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The Ethics Of Ditching The Bowl

ditching the bowl, ditch the bowl

Ditching the bowl is a fantastic way to enrich the lives of dogs and cats. It can offer mental stimulation, engagement, calm occupation and training success. Feeding pets by alternative methods other than a bowl can also help build positive relationships with their human family. The benefits of ditching the bowl are being increasingly recognised by modern trainers. However, there are fewer people who acknowledge the ethics of ditching the bowl. Doing it badly can result in-

  • Negative emotions
  • Emotional conflict and stress
  • Damage to the relationship
  • Unwanted behaviour
  • Training failure

For good welfare and mental health it is important to try and avoid the problems listed above. So let’s discuss the ethics of ditching the bowl…

ditch the bowl, ditching the bowl, the ethics of ditching the bowl,

The Creation Of Emotional Conflict

Ditching the bowl should be a positive experience for both the animal and owner. It shouldn’t be a way for humans to manipulate behaviour purely for their own advantage. You may have heard trainers suggest that you use all of the daily food allowance for training. This can be beneficial, however it can also be unethical in certain circumstances. 

For example, if a dog is hungry and can only access food through human interaction, this may create emotional conflict. If a dog can only acquire food by fulfilling human requests, this too could create negative emotions. It is vital that fair choices are offered. 

DON'T put your pet in a situation where they have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

DO facilitate good choices through fair opportunities and positive rewards.

the ethics of ditching the bowl, ditching the bowl, ditch the bowl,

A practical example of creating emotional conflict would be crate training. If a dog is unsure of entering the crate, or being shut inside, then this shouldn't be the only way they can access food. Whilst food could be used to build value inside the crate, the opportunity to eat shouldn't be dependant on compliance with going in.

If a dog can only access their daily food allowance by being somewhere they are concerned about, this could easily cause emotional distress. It is an unfair choice- do something you don't like or you don't eat. A hungry dog may well choose to go inside the crate but this doesn't mean they are are happy, they have just chosen what they are most comfortable with. Being most comfortable with something doesn't equate to acceptance, learning or contentment.

So to avoid emotional conflict when ditching the bowl, it is important to assess whether your requests are fair and that the animal is not fulfilling them just because they are hungry. 

Working For Food- Contrafreeloading

Our collie Milo loves working for food, he will choose a puzzle feeder over free roast meat sat right next to it. He prefers to eat out of a Toppl rather than a bowl, even if they both contain exactly the same food. So for him, working for food is great enrichment. It provides mental stimulation and positively engages his working genes. Our other dog Murphy is quite different! Whilst he enjoys a low level challenge, he gives up more easily and would take the free food first before having to work for it. So for him, some methods of ditching the bowl could create negative emotions, frustration or stress. If Murphy was expected to only gain food from lots of effort, this would not be as successful and could be detrimental to his welfare.

We therefore treat each dog as an individual and ditch the bowl accordingly, it's not one size fits all. We have also gradually expanded Murphy's desire to work for food, he's learning it can be fun and worthwhile. By progressively ditching the bowl and teaching him to try, this has created more calm behaviour as it occupies his brain. But neither dog are forced to ditch the bowl, they have the choice to participate or not.

west paw toppl, contra freeloading, ditch the bowl, slow feeder

The Ethics Of Ditching The Bowl For Training

Both our dogs are rescue dogs, Murphy came to us with severe travel anxiety and a fear of cars, as well as being scared of other things such as thunder. Using food has been invaluable as part of the training process, to create positive emotions around situations he's usually scared in. There is however a BIG FAT BUT!

The training process has been broken down into tiny, tiny steps and he has only ever been set up for success. At all times I have aimed to work with him in a positive mindset, keeping him below his stress threshold and gradually expanding his positivity. Food is used as positive reinforcement but not a bribe. Ditching the bowl has been to help him, not to make him do something. Tux has been used in the car to make it a positive place to be, not to try and distract him from his surroundings. His daily food has been used to help change his mindset from negative to positive, not to reach a goal.

With Ditching The Bowl, Focus Should Be On Income For the Animal, NOT Outcome

Ditching the bowl shouldn't be a replacement for the required training and time it takes to achieve success positively. For example, ditching the bowl unethically would be me keeping him hungry, then using food to bribe him to get in the car. Once there he could be given a lickimat as a distraction, whilst I shut the doors, forcing him to stay inside. Instead, to be more ethical, he has been given choice to participate at every stage. He has been allowed to leave at all times and he has been given access to free food both inside and outside the car. Once he has been happy to jump in, we've done ACE Freework inside the car or he's had a stuffed food toy. These are activities we also do outside of the car in neutral situations, they are not just for working on something that worries him.

It is important to be mindful of coercion and extortion. Ditching the bowl should be about enrichment, building positive emotions and enjoyment for the individual animal. It shouldn't be solely about human gain, achieving goals or creating training 'success' via giving unreasonable choices.

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For Ethical Success With Ditching The Bowl....

  • Choose the timing, method and frequency for the individual animal in the individual situation
  • Make challenges progressive
  • Set your pet up for success
  • Offer trustworthy and honourable choices within the animal's capabilities at that moment
  • Focus on income for the animal, not outcome

Ensure it's fun, fair and frustration free!

