Dogs need to eat every day and most of them love their food.
There are so many fun and enriching alternatives to just serving the food in the bowl.
Most dogs are very interested in food. So your dog is likely to be keen to take part in any games or activities if they involve food.
By using the food creatively you are opening your dog to many additional opportunities for learning, fun, building up your bond and for enrichment.
We put together a collection of top 10 activities and games you can do with your dog involving food. Some of those games you can play together, others your dog can play on its own perhaps when you are busy.
Game 1: Towel burrito
How to play: Roll out a towel and scatter some (ideally) dry dog food all over the towel.
Roll the towel into a sausage shape or a burrito if you prefer and give it to the dog. Dog will have to figure out how to unroll the towel to get to the food.
You can use an old blanket, mat or any other safe cloth that you don’t mind if it might get a bit damaged in the process.
Benefits of the game: Mental stimulation for the dog, keeping the dog occupied and entertained while you are busy.
Taking it further: This game is also a great foundation to a number of tricks you can teach your dog, including unrolling a mat on command, wiping its feet etc. See the Thinker Trick Dog Titles for more ideas.
Game 2: Scatter feeding
How to play: Rather than giving the food to your dog in the bowl, scatter it around a room or a garden (make sure the area is safe for the dog and there are no poisonous or dangerous things there for the dog). Let the dog search for the food and eat it piece by piece as it finds it.
You can use a mix of several different types of food and see which type your dog will search for first. It can work with both dry and certain wet types of food.
Benefits of the game: Good workout for the brain and the nose, dog will be entertained and occupied while you are busy, teaching your dog foundation of housework and searching skills.
Taking it further: As the next step instead of just scattering the food, you can hide a known number of food pieces around and let the dog search for them in a more systematic way. As the next step you can ask your dog to search for a non-food items such as toys that you hide and reward.
Game 1 and Game 2 will form a good foundation for the Thinker Trick Dog Title that you might decide to do as the next step to further develop your dog’s thinking abilities.
Game 3: Home-made dog ice lolly fun
How to play: Excellent way to make your dog super happy on a hot day while providing mental stimulation and enriching food experience.
Mix some pieces of your dog’s favourite food with either water or ideally broth and freeze in small Tupperware containers or even ice cube tray. The most popular with dogs is the chicken broth, broth made from bones or meat etc. Give one piece of doggy ice lolly at a time to your dog and let it enjoy it. The dog will lick, chew and play with it while slowly eating as it thaws.
Benefits of the game: Mental stimulation for the dog, helping the dog to cool down on a hot day, entertainment and enrichment and plenty of positive emotions.
Game 4: Bottle with treats
How to play: Take an empty plastic bottle without a lid and put in some treats. Let the dog to roll the bottle and figure out how to take the treats out.
As a variation on this game you can make some additional holes in the bottle to make it easier for the dog to get the treats out or suspend the bottle on a string so you dog will have to spin it to get the treats out.
If you fancy to make some DIY toy based on that idea here is our favourite version:
Benefits of the game: Excellent mental and physical stimulation, slows dow the feeding process and makes food last. Many dogs absolutely love it, it’s cheap and it will give yet another life to the plastic bottles before you recycle them.
Game 5: Apple puzzle toy
Take an apple and carefully remove the apple core. Stuff the resulting hole with some of your dod’s food or treats and let the dog play with it and enjoy. Dogs usually play and roll the apple, run around with it, chew and gradually eat the treats hidden in the middle of the apple.
This could be a fantastic alternative to kong.
As a variation, you can do the same with pear, sweet potato, little pumpkin, large carrot etc. just make sure that the fruits you are using are edible for dogs. You can even freeze the stuffed fruit and give it to your dog as an alternative to the ice lolly game as described above.
Benefits of the game: fun, mental stimulation, a different way for your dog to enjoy the food combined with a play time.
Game 6: Dive in for your treats
How to play: Fill some robust shallow container with water and drop in some treats. You can use a large shallow bowl or a doggy swimming pool for that.
Fist put in a little bit of water and let the dog get the treats from under the shallow water. As your dog’s confidence and skills grow you can add more water or use deeper containers/bowls.
Make sure it is safe for the dog and please supervise your dog.
Taking it further: You can then gradually ask your dog to get toys and non-food items from under the water. If your dog loves this game consider looking at other activities/tricks you can do together from the Athlete Talent Track.
Benefits of the game: Teaching your dog water confidence, mental stimulation and enrichment, excellent building step for other games and tricks including under water retrieves etc.
Teaching your dog water confidence, mental stimulation and enrichment, excellent building step for other games and tricks including underwater retrieves etc.
Game 7: Stuffed roll puzzle
How to play: Take a centre from the empty toilet roll or a cardboard core from the kitchen paper towels roll when it’s finished. Put some treats inside mixed together with crumpled up papers and plug both ends with more papers. Give it to your dog to figure out how to get the food out.
Dog love this easy and quick homemade puzzle and it may keep them occupied fro a long while.
Benefits of the game: mental stimulation and keeping the dog occupied and entertained perhaps when you are busy, making your dog work for their food, and it can be fun!
Game 8: Treasure box
Taking it further: As the next step, you can briefly try to move further away from the dog or leave the room. the dog.h either some crumpled up papers, wrapping paper or straw. Drop in more treats and give it a good stir - so the treats are well distributed around at several different levels of the box filling. Invite your dog to dig there for treats and find them all. If your dog is initially not sure then drop some more treats on the surface so the dog can see them.
Dogs love playing this food treasure chest game!
Benefits of the game: Good physical and mental stimulation for the dog, excellent workout for dog’s nose. Another fun search game.
As a variation you can hide toys or a mix of different treats in that box to make it even more exciting for the dog.
Game 9: Food challenge
How to play: This is a training game for your dog to learn to resist the temptations of food and can be played as a part of your training session.
Put your dog in “sit” or even better “down” position and outline your dog with pieces of dry food. For an extra challenge, you can also put some food on your dog’s paws, nose etc. The goal is for your dog to stay still until you give the release command- only then the dog can eat all that tempting food!
Taking it further: As the next step, you can briefly try to move further away from the dog or leave the room.
If you would like to teach your dog more tricks please see here for more ideas.
Game 10: Food race
How to play: This game can be played with one dog or several dogs at the same time.
Put each dog into a “sit” or “down” position. Put the treats/food in a straight line in front of each dog with gaps between each of the treats. Make sure the dog(s) are waiting until they are released. When allowed the dogs will race each other to eat all the treats in their line. If the dogs become too competitive or aggressive your can either play with them individually or put some barriers between each dog’s line of treats so they focus only on eating their own line of treats.
Benefits of the game: Teaching impulse control, excellent game for obedience and as the foundation for trick dog training.
And finally, a bonus game for you…
Game 11: Muffin tin game
How to play: Take a muffin tin and some tennis balls. Put treats in all/some of the holes and cover them with the tennis balls. Let the dog find the treats and figure out how to get them by lifting up the tennis balls.
Some dogs skip lifting up the tennis balls and try to topple the whole muffing tin upside down. Try to prevent it by holding it in place.
Benefits of the game: mental stimulation, slow feeding, building dogs confidence.
Food is a great motivator in dogs. We will have a separate blog post on how you can build up the value of food motivation for your dog for training purposes. Keep an eye on our Blog or subscribe to be notified of the future posts.
All of the games here are very safe and fun, but like with any other food or toys we recommend that you should try to keep an eye on your dog and don’t leave it unsupervised.