Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bye, Bye, Food Bowl!

A couple of weeks ago we began Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.) training with Athena.  Our first two classes were exceptional and we have really enjoyed the new trainer.  With all of her suggestions, we have seen a huge improvement in Athena's behavior.

During our first class we talked to the trainer about Athena's high energy level and her tendencies to get into trouble around the house (like when she miraculously finds a used tissue or dirty sock when we swore there were none left out).  The trainer simply said, "put away her food bowl."

Bye, bye, food bowl.  Hello, yummy treat toys!
When we first adopted Athena, I read all about No Free Lunch Training and other methods that expect dogs to earn their food rather than be given it for "free."  Although I read that many people swear by this type of training program, I just wasn't that into it and so we continued to feed Athena from her food bowl and used fancy treats during her training sessions (now I realize that it was those dang fancy treats that probably made Athena three pounds fatter...).

Eating a snack from the Contempo Halo Bottle treat dispenser
When I heard "put away her food bowl," I was a bit skeptical.  But, the trainer told us that Athena's high energy and tissue hunting drive probably stems from boredom and lack of mental stimulation.  As much as we physically exercise her with walks, games of fetch, and play time in the house, she wasn't being given enough opportunities to exercise her brain during the day.

So, for the past two weeks we have been rationing out Athena's usual two cups of kibble (plus a few yummy treats) throughout the day.  She eats her breakfast, snack, and dinner in food dispensing toys and then receives the rest of her kibble during daily training exercises.  Now she must work for every bit of food that she receives which provides her with the much needed mental stimulation.

All of the wonderful things that we bought from Pet Mountain for only $80!

Seeing as treat dispensing toys are often expensive, we decided to do some online shopping for reasonably priced toys.  We came across Pet Mountain which sells their toys (and other pet supplies) for ridiculously cheap prices (nobody can beat a half priced Kong!) so we bought an entire box full of toys to keep Athena occupied and stimulated.


Here is a list of the food dispensing toys that we purchased (and how much they cost us):

Food dispensing toys that we already owned:
Spoiled Athena now has plenty of toy options to choose from when working for her food.  Soon we will review some of our favorite treat dispensing toys to let you know how long they keep Athena occupied and how durable they are for power chewers (so far we are in love with the Contempo Tessa- why have we never seen this toy sold in a store?!).

Contempo Tessa in action
Since putting her food bowl away two weeks ago, we have seen some MAJOR improvements in Athena's behavior.  She spends quite a bit of time each day tackling her food dispensers.  Whether it be a kibble filled Bob-a-Lot that takes thirty minutes to clean out, or a frozen pumpkin/peanut butter/kibble   Kong that lasts up to three hours, Athena is now very well occupied throughout the day and ready for some major snoozing afterwards.  The rest of her kibble is plopped around the house for mini training sessions such as doggy pushups and recall.  Athena also earns quite a bit of her training kibble during walks as she works to perfect her loose leash walking.

Have you ever put your dog's food bowl away and traded it for treat dispensing toys?  What are your favorite treat dispensers on the market?

27 comments:

  1. We are really interested in hearing your reviews, especially how well the toys hold up. Our problem is our boys seem to have the ability to chew any toy up, no matter how solid it is.

    Sam

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    1. Our plan is to document Athena's use of each toy (how long it takes her to get the kibble out, her methods for retrieving the kibble, how the toy is holding up, etc.) so that we can make some comparisons between the toys such as the Kong Wobbler vs. the Bob-a-Lot vs. the Contempo Tessa. So, we will get the reviews up as soon as we do a little bit more testing! I will say though, we have had the Bob-a-Lot for a few months and it has held up really well!

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  2. Our last foster, Lucy Lou, had a tendency to get bored so we started her on the Kong Wobbler and it made a huge difference! It also is helpful for dogs who tend to scarf their food. How did Athena like the toy that attaches to the water bottle? I am super interested in how that one works out for her!

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    1. Yes, I have heard that food dispensing toys can make such a difference for dogs who eat their food really fast.

      The first time Athena tried the toy that attaches to the bottle she didn't quite know what to do...so we ended up detaching the bottle and just letting her play with the toy. Before we try the toy again, we are going to try giving Athena her kibble just in the plastic water bottle so that she can learn how to get it out. The toy was just a bit too complicated for her since it involved the plastic water bottle and then the toy. I'm sure she will figure it out very soon though =)

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  3. We have a ton of them as well, including the tug a jug, twist and treat, bob a lot and everlasting treat ball. We LOVE them all. Our problem is that with two dogs in the house, we have to put one in a crate or somewhere else, so that the other one can play with these toys. Nola is a little mean when it comes to toys and Anna has a slight food aggression issue, so it is important to keep them separated. I'm glad you discovered these tools, can't wait to read more about how Athena likes them.

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    1. I think it's very common for most multi dog households to separate the dogs during food dispensing toy play time. I can imagine that Athena wouldn't like it very much if another dog tried to work on her puzzle. She is very determined!

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  4. Ray eats a lot of his food out of kongs mostly because he actually doesn't really care much for his food bowl. I hesitate to take it away, though, I guess mostly for security purposes. While he is very treat motivated, he rarely finishes all of his kibble. He's always been that way. We also bought him the huge kong wobbler, but he just picks it up in his fat mouth and drops it like a regular kong. It kind of gets him worked up rather than calming him down to focus.

    Wondering here: what type of kibble do you feed?

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    1. Wow, a dog that doesn't like his food bowl! Luckily there are so many food feeding options out there!