If you're interested in learning more about contrafreeloading and the ethical considerations too, this is a great podcast with Hannah Brannigan and Chirag Patel.

Thank you for reading.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved dogs, cats and chickens. SHOP HERE 

More blogs available to read here-

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Welcome To The Pawsitive Thinking Blog

Pawsitive Thinking, canine enrichment, dog enrichment, dog enrichment ideas, ethical dog treats, long lasting dog chews, dog chews not rawhide, dog dental chews


Thank you for popping by. This is the place to discover information, ideas and inspiration for you to help your pets lead their best lives. 

I love happy animals and happy people! Throughout my whole career I have strived to positively enhance welfare and promote mutually beneficial relationships between people and their pets. Please scroll down to find interesting and useful editorial on enrichment, training and care.

I originally started writing for newspapers and magazines, something which I continue to do 25 years later. Now with Pawsitive Thinking, a new home has been found for my writing. Informative guides, news, articles and thoughts will be added here, to share with you.

 Happy Reading!


October 6, 2021

Ditching the bowl can be fantastic enrichment and really useful for training success. Done badly it can create negative emotions, frustration and stress. Natalie highlights the importance of ethical consideration when ditching the bowl.

September 21, 2021

The complete lowdown on natural dog chews! Chewing time, key benefits, typical nutritional analysis, age guide and safety tips.
A whole host of ideas for training and enrichment.

September 13, 2021

Pawsitive Thinking is pleased to be working with Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) to help improve and extend the lives of dogs suffering with arthritis.

November 26, 2020

When is a natural chew not natural? Natalie identifies why some chews commonly sold as natural, could actually be detrimental to your dog. The hideous chemical processing of dog chews is revealed.

June 17, 2020

Unwanted behaviour in dogs is a major cause of rehoming and even euthanasia. An American vet specialising in animal behaviour, stress evaluation and canine aggression has reported some interesting findings.

June 12, 2020

Chickens don’t have any teeth, you’ve probably heard of the expression ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’. Without teeth, they have a different way of grinding food and that’s where grit comes in.
Here’s the information you need to understand all things grit!

May 24, 2020

Dogs are making choices all the time, so we need to train our dogs to make the right choices. This is where reinforcement comes in. If you add the right reinforcer at the right time, it will encourage more of the behaviour you want.

May 19, 2020

What does ditching the bowl mean? Why bother? How often? What about Raw?

Your questions on ditching the bowl answered plus ideas to get you started.

May 16, 2020

Mighty middle is a really useful game that you can play with your dog to help with recall, proximity to you, confidence and focus in distracting environments.

May 13, 2020

As well as our top 10 tasty Kong recipes, we introduce reasons to use stuffable dog toys, alternatives to Kong dog toys and how to make the challenge easier or harder for your individual dog.

May 9, 2020

Here’s a great DIY brain training game for dogs that helps build confidence and reduces negative reactions to novel sounds and situations.

November 19, 2019

A modern approach to teaching children to ride. Guidelines for instructors and parents with hints and tips for fun, ethical learning.

feline enrichment, cat enrichment, Pawsitive Thinking, Cat toys, Cat games

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Showing 1–8 of 72 results

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Your Ultimate Guide To Natural Dog Chews

Long lasting dog chews, natural dog chews, fish stick, dog chews, no rawhide dog chews

With a huge choice of dog chews out there, it can be confusing to select what is best for your individual dog. So we’ve produced the ultimate guide to natural dog chews to help you choose what is right for you and your four legged friend. We will give you the lowdown on a wide variety of chews, including-

  • Chewing time
  • Typical nutritional analysis
  • Key benefits
  • Suggestions for age suitability
  • Safety tips

The guide covers only natural dog chews- no raw hide or nylon chews. We believe natural dog chews are healthier and safer for dogs. We also avoid chemically processed, bleached or artificially puffed chews and you can find out the reasons why HERE.

Star Rating- Chewing Time

Short Chewing Time

Medium Chewing Time

The Longest Lasting Chews

Chewing time will vary hugely between individual dogs and breeds, so please note this is just a guide. Our star rating acts as a suggestion to be able to compare chews with each other, to help you choose suitability for your individual needs and situation.

We have a border collie and a lurcher, they are both strong chewers. The ratings are also based on how long each chew would last them. Your own dog may take a longer or shorter time than ours but we hope you will find the guide useful for ideas.

In general, harder chews are mainly for gnawing at, rather than eating or chewing. Natural dog chews that can be eaten most quickly have a lower star rating and those that are a combination of eating and chewing sit in the middle. Select a chew for your individual dog and situation; natural chews can be used for-

  • Training
  • Calming
  • Engagement without exercise
  • Fulfilling your dog’s natural desire to chew
  • Foraging
  • Enrichment
  • Positively occupying your dog
  • Promoting positive behaviour
  • Adding variety and different nutrients to your dog’s diet 

Natural Dog Chews With A Shorter Chewing Time


Key Benefits: Omega oils, antioxidants and low in saturated fat.

Age Guide: From 10 weeks of age.

