In the wild, dogs and other members of the canine family don't lounge around all day, eat one or two meals all at once from one source, and then use a huge burst of energy as they go out for one or two daily walks.
While our pet dogs are no wilder than we are, at least we get to go to the supermarket to fetch our food. We can go in and out of the house whenever we like, and we get to choose when we'll be active and when we won't.
We cannot allow our dogs to hunt their own food, or to come and go from our property as they please. How do we make life a little more interesting for our pets? We take them back to nature and let them forage, under controlled conditions, within the boundaries of our homes - dogs are scavengers as well as hunters. Let them find their own food; this will be rewarding for most dogs as it lets them use their natural instincts, cuts down on problems caused by gulping their food too quickly, and keeps them mentally and physically stimulated. And anything that keeps them out of the rubbish bin when your back's turned can't be bad!
These tips might make our lives with our dogs more involved and time consuming, but what's the point of a pet if it just sits in the corner until you feel you want some exercise?
Don't just put the food in a bowl once or twice a day and let him help himself. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Get out to your local pet store, or browse the internet. You're searching for 'interactive dog toys'.
Interactive toys provide mental stimulation and exercise for your dog. The idea is that you put food inside the toy, and your dog spends all day trying to get it out - this works whether you feed wet or dry food, but you will need different toys for each.
The most usual kind of toy is a hollow ball with a small hole, or holes, in it. The dog pushes it around with his nose and the food falls out bit by bit. Some dogs don't seem interested at first, but if you put something really tasty that they don't normally have in it, they should get the idea. Try some pieces of chicken, liver, or hot dog sausages. Let them have a good sniff at the hole so they realise there's food in it. Roll it around a bit so they see the food dropping out and leave it with them for a while. Try this when they are hungry, otherwise they will have no motivation to get the food. If you really can't entice your dog to try it, try a different toy; there are plenty out there. Dog rescue centres may be interested in your cast off toys, or you could pass it onto another dog owner to try.
The balls also come as 'cubes', which still do 'roll' around the floor when the dog plays with it, as well as pyramid shapes.
The better toys come with holes which are adjustable. When you first give it to your dog, leave it wide open so it's easy to get the food out. As your dogs gets used to it, make the hole smaller so that the dog has to work harder.
These are the multi-function king of interaction. They come in weird shapes and sizes, and can be stuffed full of your dog's dinner. Stuff them lightly to start with, then as your dog gets used to how it works, pack it tighter, use biscuits to wedge across the top, even freeze them. They must have a hole at each end to avoid creating a vacuum.
They are multi-functional because you can also use them to throw for your dog - as they aren't usually round they will bounce in unpredictable directions, making your dog work harder. They can also be used as chew toys for dogs that just have to chew.
If you don't feel like going shopping, or you've tried the above tips and they don't suit you or your pet, or you just want a few more ways to keep the dog busy, there are other things you can do. The most tiring thing dogs can do is go for a long run, right? Wrong. What tires a dog out most is using its nose, especially for long periods. So, how can we use this?
Hide your dog's food in small piles around the house. This works best with dry food, but with some imagination this can be used by owners who feed wet food. Start by putting a small pile of food in front of your dog and tell him to 'find it' (or other command). Don't make the food pile too big at this stage as it will fill your dog too quickly and defeat the object.
When it's been eaten, move away a few steps, put down another pile, and use the command again. Move further away each time, and when the dog has got the idea, turn your back and put some down so he hasn't got a proper view. Once he really knows what he's doing, let him see you put the food behind some furniture and again give him the command to find it. As the dog improves you can leave him in one room and put the food down in another, out of sight. Start again with the middle of the room, and gradually hide it better so that he really has to sniff it out. Try putting two piles down, reasonably close together at first so he gets the idea that there will be more than one.
After some training you'll be able to just hide a few piles around the house and let him feed himself. Make sure that you clear any uneaten food at the end of the day so you can keep an eye on how much is being eaten. Also, in hot weather any fat in the dry food may turn rancid, so you don't want your dog finding it some time later.
Feed the dog by chucking it (the food, not the dog) out into the garden. Start in the summer when there is plenty of light; your dog might rather starve than be outside learning this when it's cold and raining. Try in the (reasonably early) morning with a small amount of food - this is doubly beneficial in hot weather as it's not a good idea to walk them in the heat of the day, so this will help to tire him out while you wait for the cooler evening to walk him. This is one you can use wet dog food for, but do make sure he eats it all, or that any left over is cleared away.
To start with you'll probably need to sit outside with the dog. Take a portion of his food out to the garden and let them have a nibble to see what you've got. Drop a few bits onto the floor in front of him with the 'find it' command. It may take him some time to get the idea, so be patient. As he begins to eat what you've dropped, scatter some a little way away so he can see. As he eats, scatter some more around, at first letting him see where it's landing. If it's on grass he will still have to sniff about to find it (unless you scalp your lawn regularly). As he gains confidence you can throw it around a bit more so he has to really have a good sniff around to find it. After a few days of this you may be able to just chuck the whole load into the garden and let him spend as much or as little time as he likes finding it through the day.
When winter comes you might need to switch to hide and seek if the weather is really bad, but it's still possible to put the food outside, especially if you can put it outside when it's dark. Being dark, the dog will have to rely even more on his nose to find his food, making him more tired (convenient if you really can't face going out in the cold to walk him).