As pet dog owners, we are always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our furry friends happy and engaged. One of my favourite ways to do this is through scatter feeding, a simple yet effective technique that encourages dogs to use their natural instincts.
Feeding them this way encourages them to use their exceptional nose and engage their brain to hunt and forage for their food. This provides a more enriching feeding experience for your dog, but also has a multitude of other benefits too.
What is Scatter Feeding?
If you’ve not heard of it before, scatter feeding involves scattering your dog’s food in various locations around your home, garden or any safe location. This creates a foraging opportuity that engages your dog’s amazing olfactory ability whilst at the same time providing a fun and rewarding challenge for them.
I use scatter feeding not only with my own dogs, but pretty much every single dog I’ve ever worked with. It is a staple beginning exercise for my puppy training program, my adolescent Teenage Tyrant and adult dog training programs, as well as for all my behaviour cases.
Here are just a few of the reasons why I love this foraging activity so much:
- Provides mental stimulation
Scatter feeding provides the opportunity to perform species specific behaviour – simply put, it makes them feel fantastic because they have the chance to perform a behaviour which is completely natural to them – using their noses this way engages their natural instincts to hunt and forage for food helping to keep them mentally engaged and challenged.
- Promotes physical health
In addition to the mental stimulation, scatter feeding also provides physical activity for your dog. Not only are they having to move around to search for the food, by being a bit creative and scattering the food not only on the ground, but also on top of, behind and under things, we can include the need to balance, stretch, weight shift etc. This provides great learning opportunities for puppies and helps keep older dogs supple and fit into later life.
- Mental health benefits
Scatter feeding has many benefits for dogs who may be anxious, fearful or reactive and is great for building confidence and promoting resilience. Scattering small amounts of food can really help dogs by providing a distraction, offering them an alternative coping strategy, and/or help them start to build new, more positive associations with things that previously upset them. We can use scatter feeding in a controlled way in safe set ups as part of an effective behaviour modification plan.
- Weight management
Scatter feeding can also be helpful for dogs who need to manage their weight. By spreading their food around a room or outdoor space, your dog will have to work harder to find and consume their food, which can help slow down their eating and prevent overeating. This can be especially beneficial for dogs who are prone to obesity or who need to lose weight.
It is important to remember some dogs who are very highly food motivated, or for adolescent dogs who commonly struggle with frustration, this method of feeding may prove to be stressful rather than beneficial, particularly if its been a while since the last meal. For these dogs, make sure they have their main portion in a bowl in one go, and then give them a scatter feed after that.
- Can be used as a training tool
Scatter feeding can be a great way of starting your dog off on particular skills or sports activities such as scent detection or tracking. A quick scatter can also be used as a reward for behaviour you really like such as a great recall, or calm settle.
- Easy to implement
One of the best things about scatter feeding is that it’s really easy and quick to do. All you need is your dog’s regular food, a room or safe outdoor space to scatter it in, and a minute of your time.
One of the ways we use scatter feeding in our house is when someone comes to the door. One of my dogs loves people, and gets very excited when visitors arrive. My other dog is a nervous and anxious girl, who gets very upset when someone comes to the door unexpectedly and I haven’t been able to prepare beforehand. Using a scatter feed keeps both dogs happy, entertained and feeling safe, whilst I go and see who’s at the door and deal with whatever needs to be done.
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