Notes: As shown in the bottom left of the picture, these are little cubes of fishy goodness made in Cornwall. Totally natural, made with 100% white fish skins from sustainably sourced fish. Contains fatty acids to help support itchy skin and fish is also rich in Omega oils which can support joints and mobility. Great for use as a meal topper, for training or canine enrichment. Perfect for foraging mats too.

Protein 84%, Ash 17%, Fibre 9%, Moisture 8%, Fat 0.3%

dog chews, natural dog chews, natural dog treats


Key Benefits: Hugely versatile and highly palatable.

Age Guide: From 4 weeks of age.

Notes: Available in 4 varieties- sea bass, venison, ostrich and kangaroo. A great first chew for puppies or a tasty snack for older dogs. Can also be broken into smaller pieces for training, ACE freework, enrichment activities and foraging mats. Combined with chews such as the tendon ostrich braid or fish twists, engagement can be extended with our best selling chew guardian the Qwizl.

Nutritional analysis dependent on the individual protein.

cheese puffs, chews treats for dogs, cheese for dogs, cheese chews for dogs,


Key Benefits: Highly desirable, crunchy enrichment chews.

Age Guide: From 8 weeks of age.

Notes: Made from just 4 natural ingredients, including milk from free ranging yaks and cows. Cheese Puffs are the end pieces of yak milk chews, which puff up like popcorn when microwaved. Great for canine enrichment, dogs love the taste and crunch. Can also be used for training situations where you need to throw or roll a reward and they are perfect for a jackpot reward too. Suitable for small and large breeds.

Protein 52.6%, Ash 6%, Fibre 9%, Moisture 10.2%, Fat 0.9%

long lasting dog chews, natural dog chews, free range rabbit ears, rabbit ears for dogs, dried rabbit ears


Key Benefits: 100% natural dental chew.

Age Guide: From 12 weeks of age.

Notes: Pawsitive Thinking sources only higher welfare free range rabbit ears and does not support caged farming. Our free range rabbit ears for dogs are complete with hair, which is thought to help with cleansing the digestive tract and natural de-worming. Fur is also a great source of manganese, needed for strong tendons and ligaments. Can be fed as part of a meal or used as a snack.

Protein 46.6%, Fat 33.1%, Ash 2.0%

ostrich chews for dogs, ostrich for dogs, natural dog chew, ostrich kebab, long lasting dog chew


Key Benefits: Different textures for enrichment, meaty and tasty.

Age Guide: From 12 weeks of age.

Notes: Firm, dried ostrich meat, skewered onto an ostrich tendon to give the ultimate chewy enrichment. Naturally low in fat and hypoallergenic, ostrich kebabs are a great choice suitable for all breeds. An enjoyable and healthy dog chew made from 100% ostrich meat and tendon. 

Protein 98.93% Fat 0.46% Ash 0.61% 

Natural Dog Chews With a Medium Chewing Time

natural dog chews, long lasting dog chews, fish dog chews, dog chews for itchy dogs


Key Benefits: 100% natural dental chew. Supports skin & joints.

Age Guide: From 10 weeks of age.

Notes: Naturally dried, 100% fish skin twisted into a tasty long lasting dog chew. Fish is full of omega oils, fatty acids and antioxidants. Highly digestible and low in saturated fat. 

Moisture: 7.13% Protein: 87.8% Fat: 2.56% Fibre: 1.0% Ash: 11.7%

ostrich chew for dogs, braided ostrich tendon, natural dog chew, long lasting dog chew


Key Benefits: Low in fat, hypoallergenic long lasting chews.

Age Guide: From 12 weeks of age.

Notes: Easy to digest, this chew is made from 100% ostrich tendon. Very low in fat, so a great choice for dogs needing help with weight control. Ostrich tendon braids are engaging, satisfying and chewy.

Protein 98.78%, Natural oils & fats 0.46%, Ash 0.61%

Long lasting dog chews, natural dog chews, fish stick, dog chews, no rawhide dog chews


Key Benefits: Omega oils, antioxidants and low in saturated fat.

Age Guide: From 16 weeks of age.

Notes: Air dried and 100% natural chew made from fish skin. A great dental chew for dogs and highly digestible. Contains fatty acids to help reduce itchy skin.

Moisture: 4.76% Protein: 90.9% Fat: 8.66% Fibre: 0.1% Ash: 3.06%

jumbo dog chews, natural dog chews, giant dog chews, long lasting dog chews


Key Benefits: 100% natural, long lasting chews.

Age Guide: From 12 weeks of age.

Notes: Our jumbo sticks are available in goat, lamb, deer and camel varieties. Approximately 45-50cm long per chew, some dogs may need more than one sitting. The camel chews are the thickest and harder of the 4 choices.

Analytical constituents vary depending on protein.

lakers, yak milk chews, Himalayan yak chews, long lasting dog chews, yak bars, yak milk chews


Key Benefits: Engaging, satisfying and tasty long lasting chew.

Age Guide: From 8 weeks of age.

Notes: Our yakers are handmade in the Himalayas from just 4 natural ingredients- yak milk, cow milk and a small amount of salt and lime juice. Lower in salt and fat than some brands, these are a hard chew designed to be gnawed. The extended chewing needed to consume the chew helps remove dental plaque. It also provides a calming activity to provide mental engagement and fulfil natural instincts. 

