Ditching the Dish!

by Rachel Taunton // September 2017

Ditching the Dish!

How to make feeding time fun for your puppy.

A lot of owners come to classes with clever, busy puppies that are lots of fun and often, we’re asked how to keep them entertained to give new pup parents a break. When we suggest getting rid of the food bowl, it can be quite an alien concept. Usually, when we get a new dog, one of our first purchases will be (among other things) a dish for their meal times but consider ridding the dish in favour of making meal times a bit more mentally stimulating.

Even if it’s not for every meal, if you can occasionally make dinner time interactive, your puppy will learn new skills, it’ll give you time together to strengthen your bond and – hopefully – they might even need a quick nap from all that brain work!

 Here are some fun things to try to help make feeding time more interesting: 

  1. Kongs
  2. Activity boxes
  3. Slow feeder
  4. Snuffle mat
  5. Food puzzles
  6. Scatter feed/hide food

Kongs are a fabulous investment – my spaniel has a collection of five that we cycle through for his daily intake of food. They’re rubber toys that are great to chew but have a hollow opening to stuff food and tasty treats into. Initially, I started by putting nice high value sausages to get Travis interested in the Kong and when he figured out what he was supposed to do, I used his daily kibble to fill it. Start by packing it lightly so the food will just fall out without much trouble and slowly pack it tighter until they have to spend a little while on getting to their food. Travis now loves his Kongs so much, he stares at me in absolute disbelief if I dare to put his food in a bowl and expect him to eat it without throwing his Kong around the house!

Similar to Kongs, activity boxes are great for keeping your furry friends busy for a fraction of the price – it just takes a little more tidying up after they’ve had a whale of a time rummaging through its contents. Working in kennels, we had lots of donations of treats which meant lots of empty boxes. We would fill these boxes with scraps of paper and hide some treats or chews in there to keep the dogs stimulated while they were left over night.

Giving a puppy something to do like an activity box or a Kong while you’re out of the room early on can help build a positive association with being left alone and avoid future separation anxiety!

A slow feeder is fabulous for dogs who tend to forget to chew their food and just inhale it – they are dishes with little ridges inside to make it a little more difficult to wolf down their dinner. Similarly, snuffle mats are a great alternative to a dish. You can buy snuffle mats online or they’re quite easy to make yourself – just take a rubber mat with holes in like a sink guard and tie lots of strips of fabric into it to make a shaggy rug that you can hide treats in so it makes your puppy use his nose to find his food.

For those little bright sparks, there are lots of interactive food games that require pups to think about how to access food via spinning sections or pulling out pegs to unlock drawers where their tasty grub is hidden – the options are endless.

Remember, making meal times more exciting doesn’t have to come at a cost.


While some of the more interactive toys out there carry a pretty substantial price tag, you don’t have to shell out a fortune to have fun with your puppy. Keep empty milk cartons and leave a few hidden around the house with a portion of their dinner inside – just make sure you remember where you leave them so you don’t find stale food your pup missed a week after you put it there!

We use a lot of these tactics in class when we get some of our more fidgety clients who need a little help settling. The options are endless to get creative with finding new ways to use food. We encourage all of our doggy owners to make the most out of what they have and using a dog’s daily food allowance to do a bit of training is the most cost effective method of them all. Our classes teach owner’s how to use positive reinforcement to train their pups; be it fun tricks or just basic good manners which can make their lives easier but also make themselves as owners more valuable! Dogs love to work with their human friends, it’s rewarding for the relationship they share with you.

If you’re interested in attending classes with us at Dog School South Wales, drop us an email at southwalesdogschool@dogstrust.org.uk or give us a call on 07920 658644 and we can discuss booking into our fun and engaging classes.