      We were feeding Athena Blue Buffalo Wilderness (Salmon), but the trainer told us that this high protein food is probably not the greatest choice if we are trying to reduce some of Athena's energy bursts. It has 34% protein (I guess anything over 24% is high and really meant for working dogs...not couch potatoes). So, we are now trying to finish up that bag of food while also incorporating in the new food that we are switching her to which is Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets (Sweet Potato and Fish). The protein in this new food is 21%.

      What kibble do you feed?

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    2. Ray is still a "puppy" at 10 1/2 months old. I started with the Blue Buffalo months ago but he really doesn't care for seafood much then we fed Orijen. I loved that it was a very good product, but suddenly he started having diarreah (if I keep adding letters will I spell it right?) nearly every night. Well, it was every day, too, but at least then he could go outside and not in his crate. Poor little guy was so upset. I then read something about it being the high protein ...38% so I switched him to Nutro Ultra for large breed puppies. That is working out well for him but I need to start preparing him for big-boy food soon. The fact that you wrote 2 cups looked intriguing to me because he eats about 4 cups per day, but he's a big bubba head.

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    3. When we adopted Athena she weighed 45 pounds and the shelter told us that they fed her about 2 cups per day. Then we took her to her initial vet visit and they agreed that 2 cups sounded about right for her size. They said that if we noticed her gaining weight then we could cut back the food and if she lost weight then we should add more food to her diet. Three months later, Athena now weighs 48 pounds...so she has gained 3. We have continued to feed her around 2 cups per day...sometime we cut it down if we give her a lot of treats.

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    4. Ah, ok. Pudge bucket weighs 73, so he would eat more...

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  5. Love food toys in my house! With an almost 2-year old pit mix and an almost 13 year old lab mix it is a great way to get out both puppy energy and old lady boredom. We do keep ours separated with a gate when playing though, they are not good food sharers!

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    1. I can see how the food dispensing toys would be great for getting out puppy energy as well as getting older dogs up and moving! Win win!

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  6. We love treat dispensing toys but they haven't worked so well in our house. See, Hurley gets a *bit* worked up over them and believes that treat dispensing toys = mystical food fairy bestowing magic kibbles, aka found food = food to guard. It's the only time he has been snappy with Sadie around food and that was after he emptied the entire Kong Wobbler and ate every piece of kibble. He then had to guard the room in which the magic food fairy visited him for several hours and snapped at Sadie every time she tried to enter. We do love the regular Kongs with frozen goodness though! But anything where kibble falls out and may be later found or leaves a trace of food scent on the floor has proven to be cause for discord in our house. Super bummer! I'll try again when he's a bit older and hopefully a little more mellow about visits from the food fairy.

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    1. That dang food fairy!!! Hopefully in the near future Hurley will realize that you are the food fairy and will then be kind to his sisters!

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  7. Wow, well that's a cool invention! And Athena looks a lot like my Roxy!

    A question: doesn't this method "give her ideas"? Meaning - does she think that she can get any food from around the house if she works her way around it? But I guess, she's too tired to do anything mischievous after 30 mins of hard work alone :)

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    1. We haven't yet experienced her getting any ideas from using the food dispensing toys. But, that is a very interesting though. I hope she doesn't turn into a little food hunter while in the house! I will keep you posted!

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  8. We have several treat dispensing toys, including Kongs, Kong Genius, the StarMark treat ball, and some others that I've forgotten the names of. Our go-to food puzzle is a frozen Kong, which will last Badger about half an hour. If we forgot to make frozen Kongs, we'll just put kibble in some of the toys that have smaller holes.

    The one toy that backfired on us was putting Badger's kibble straight into a water bottle. He became an expert at shaking the bottle to get his food out, but then he started grabbing our water bottles from the table. So we stopped doing that.

    I'd like to try "random" treat toys like the Kong Wobbler and the Contempo Tessa, but we feed both of our dogs in their respective crates. Do you think they'd have enough room in their crates to push the toy around and get food out?

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    1. Oh no! I hope Athena never steals our water bottles!

      Hmmm...I'm thinking that there probably wouldn't be enough room in the crate to bonk around the Kong Wobbler or the Contempo Tessa. I feel like if we left these toys with Athena in her crate she would get frustrated and resort to chewing on them. Let me know if you decide to try it though =)

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  9. I'd love to do this...however we aren't home enough for this to be that realistic. We experiment a little with this once with the dogs, feeding them out of a Gatorade bottle. I know they would have gotten a hang of it eventually but they were so not interested and it was a mess I felt like. Plus I don't feel like Braylon needs this stimulation at all. However, I think Hades does need to work his mind a little more. They're both low energy but I think it'd help with his "behaviors" he has been having lately, I think he might be "bored" even though he is a happy guy and seems content.

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    1. I can see it being more difficult to implement the "no more food bowl" when our lives get a bit busier in the future because the food dispensing toys do take a long time, and besides the Kong, most aren't appropriate for the crate.

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  10. Hi! I love this idea and I think it would be a good way to keep my american bulldog busy so he doesn't destroy everything in the house. The only thing that has me a little hesitant is feeding him frozen food. Did you do ease into this method? Did Athena have any digestive issues at the begining?

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  11. While he is very treat motivated, he rarely finishes all of his kibble. He's always been that way stang jepit vixion . We also bought him the huge kong wobbler, but he just picks it up in his fat mouth and drops it like a regular kong. It kind of gets him worked up rather than calming him down to focus.

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