Protein 52.8%, Fat 0.9%, Moisture 10.2%, Ash 6.0%

Natural Dog Chews With The Longest Chewing Time

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Key Benefits: Hypoallergenic and very low fat.

Age Guide: From 12 weeks of age.

Notes: Ostrich bones have a unique structure, where the outer layer peels away to a honeycomb texture underneath. Air dried, low smell and non greasy. A novel protein, a good choice for allergy sufferers.

Protein 80.04%, Natural Fats & Oils 3.52%, Ash 6.26%

Solid antler dog chews. Natural long lasting dog chews

Key Benefits: Very long lasting chew.

Age Guide: From 12 weeks of age for a split antler, 6 months for fallow and solid antlers.

Notes: Antlers are the hardest of our long lasting chews. Split antlers are more suitable for younger dogs and less vigorous chewers. Solid antlers are for strong chewers and adult dogs. Fallow antlers are softer than solid antlers.

Olive Wood Chews, olive branches, olive branch for dogs, olive wood dog chews, olive branch chews, natural dog chews, long lasting dog chews, olive stick

Key Benefits: Very long lasting natural dog chew.

Age Guide: From 8 weeks.

Notes: We have olive wood sticks in 3 sizes, plus chew roots in 2 sizes. Non splinter and long lasting, wood chews are suitable for all ages, including puppies from 8 weeks. 100% natural and ideal for fulfilling your dog's natural desire to chew.

canine enrichment, dog enrichment, buffalo horns, lamb horns for dogs, lamb horn dog chews

Key Benefits: Long lasting. Can be stuffed with food.

Age Guide: From 16 weeks.

Notes: Lamb and buffalo horns are hollow, so they can be stuffed with raw or other wet food to extend the engagement. Dogs love that horns are stronger smelling than some other chews. Horns are a harder but totally natural long lasting chew that can keep some dogs quietly occupied for long periods. Popular with medium and larger breeds.

Other Options

Variety adds enrichment and enjoyment to your dog’s life. Other natural dog chews offered by Pawsitive Thinking include jumbo fish chewy bars, venison tendons, beef cartilage (moon bones), goat tripe, camel tripe, hairy rabbit rolls and hairy deer ears. None of our chews are chemically processed and all are ethically sourced. You can view our complete Doggy Deli selection HERE.

venison ears, deer ears for dogs, dog chews, venison dog chews, hairy dog chews


Safety Of Natural Dog Chews


Whilst we believe natural dog chews are far safer and healthier than their processed or synthetic counterparts, all chews hold an element of risk. Potential problems include tooth damage, digestive upset and choking. To reduce the risks it is strongly recommended that all dogs are supervised when they have access to chews and that they are also introduced gradually. Some dogs may need help or training to improve safety and minimise the possible pitfalls.


Clean, fresh water should be readily available at all times. It is common for dogs to have a drink following a chewing session. 


When hard chews are small enough to swallow, they should be removed and replaced. For yakers, the leftover small bits can be placed in the microwave to puff up. Once cooled, these can be given to the dog as a crunchy treat.


Removing Chews From Your Dog


If you need to remove a chew for any reason, a good tip to minimise resource guarding is to offer something in return that is of equal or higher value to the dog. Dogs are less likely to demonstrate unwanted behaviour if removing something from their possession is a positive, enjoyable experience. This can take practice and is best done by an adult. It is also worth remembering that it is the dog’s opinion of value that counts, no-one wants to give up a chocolate bar in favour of a lettuce leaf! So being generous and training chew removal with high value rewards is safer and more likely to be successful.


Snatching, forcibly opening the dog’s mouth or trying to dominate the dog into giving up their chew is not recommended. Methods like these are more likely to result in a negative emotional state for both of you, which can lead to unwanted behaviour from your dog. It is much safer and more sustainable to train your dog that chew removal isn’t a bad thing. It is also advisable to train positive chew removal right from the start, just in case of an emergency and to optimise safety.


If despite your best efforts you find your dog choking, it’s worth knowing in advance what to do to help. Here’s a short video that is well worth watching-

natural dog chews, long lasting dog chews, ethical dog chews, dog treats, dog chews


Thank you for reading.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved dogs, cats and chickens. SHOP HERE 

Thank you to Paws and Tors for many of the images produced for Pawsitive Thinking.

More blogs available to read here-

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Canine Arthritis Management- Improving & Extending Lives

Canine Arthritis Management

Pawsitive Thinking is pleased to be working with Canine Arthritis Management to help improve and
extend the lives of dogs suffering with arthritis.

About CAM

Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) was developed by Hannah Capon, a veterinary surgeon with wide-ranging experience of working with arthritic dogs, their owners and fellow professionals to create effective long-term management plans. CAM is committed to promoting better care of our ageing canine friends. They believe that through education, the disease can be better tackled to give our dogs longer, healthier lives free from pain. CAM aims to challenge arthritis as the major cause of elective euthanasia in the UK.

Resources & Information On Canine Arthritis

The CAM website is a great place to start. It provides a wealth of information for dog owners, vets, trainers, groomers, walkers, physiotherapists and other pet professionals who would like to learn more about arthritis management.

