple enrichment activities to get you started! 

Please note, nervous dogs may prefer a predictable, 'non-challenging' eating routine (aka from a bowl). So please adjust to suit your particular dog.

Easy Mealtime Enrichment Activities

1. Scatter feeding

Scatter feeding is an excellent way to provide your dog with mental stimulation while also slowing down their eating. Simply take a handful or more of your dog’s food and scatter it over a safe area for them to seek out.

Ideally, you will want to scatter on a lawn where the grass is long enough to hide the food. If you scatter on a short lawn, your dog will use their eyes to find the food rather than engaging the nose. Sniffing is both enriching and calming for dogs, so we want to make this a sniffing activity.

This enrichment activity is perfect for busy people who want to enable concurrent activity (I often unload the dishwasher and tidy up the kitchen while keeping an eye on Cam scatter feeding in our back garden).

Scatter feeding is also ideal for times when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed and just want a go-to that you don't have to think about.

To increase the challenge, leave an area of longer grass as a scatter spot or use varied terrain such as walkways and rockeries for your dog to hunt amongst.

You can also portion out the meal and scatter one small portion at a time (rather than the whole meal at once). This helps you to provide more sniffing time out of a smaller space, since there will be less food spread over the area at any one time. 

Use a different food items for extra enrichment, such as chunks of dog-safe food like cucumber, carrot, boiled egg or scraps of meat.

2. Egg Hunt 

An Egg Hunt takes the search up a gear and is a great way to increase the challenge level. Hide individual pieces of your dog’s food and release them to “find it”.

You can use a room, the whole house, the garden, and utilise different levels to place a piece on an unheated radiator, a windowsill, a partially opened drawer, on a chair or inside a slipper.

Increasing the search area or using less food to make them search harder increases the challenge level. You can also place food inside items such as scrunched up paper or towels for an extra step.

3. Snuffle toys

Snuffle toys are another excellent way to engage your dog’s natural sniffing instincts.

Snuffle mats are made up of multiple layers of fabric that are used to hide small pieces of food. The dog sniffs and uses its nose to search for the food, which provides mental stimulation and satisfies their natural scavenging instinct.

Snufflemats are a good option if you don’t have access to a lawn. They are also handy for the colder, wetter months.

Novelty is fun for dogs so it’s worth giving your dog different ways to engage their nose.

Snuffle toys, such as Puzzle Plaits, Snuffleballs and Treat Dispensers such as the Odin Toy, help provide this variety and give your dog interesting and rewarding challenges.

4. Lucky Dip Box

Cardboard boxes are an easy and inexpensive way to provide enrichment for your dog. Fill the box with scrunched up packing paper or towels and then scatter your dog’s food throughout. Let them search through it to find their dinner.

For flat-faced breeds, stick to soft towels in the box as they are more prone to scratching their eyes. Use can still use egg boxes as these are nice and rounded, just avoid any pointy cornered boxes.

Always supervise your dog when doing this type of activity to ensure they don’t eat the cardboard. For ‘swallowers’ (Labs come to mind!) stick to large towels that you can layer in the box, instead of using cardboard and other small items they may try to gulf down!

You can also add treat-filled egg boxes or other cardboard containers within the box for your dog to pick out. You can either make holes in these smaller boxes for a DIY treat dispenser or you can seal them with paper tape and let you dog destroy the box to get the food. A little destruction can be healthy for dogs as it gives them a stress outlet. By putting a cue word, such as “go find” on the activity, you can set a boundary on this.

5. Trail Hunt 

A trail hunt is a great way to provide mental stimulation while also encouraging exercise. Take some smelly food, such as a scrap of  meat and drag it about the garden. You can little little tiny scraps along the way for extra motivation. Place a small portion at the end of the trail as a prize. Take your dog to the start of the trail and encourage them to “go sniff”.

If they lose the trail, just encourage them back onto it by gesturing down to the ground where you know you laid some scent and say “go sniff”. Walk the trail with them until they find their food. This activity engages a dog’s sense of smell and provides them with exercise, calm sniffing and mental stimulation.

6. Stuffed Kong/Toppl or Lick Mat

A stuffed Kong/Toppl or lick mat is another great way to provide calming enrichment during mealtime. Licking is a natural behaviour and can be very soothing for dogs. 

To begin, choose a Kong or Toppl of an appropriate size for your dog. Next, fill it with a mixture of your dog’s food (soak any dry food first), treats and perhaps some peanut butter to create a sticky mixture. You can also add some additional ingredients such as any dog-safe fruits, vegetables, or yogurt to the mix for extra nutrition.

To keep things interesting, vary the contents and difficulty level of the stuffing to keep your dog engaged. Once the Kong or Toppl is filled, freeze it for a few hours to make the treat last longer and make the challenge even more stimulating for your pup.

Preparing a lick mat for your dog is easy. You can use different styles of lick mats for variety. Simply spread a soft and tasty treat such as peanut butter or plain yoghurt onto the surface of the lick mat. Make sure to spread the treat evenly and into the grooves of the mat so that your dog can fully enjoy it. You can top with sprinkles, such as crushed treats.

Give the lick mat to your dog and let them enjoy licking the treat off the surface. You can even freeze the lick mat before you give it to your dog to make the activity last longer and maximise that calm licking time.

7.  Swiss Roll Puzzle

Wrapping your dog’s food in towels or other fabrics is a great way to provide mental stimulation during mealtime as you can create interesting and varied challenges.

Lay out the towel and sprinkle dry food over it. Create different puzzles by rolling it, wrapping it, folding it and knotting it and let your dog use their problem-solving skills to get to the food.

Rolling is the easiest level, while knotting it provides much more challenge. The knots can be satisfying for chewers as they will need to pull the fabric apart to get to the food. My spaniel absolutely loves this and he’s never chewed through any fabric, though keep in mind if you increase the challenge level too quickly, your dog may get frustrated and either give up or try to chew through the towel. So start easy and gradually build up.

These activities are easy to implement and don’t require much time or effort. By using these simple ways to use your dog’s dinner as enrichment, you can help keep your dog mentally stimulated while also paying into calm time.

For daily enrichment prompts, shuffle the Brain Games & Enrichment Deck and pick a card! 



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