Enrichment is a catch-all term for activities that mimic what wild dogs would spend their days doing: digging, shredding, snuffling around, that sort of thing. Modern dogs lead a relatively simple life, with many meals handed to them in a bowl and scheduled walks, maybe a game of fetch here and there. Some dogs do very well on this, but most could benefit from some enrichment activities (like feeding toys!) to get their brains engaged and fulfil those instinctual needs.
There are a ton of activities you can do to enrich your dogs’ days, so we’ve started this Enrichment101 series to give you some ideas and point you in the right direction. They can often help behavioural problems like separation anxiety, reactivity, and problem chewing. Owners often report their pets are more tired after enrichment activities than expected, even though they aren’t as physically demanding as a walk.
This first post will discuss the easiest way to provide enrichment: feeding toys. Wild dogs spend most of their days foraging for food and eat various roots, tubers, fruit, and meat. A common misconception is that our dogs are carnivores. They’re omnivorous and can have certain fruits and veggies included in their diets as snacks. Be warned, though, that some fruits are toxic to dogs—here is a comprehensive list of dangerous food for dogs that is always good to have on hand just in case.
Feeding toys are great for fast eaters and can decrease the risk of bloating and gas from gobbling at pace, and the more time they’re busy eating their dinner, the less time they’ll spend eating your couch! Let’s check out some of our favourites!
Bing’s Favourite Feeding Toy: The Kong Wobbler
Kong is the OG of feeding toys, and I’ve been recommending their products for years. They do various types of feeders for many different levels of chewer, and, for a while, they did a special radiopaque material that showed up brightly on X-ray for those dogs that love to swallow things they shouldn’t!
Bing LOVES the Kong Wobbler, I initially had bought the cat one for Fred, but he had no interest. Once Bing figured it out, there was no going back. He loves burning some extra energy for his food. It comes in large, small, and cat sizes and has proved virtually indestructible for us, even with regular Gunther exposure.
Your dog requires little to no supervision with the Wobbler. (Just make sure that anything breakable is up off the floor.)
Holds a full meal.
Makes fast eaters like Bing slow down and take their time.
At around $20, it’s great value. We’ve bought two in five years—and only because Gunther got too big for the small one.
The Wobbler is not be the best toy for apartment-dwellers; it can be pretty loud as it is knocked around. (I have also heard stories of dogs setting off security alarms at home by playing too enthusiastically with their Wobblers.)
Some large kibble may not fit through the dispensing hole, but we haven’t had that problem.
Gunther’s Favourite Feeding Toy: K9Connectables
K9Connectables are next level when it comes to feeding toys—if Lego and Kong had a baby, they would be it. (It’s also an Irish company, which sparks a little bit of patriotic pride).
K9Connectables sell around ten different smaller feeders that all slot into each other. To get the treats inside, your pup has to puzzle how to get them apart.
There are ways to increase the difficulty as your dog starts figuring it out, and they are always novel because of the number of different creations that can be pieced together.
Some of our favourite masterpieces include the “Fallopian”, “Samurai”, and “Windmill”.
Each feeder come in three sizes (Small, Medium, and Large), and there are options for tougher chewers (the “Pro” range). Bing also has a set that he enjoys, but these are Gunther’s FAVOURITE feeding toy. He isn’t even doing it for the food reward anymore; he just loves taking the pieces apart.
(Technically, he’s turned K9Connectables from feeding enrichment into more of a puzzle enrichment activity, but if it keeps his little snoot busy, we’ll take it!)
The biggest issue with K9Connectables is the price. Each set of smaller feeders costs between $12 and $25, but you will need to spend at least $50 to be able to make more complicated creations. Despite this, we’ve found them to be a really good investment for Gunther.
K9Connectables also do their own treats to fit into the bone-shaped inserts on the sides to add another level of fun and encouragement for your dog (or you can just smear the outside with Xylitol-free peanut butter which is what we do).
We’ve a full guide to K9Connectables in the works. We recommend with starting small, easy puzzles, and working up to larger, more complicated ones. This puzzle style may overly frustrate a dog that’s never seen it before, which is the opposite of what we’re aiming for with enrichment. Bing is still on pretty basic shapes.
Really well-made toys. Seriously, it even takes Gunther time to make real dents in the plastic.
So many options. They’re constantly novel for your dogs.
Super fun for humans too. Sometimes we just sit down and play with them with the dogs for hours.
Great for dogs that need mental stimulation. There’s no easy solve on these!
Don’t hold that much food, especially on the more difficult settings. It’s not a good way to feed Gunther a full meal.
Some of the toys can be swung around quite violently. Gunther has given both of us bruises in his eagerness.
Although they look like chew toys, they aren’t. K9Connectables say it, and so do we.
Expensive, especially as you build more complicated puzzles.
Best Feeding Toy for Daily Low Maintenance Enrichment: Northmate Interactive Feeder
This Northmate green feeder is the easiest way to provide enrichment at every meal. There’s also have a pink version for cats which Fred uses for dry food.
Dogs must pick their kibble out one at a time or lick them out the sides of the feeder. It works best with dry food, though the manufacturers claim that you can also use raw or wet food. In that case, though, cleaning up without a dishwasher looks like a bad time.
At between $30 and $50, depending on sale prices, it’s not the cheapest feeder around, but it’s one of the most reliable and durable ones.
Dump the food in and go on your way. We use this toy at least once a day.
Lasts forever. Bing has had his for more than three years. Fred’s had his for closer to five.
Super convenient for travel. Just toss it in a bag and bring it with you.
Once your dog works out how to use it, it’s no longer novel. It’s still a great way to slow them down and make meals last longer, but it’s less of an enrichment game.
Can be flipped by mischievous, unwatched dogs. Bing won’t do it, but Gunther would chance his forepaw if we let him.
Hurts to stand on.
Using feeding toys, either for meals or for treats, is by far the easiest enrichment activity to start with your pets. The food rewards motivate them to engage with the toys, even if they’re not especially into games. Bing hates tennis balls and would never play fetch, but bring out a feeding toy, and he’s game for hours.
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