Owners and pet professionals can read about the signs, causes and diagnosis of arthritis. Further information is available on management, things to avoid and possible treatment options. Useful case studies are also presented for a range of dogs, from 4 to 17 years of age. These help to show how varied and unique management plans can be for different dogs.

The CAM education centre runs courses for both owners and professionals. For vets, CAM offers interactive lectures and other support to help set up specialist arthritis clinics.

A whole host of free downloadable resources are available to help you manage arthritis effectively. There is a library of articles, checklists, charts, booklets and tools.

Interactive Lifestyle Tool

CAM also has a useful interactive lifestyle tool that gives further information about the hazards in the home and outside. It provides advice on how to manage these hazards for the benefit of your dog and their condition. You can access the tool HERE.

Practical Tools To Help With Canine Arthritis Management

Pawsitive Thinking offers a huge range of practical tools that can help people with canine arthritis management. We have a large choice of slow feeders to help with weight control, a range of snuffle and foraging mats for low impact activity and 100% natural long lasting chews for calm engagament. Other customer favourites are bestselling and clinically proven FidoSpore probiotics and Green Relief– a licensed herbal medicine for the symptomatic relief of arthritis.

We also have a large selection of ideas for canine enrichment, to help promote positive behaviour and provide mental stimulation without high intensity exercise.

Thank you for reading.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved dogs, cats and chickens. SHOP HERE 

More blogs available to read here-

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The Perils Of Puffed Dog Chews

puffed dog chews, puffed chicken feet, puffed snouts

Dogs have an in built need to chew, it is a totally normal and natural behaviour. Chewing releases endorphins, which have a comforting and relaxing effect. It is a self rewarding behaviour that has many positive benefits, so should be encouraged. However if dogs aren’t given chewing opportunities or the right training, they will often help themselves to items to chew that may not be appropriate. Shoes, clothes and furniture seem to be a favourite!

We like natural chews for the added benefits to enrichment of taste, texture, aroma, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. There are a vast array of natural dog chews available, such as ears, feet, hooves, horn, cheese, tendons and skin. Some people (me included!) can be a bit squeamish about feeding their dogs body parts, so some have been disguised to make them more appealing to humans.

When is a natural chew not natural?

Chemical Processing

Many people now know about the problems associated with rawhide chews. The chemical processing involved in their production has been widely publicised and although they are still readily available, there is a consensus that they aren’t very safe for dogs. However what is lesser known, is that some other chews sold as ‘natural’ are also highly processed.

Take a look at puffed ears, pig snouts and chicken feet. Just looking at the picture can tell you that they aren’t totally natural- pigs snouts and chicken feet are not white! In order to make them more aesthetically pleasing for us humans, manufacturers take the raw natural ingredient and heavily process it. Sold widely as puffed, still called natural and with the added suggested benefit of puffed chews being lower in fat.

Is a small amount of fat actually a problem? There is hardly any fat in a chicken foot, they are mostly bone, skin and connective tissue- one of their main benefits outside being good to chew is they offer nutrients like glucosamine that are good for dog’s joints. Snouts have more fat than a chicken foot but actually have more protein than fat, the protein to fat ratio is high (Iske et al, 2018).

The puffing process can involve the following steps-

  • Salting
  • Treating the animal by-product with lime and sulphuric acid
  • Adding ammonium chloride to remove the lime
  • Making the animal by-product alkaline by adding a salt and hydrochloric acid solution
  • Drying
  • Rapid heat transfer at high temperatures to puff the chew

There are many other properly natural dog chews available, those processed with salts, acids and other chemical compounds don’t offer dogs any major benefits. They strip the chew of nutrients and when dogs are perfectly capable of eating a chicken foot raw, heavy processing is unnecessary. For those humans who can’t cope with raw chews, try air dried (not cooked) instead. Or for a puffed treat made without chemicals, cheese puffs are the small ends of yak milk chews simply microwaved.

Thank You For Reading

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 


Iske, Morris and Johnson (2018) Composition of eleven pig by-products, Animal Industry Report. Iowa State University.

US patents 2009, Hot air puffed pet treat and method of making.

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Veterinary Treatments Linked To Canine Behaviour Change

Unwanted behaviour in dogs, dog aggression, behaviour change in dogs

Unwanted behaviour in dogs is a major cause of rehoming and even euthanasia. An American vet specialising in animal behaviour, stress evaluation and canine aggression has reported some interesting findings. Carlo Siracusa from the Department of Clinical Studies at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania has noted that several medical and surgical treatments that are routinely prescribed by vets can affect the behaviour of dogs.

Links Between Veterinary Treatment and Behaviour Change

  • Dogs under corticosteroid treatment were reported to have several behavioural changes. These include being less active, less playful, more nervous, more fearful, more aggressive in the presence of food and when disturbed, more likely to bark.
  • Apoquel, a drug used to help dogs with itchy skin conditions has been linked to increased aggression.
  • A well-known and frequently used antihistamine called Diphenhydramine has been linked as the cause of unwanted excitement and nervousness in dogs.
  • A drug called Phenylpropanolamine which is commonly used for the treatment of urine leaking in dogs, can cause restlessness and increased irritability.
  • Medication used to control seizures may provoke anxiety and agitation.
  • Surgery can be incredibly stressful and consequently cause major behavioural changes.

