Food is a simple yet highly valued item to use for enhancing the day of a shelter pet. Food does not have to be handed out in bowls to be devoured in 5 minutes. In nature, dogs work for their food; it is not handed to them in a prepared bowl. You can take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their morning or afternoon by providing food toys or puzzles. In addition to adding potentially pricey toys to your donation wish list, you can also have volunteers make puzzles right at the shelter.
Putting treats or food inside of used cardboard Chinese food containers or closed brown paper bags is a fun way to allow the dogs to figure out how to get to the meal. You can also get some pieces of pvc pipe and put treats inside, letting the dogs figure out how to knock or shake the kibble and treats out. Do you have old cracker or cereal boxes at home? Recycle them by adding treats, duct taping both ends shut, put holes in the box and let the dogs shake and tear the boxes until they get the reward. If the dog needs a little help getting started, smear some peanut butter on the outside of the box. Of course, Kong feeding is another commonly used and entertaining option. And nose work is always fun for a dog! Bring them into a quiet room and toss a handful of Cheerios or have treats hidden throughout the room. If you do not have access to a separate room, you can do this right in their kennel, too.
Shy dogs can benefit from quiet hand feeding. Since food is highly valued, seeing that food comes directly from people can speed up the trust process with less confident dogs. If you have dogs who need some training on softening their mouth, smear some baby food on your palm and let them lick it off or put kibble between 2 of your fingers and let go once they stop being mouthy.
As with any food based training or enrichment, always be extra careful when multiple dogs are housed together. For more tips on enriching the lives of your shelter pets, please visit our past blog posts or read this article.