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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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