Worth Considering….

So if your dog is experiencing changes in their behaviour and is receiving or recently received medication or has had surgery, it is worth having a chat to your vet. Likewise, it would be a good idea during any veterinary consultations to discuss the potential side effects of treatments, including the potential for behaviour changes.

Lots of things can affect behaviour, including the gut, brain, immune system and hormones. Siracusa advises that any medications that affect body systems linked to behaviour have the potential to cause noticeable behavioural changes. 

REFERENCE: Siracusa, C. (2016) Treatments affecting dog behaviour: something to be aware of. Veterinary Record 179, 460-461.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 

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Why Feed Chicken Grit?

Chicken enrichment

Chickens don’t have any teeth, you’ve probably heard of the expression ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’. Without teeth, they have a different way of grinding food and that’s where grit comes in.

Insoluble or Digestive Grit

When your hen eats pellets or corn, the food passes into her crop. Food is then stored in the crop for up to six hours, this is where it softens and starts the process of digestion.  During the course of the day the food leaves the crop and enters an organ called the Proventriculus,  which is the first part of the stomach. At this stage in the digestive process the food is mixed with enzymes, to break down protein and peptides and assist with absorption.

After the food has left the Proventriculus, it enters the second part of the stomach called the Gizzard. This is basically the grinding mill of the gut, to replace the lack of teeth. Grit is needed here to help grind up vegetation and break down the hard husks of grains and seeds that your hen might eat. This grinding enables the food to be processed into a form which allows the nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Without insoluble grit, your hen can’t digest her food properly and can become unwell. If there is insufficient grit in the diet, hens are more prone to impactions as the gut can’t deal with large lumps of food.

Soluble Grit

The other side to grit is soluble grit, which provides the calcium needed to produce egg shells. Without enough calcium in the diet, hens can’t produce healthy, strong shells. Thin, brittle shells are a sign that the hen may need more calcium. Eating their own eggs is another symptom that they may need more soluble grit in the diet.

The best chicken grit

Free Range Vs Coop Kept Diet

All chickens, however they are managed, should have access to a free supply of grit. Chickens kept on a large outside area are able to source some natural grit from their environment, so they generally eat less supplementary grit because of this. It is still necessary to supplement their diet though, to minimise the potential health problems found from insufficient grit in the diet. Chickens kept in a coop cannot obtain enough grit from their surroundings, so it is even more imperative that they have a readily available supply.

What’s The Best Chicken Grit?

Having tried several different brands and types over the years, we can confidently say the best chicken grit we have ever used is Gastro Grit. Whereas the other grits would often sit in their pots relatively untouched, Gastro Grit is far more palatable. This made a huge difference to the quality of our eggs, most notably the shells went from being paper thin and breaking when picked up, to needing a good hard crack to open them. Egg production increased and our ex-caged hens also stopped eating their own eggs.

Gastro Grit on the left, straight oyster shell on the right.

Gastro Grit contains soluble and insoluble grit, as well as other beneficial extras such as brewers yeast, seaweed and charcoal. The added herbs and aniseed contribute to the enhanced palatability.

You can get Gastro Grit in two sizes, 1kg pouches for a smaller flock and for those with more hens, 5kg bags are also available.

Gastro Grit put to the test.

Thank You For Reading

If you would like a FREE guide to chicken enrichment, CLICK HERE.

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 

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Choosing The Reinforcer

Dog training, Puller dog toy

Reinforcers are an event that increases the likelihood that a specific response or behaviour will occur.

Making Choices

Dogs are making choices all the time, so we need to train our dogs to make the right choices. This is where reinforcement comes in. If you add the right reinforcer at the right time, it will encourage more of the behaviour you want. The reinforcer promotes the value of the choice the dog has made.

Good Choices + The Right Reinforcement = More Good Choices.

For example, you’re out walking and your chase loving dog sees a rabbit. They choose to start pulling on the lead. If they manage to go quicker or even pull the lead out of your hand, their choice to pull gets reinforced by the ability to run after the rabbit. However if you have reinforced looking at you or for walking calmly when they see a rabbit, then they are less likely to pull. This is because they have been reinforced for different behaviour associated with the rabbit, not for pulling.

Importantly, if you don’t reinforce desired behaviour it is unlikely to increase. In the case of unwanted behaviour the dog is often reinforcing themselves. Without you reinforcing the required behaviour instead, the dog will continue to choose to do things you might not want.

Dog training
Your dog’s choices aren’t always the ones you would like.

What Are Reinforcers?

Reinforcers are behaviours rather than objects. The following behaviours are all reinforcers-

  • Running
  • Eating
  • Playing
  • Sniffing
  • Chasing
  • Swimming
  • Chewing

Each individual dog chooses what is reinforcing to them. For example, swimming would not be reinforcing to our collie Milo but chasing most certainly would.

Dog training
Dogs are all individuals when it comes to what they find reinforcing.

Levels Of Reinforcement

Reinforcers do not neccesarily work in every situation. For Milo, eating a small piece of his regular food is enough to reinforce him lying down at home. However faced with that rabbit it is more reinforcing for him to chase it, rather than to stay with me and eat some food.

