Treat or kibble scatters are my favorite "lazy" enrichment activity. This enrichment activity involves just what it sounds like - I literally take a handful of small treats or kibble and toss/ scatter it all over an area, then let the dog(s) get busy foraging and searching for the pieces.
You might do this across the linoleum floor in your kitchen, in various rooms of the house (forming a "trail of treasure" for your dog to seek out and find), or (my personal favorite) across the grass of the backyard.
I jokingly call this "lazy" enrichment, but in actuality it provides a fulfilling and time consuming activity for the dog. It is a technique commonly called "scatter feeding" in the animal training world, but again this practice is not always as common in the pet dog world; I am arguing that it really should be!
If you spend time around dog trainers, you may hear the phrase "Ditch the Dish!" used when talking about using food to give your dog more enrichment opportunities in day to day life. "Ditch the Dish" refers to there being many different ways to use the calories/ food that our dogs are going to receive anyway in the course of the day to stimulate their brains and bodies. Treat or kibble scatters are just one of many examples of food-based enrichment activities.
Dogs are by nature foragers and scavengers. "Working" to get their food by smelling, seeking, and foraging is a very natural, "doggy" thing to do that helps satisfy them on a very basic level. After all, mother nature doesn't provide neat meals in stainless steel bowls!
In addition to the enrichment and mental stimulation that food scatters can provide, this can also be a great technique to slow dogs down who eat (inhale!) their food too quickly from a standard bowl.
I have been known to chuck a large handful of kibble (my dog's breakfast) across the kitchen floor before leaving the house to run errands, and foraging for dinner (a tossed cup of kibble spread out across the grass) in the backyard is a favorite activity for the dogs in my home.
I realize that if you have never heard of this practice before it may sound strange at first, but give it a try and I promise you will reap the benefits from a more satisfied dog.
Things to Note:
"Snuffle mats:" another term becoming quite common in the dog training world, but still sometimes less known in the pet world.
If you haven't heard of a snuffle mat before, it is an enrichment toy for dogs typically made with a square of rubber backing that has tons of thick fleece (or sometimes other fabric) strips ties to it. The end result looks kind of like the cross section of a really long shag carpet made from fleece strips. You scatter treats or kibble on top of and in between the fleece strips, and the dog uses their nose and muzzle to "snuffle" in the fleece to forage for and find all of the food pieces. It is a food scatter as described above, but with an added challenge!
Some people more crafty (and patient!) than myself make snuffle mats themselves for pretty low cost, but you should also be able to easily find one to purchase if you search for "snuffle mat" on Google or Etsy.
As with any new toy, it is important to supervise your dog closely when they are using the snuffle mat to make sure they aren't chewing on/ destroying/ consuming the fleece pieces or mat itself. This is definitely an item I put down when my dogs are actively using it with food scattered in the mat, then I pick it up and put it away and out of the dogs' reach after use!
I have also used snuffle mats as a great tool for keeping a dog occupied and engaged while in the waiting room at the vet clinic or while waiting in between exercises at an in person dog training class or seminar.
Snuffle mats are similar to food scatters and are a great way to add some extra challenge and novelty to the activity of foraging and searching for the pieces of food.
In summary, as with other enrichment activities, food scatters and snuffle mats can be another way to help fulfill your dog's behavioral needs more fully, which will in turn leave you with a dog who is satisfied, more relaxed, and less likely to practice undesirable behaviors.
Now go scatter some food for your dog to find, and stop back tomorrow for "Day Three" in our Week of Enrichment!