In the previous article I talked about one of the biggest doggie-drives: chewing. If any drive behavior could battle the desire to chew, it is the desire to scavenge.
Scavenging is a very strong drive in dogs and for an excellent reason. Better scavengers live longer. Thus it is normal for a dog to decide to see what lies in the trash that the humans felt was not worth eating at dinner or checking out the counter-tops that often have tasty morsels ripe for the plucking. A dog would not be a dog without being born with these genetic tendencies so it is crucial to help them find outlets for their doggie-desires.
In the last couple years an increasing amount of puzzle toys (or “work-to-eat puzzles”) have exploded with success on the dog-market. While they vary greatly in design they all have one thing in common: inside is food and the dog has to manipulate the toy to get the food to dispense. These are fantastic toys to help satisfy scavenging urges and they are tools that every dog owner should have in their toolbox. Some dogs who are unfamiliar with toys like these don’t necessarily leap at the first one you give them, so be flexible and experiment with a couple different types and find out what your dog likes. After all, behavior is behavior, working is working, and because no two animals have identical levels of motivation do not assume your dog wants to solve a calculus problem for a piece of kibble.
My favorite three work-to-eat puzzles are the Omega Paw “Tricky Treats” ball, the Busy Buddy “Tug-A-Jug,” and the Starmark “Bob-A-Lot.” The Tricky Treat Ball is a round ball with a hole in one end that the dog must roll around to get food to dispense—perfect for any ball motivated dogs, the Tug-A-Jug is a canister type toy with a small hole and a rope that the dog has to manipulate to extract kibble out of—perfect for the rope and tug motivated dogs, and the Starmark Bob-A-Lot is the “blow-me-up-punch-me-clown” of the dog toy world—a great puzzle for dogs who are just gaga for funky toys. The Bob-A-Lot puzzle works much like the tricky treat ball but in a punch-me-clown fashion, the toy bobs back up every time it’s whacked. Dogs have to knock the toy to one side and roll it in order to extract the tasty yummies.
Puzzles like these will not prevent scavenging behavior, but they will certainly lower their frequency in illegal areas provided you haven’t given your dog a lifestyle of fresh chicken sitting on the counter. While this is a great reason to own any or all of these products, the best qualities of these toys are that they provide tremendous mental stimulation, which works to lower a dog’s anxiety. If you are leaving your dog at home, filling a toy up and leaving it for them is wonderful protection against separation anxiety—far superior to the feeble attempts of verbally reassuring your dog that you will “be back soon.”
I mentioned three products I am particular to, but there are literally dozens so experiment and see what your dog likes. If you get a toy and your dog won’t touch it, take it back for another or give it to a friend to try with their dog. Be sure you give your dog some time to try out the new puzzle-toy as some dogs take a week or two to warm up to the idea of scavenging their dinner from a plastic toy.
(article continued in part 4)