You therefore need to work out what your dog finds most reinforcing and use those behaviours to strengthen the behaviour you would like in different situations. Thinking about Milo again, it would be pointless me offering him a piece of food in a potential rabbit chase situation. However if I offered him a game of chase with me when he sees that rabbit, I am more likely to be able to get the opportunity to stop him running off. The chase with me would be running after a tug toy or me throwing a Puller dog toy.

Reinforcer Delivery

You can also change the delivery of the chosen reinforcer to change the level of desirability of that reinforcer. This gives you more versatility in different situations and more options to be able to gain the desired behaviour. If I just handed the Puller dog toy to Milo after he sees the rabbit, that would not be as reinforcing to him as me rolling or throwing it. For some dogs, calmly placing some food on the ground would be more reinforcing than you animating it. Alternatively, for Milo, he is reinforced more by me throwing a piece of food for him to run after than me just handing it to him. The Kong Hide N Treat is a great training tool for varying reinforcement delivery.

So once you have identified things that your dog loves to do, you can play around with the delivery of those things to help you with your training.

Examples Of Reinforcer Choices

  • Ask your dog to sit and then reinforce the completed behaviour by releasing the dog to go and swim
  • Cue your dog to wait, then reinforce them for waiting by opening the door and releasing them to go outside
  • Your dog notices a distraction in the distance, reinforce a hesitation to run by scatter feeding
  • After your dog has returned to your recall cue, excitedly play with their favourite toy
  • Ask your dog to stay beside you, then reinforce a positive response by releasing them to go and sniff
Dog training
Once established at home, practice reinforcing desired behaviour out and about

Examples of Reinforcer Choice For Milo

The tractor engine starting used to trigger Milo to run after the tractor, before it even moved. Now the engine starting is a trigger for Milo to run to me! How did I achieve this? Through me making the right reinforcement choices to reward Milo for the behaviour I wanted to see more.

What didn’t work-

  • Feeding a piece of regular food directly to him
  • Scatter feeding
  • Recall
  • Throwing a chew stick
  • Walking in a different direction

These didn’t’t work because they weren’t reinforcing enough to Milo.

What did work-

  • Playing with the Pullers regularly, building his desire for them away from a chase situation. Then starting with the tractor at a distance, rewarding him for not running towards it by throwing a Puller.
  • Throwing one piece of food towards the tractor, then several pieces of higher value food away from the tractor.
  • Throwing the Kong Hide N Treat in the opposite direction to the tractor when the engine started.
  • Gradually moving closer to the tractor and consistently reinforcing Milo’s good choices.

So now when the engine starts, he sees it as fun time with me and not fun time with a tractor wheel!

Positive reinforcement dog training
The power of training with positive reinforcement.

Thank You For Reading

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 

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Ditch The Bowl

Ditching the bowl

5 ways to use your dog’s daily food allowance to create amazing real life benefits, shape great habits and pour value into your relationship instead of the bowl.

What does ditching the bowl mean?

Instead of feeding your dog in a bowl, you use the food in other ways to help you with training and enrichment. You can ditch the bowl with all ages and breeds, including puppies.

Why bother to ditch the bowl?

Food has great value to most dogs and you can use this value to improve your dog’s life. By gaining food by different methods other than from a bowl, they can learn more, learn faster, be mentally stimulated and have a more enriched life.

Contrafreeloading is a term used when dogs prefer food that requires effort to obtain. This means that given the choice, they would rather earn their food than be given it for free and this leaves them happy, mentally fulfilled and much more likely to behave in a positive way. Contrafreeloading is real, it happens with many animals, not just dogs and it’s a desirable behaviour to nurture.

Fussy eaters often eat better when they achieve food via alternative ways to a bowl. They gain more interest in food and consequently they can also become easier to train.

Dogs on limited exercise (such as following injury or surgery) massively benefit from receiving their food via methods other than from a bowl. This is due to being kept occupied for longer periods, plus the contrafreeloading effect helping them to use their brains.

How often should I ditch the bowl?

Water should always be available but the food bowl can be put away as often as suits you.

The answer to this is whatever works for you! Some people never use a bowl but instead use all of the daily food allowance for training and enrichment activities. Others use just part of the food each day for different activities and some ditch the bowl a couple of times a week. There are no exact requirements, so you can fit it in to your individual circumstances and even change it week to week. It is important to be mindful of the ethical considerations of ditching the bowl for your individual dog.

In general though, the more you can do the greater your training results and you should see more of many other benefits too. Dogs that earn their food are often calmer, more content and less likely to display unwanted behaviours.

What if I feed raw food?

You can still ditch the bowl! Whether you use kibble or raw, all dogs can benefit from this approach. Kibble can be easier for training but there are ways around it with raw fed dogs. You can use dried meat, fruit and vegetables, squeeze tubes, feed from a spoon or use a washable pouch and wear gloves.

Five Ways To Ditch The Bowl

1. Training

Dog training is a way of life, not just a 6 week course, so it’s good to get in the habit of using the daily food allowance for rewarding desired behaviour. You can still use higher value food for when your dog needs a greater reward or for specific training sessions.

