Eating out of toys

One of the best recommendations I’ve received from our trainer is this: Feed your dog all its meals out of interactive toys.

Her reasoning is as follows: Dogs, in their most natural state, spent a lot of physical and mental energy finding, stalking, killing, and consuming their meals. Today, dogs eat out of bowls in the kitchen and barely use any brain power or calories during dinner. We waste a huge opportunity for physical and mental stimulation when we just plunk down a bowl of kibble and let them scarf it down. Instead, she recommends, feed your dog all its meals from interactive toys that make them “work” for their food and solve problems in the process.

For a few weeks now, we’ve been trying this recommendation and feeding Pyrrha from a variety of toys. Verdict: Very pleased, and why didn’t we try this sooner?

The presentation of the feast
The presentation of the feast.
Eating out of a ball
Making it roll.
If I make it roll this way...
Only use those bowls for water now.
Getting a little help from Guion
Getting a little help from Guion.
With the Kong
With the giant Kong.

Now, Pyrrha eats her meals in about 5-20 minutes (depending on the toy difficulty), instead of in a mere 60 seconds, as when she was eating out of a bowl. She’s learned how to solve problems on her own and adapt to the changing rotation of toys. She’s very engaged in mealtime now. Even though our floors are now slobbery and coated in food remains, I think this new feeding ritual is totally worth it.

Do you ever feed your dogs out of interactive toys? And why, after having read 60 books, have I never read this recommendation in a book before? It’s such a great idea and such an easy incorporation into one’s daily routine! I’m a big fan.

What should I feed my future dog?

Dog food canisters from Etsy.

Lately, my dog reading focus has been pretty heavy on the health and nutrition side of things. I’ve been scouring Dog Food Advisor constantly and I’ve been writing down all sorts of advice and ratings. I read the (pretty terrible) Natural Dog Care and the (really great) Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs. The latter book especially convinced me of the truth that dogs should not be exclusively eating low-grade, high-carb, and high-grain kibble.

So, this means I want to make food for my dog or supplement his or her kibble with fresh meat and natural food. Therein lies the rub. My husband and I are de facto vegetarians. I say “de facto” because we tend to eat vegetarian six nights a week; I don’t eat any meat myself for the rest of the week. This means we’re not really in the habit of buying a lot of meat. We’ll eat it occasionally and if we go to friends’ homes for dinner, but it’s not a regular part of our menu. We can buy meat, however, and we are blessed to be surrounded by plenty of local farms and butchers who raise and sell organic, free range beef and poultry.

These are my options, as I see them:

  1. Kibble diet: Buy a high-quality, grain-free kibble and feed exclusively.
  2. Half kibble/half homemade diet: Supplement homemade meals with high-quality, grain-free kibble.
  3. Raw diet: All raw meat and fresh foods, all homemade and self-prepared.

Everyone I know who has a dog has them on an all-kibble diet. Most dog owners I know also stick to the adage that “people food” is bad for dogs (a myth quite successfully perpetuated by the pet food industry). These dogs eat the exact same thing, day in and day out, and don’t complain. They get fat, though, and often smell bad and shed terribly. After having read these excellent books, I don’t think I could feed my dog an all-kibble diet and feel good about it. Unless it was a really, really high-quality kibble. I might be eating my words on this in a few months, but from today’s vantage point, I don’t think my conscience would rest comfortably if I gave my dog only kibble.

I’m leaning most toward the half kibble/half homemade diet at this point, at least in the beginning.  If I find out that all homemade/raw is easy and affordable, we might just go for that. The plan would be to mix kibble with homemade recipes, including some raw meats, fruits and vegetables, and recommended dairy products. I think this plan could also help us cut down on the food that we throw away: Dog as (carefully moderated!) trash reducer. I plan on arming myself with books like Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs and other canine cookbooks to make sure that our future dog is getting all of the nutrients that he or she needs.

I’ve read some about raw diets for dogs. They make me a little nervous, for a few reasons: 1) I don’t cook all that well for myself; I’m not sure how reliable I would be at cooking every day for my dog; 2) It sounds really expensive; 3) It also sounds very time-consuming; and 4) It would take some effort to find reliable places to get such raw meats. Maybe I will work up to it. For right now, though, I’m not sure if I have the guts (or capital) to jump into a raw diet.

Either way, it’s a lot to think about, and I’m sure I may think differently about some of these things when I’m actually in the day in/day out grind of having a dog.

What kind of diet is your dog on? What do you recommend? If you feed kibble, do you have a particular brand you like? I’m all ears!