Day to day, reward your dog with their regular food when they exhibit the behaviour you want to see. Whether that’s calmness, getting off the sofa when asked, not jumping up, ignoring a distraction or staying quiet, whenever the dog does something you like- reinforce it with their food.

2. Scatter Feeding

Really simple but so much more beneficial than feeding from a bowl. Scatter feeding slows down eating time and gets dogs using their nose, which provides mental stimulation and promotes calmer behaviour. Sniffing makes dogs tired!

You can use a snuffle mat indoors, or just literally scatter food on the floor. Outside you can scatter food in short grass to begin with, then once you have a pro sniffer dog try it in longer grass too. Vary the difficulty and always make sure some of the food is easier to find. Observe your dog to make sure they are finding all their food but leave them to search it out themselves.

Scatter feeding can be used on walks and when out on day trips. When our dog was young we used it a lot to reinforce calm behaviour in new environments, including the pub!

Scatter feeding is a simple way to ditch the bowl anywhere.

3. Interactive Toys

There are lots of toys that dispense food slowly and require the dog to make an effort to receive it. Quick, and easy to fill is the Kong Wobbler. The Kong Hide N Treat can be used for training or play and the Westpaw Qwizl can too.

4. Stuffed Toys

Food stuffed toys are a valuable way to encourage calmness. They can occupy your dog with an engaging but calm activity for much longer than it would take to eat the same food from a bowl. You can read all about the value of food stuffed toys, plus our best recipes HERE.

Our favourite toys are the Westpaw Toppl and the Westpaw Tux.

west paw tux puzzle toy, alternative to kongs, stuff able dog toy
Westpaw Tux

5. Slow Feeder Bowls

Ok, so still a bowl but slow feeders extend eating time and provide more of a challenge than standard dog bowls. There are various models available, we particularly like the Slodog and the Lickimat Slomo. They are more of a slow feeder plate than a bowl and they are brilliant for making food platters. Food platters are really valuable for enrichment as they provide your dog with different tastes, textures and smells. Using different food on a platter offers a really enjoyable eating experience for your dog.

Other types of slow feeder for dogs are the Lickimat range. You can mix and match between different types to vary the activity and eating time. You can change these up daily with other slow feeders or activities.

Slow feeder for dogs
Slodog Slow Feeder Plate, perfect for platters.

It is hugely rewarding for dogs to gain their food from ways other than a bowl. Once you get into a different routine of how to feed it is amazing how much enjoyment you will get from ditching the bowl too.

Thank you for reading

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 

Further Reading

You can read more about the ethics of ditching the bowl HERE.

You can read more about contrafreeloading HERE by trainer Nikki from Unleashed Pawtential.

There are some more ideas for ditching the bowl HERE by Lisa from Quibells N Bits.

There is a Facebook group called Beyond The Bowl for other ideas.

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Mighty Middle Game For Dogs

Mighty middle dog training game

Mighty middle is a really useful game that you can play with your dog to help with recall, proximity to you, confidence and focus in distracting environments.

Step One

Have some of your dog’s daily food ready, if you use raw food you can use a squeezable food tube. Alternatively you can use a toy, it is a good idea to have some much loved toys saved just for training. Begin this game indoors at home, in a quiet environment.

Step Two

Stand with your legs apart with your dog in front of you. Use a piece of food to lure them around your leg behind you, into position facing forward between your legs. This is the middle position. Feed in that position.

Step Three

Throw a piece of food away from you to the front. As your dog returns to you, lure them around your leg behind you and back in to middle. Feed in that position. To build value, feed more than just the piece of food you used for the lure.

Step Four

Repeat step three a few times, remember to play the game in both directions.

Step Five

As your dog starts to go between your legs, add the cue word. It can be anything you like but ‘Middle’ works well and football fans often like the cue to be nutmeg!

Step Six

When your dog starts to get the hang of it, use your cue word once they are returning towards you and see if they can return straight to middle without the lure. When they do, CELEBRATE! Reward well and let your dog know how great they are.

I think my celebration could have been a bit more enthusiastic!

Why Play Middle?

It’s a really useful cue to have when out and about, for those dogs who may need a safe space to go in scary situations and for building confidence in new environments. It is also valuable for helping recall as once the dog learns it’s fun and rewarding, it can be used in several situations for safety and to ask your dog to check in with you. Middle can also be helpful in distracting environments, when you need your dog to focus on you and not something else that may get them in to trouble. As well as all these reasons, it’s also great fun! Dogs love it and it’s something children can do with them too.


Once you have established the basics it is a good idea to build duration in the middle position. Then when you’ve mastered middle at home indoors, have a go outside in a familiar outside environment with no distractions. From there you can practice indoors and outdoors with distant distractions, then closer distractions. The ultimate test is having a go outside with those real life challenges that present themselves, such as squirrels, running children or cats!

For those looking to really build on this behaviour, add in some extra cues by asking for a sit or a down after you’ve got middle. You can also try middle on the move- walk forwards slowly with your dog moving with you between your legs.

Middle dog training game

Thank You For Reading

Natalie Bucklar, BSc (Hons), MSc is the owner of Pawsitive Thinking. We offer a tried and tested portfolio of products to help you with the training, care and enrichment of your much loved pets. SHOP HERE 

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