I came across this silicone muffin mold in the cupboard this morning and I thought I would finally try doing a taster board for the dogs.
A taster board is a basic form of mental enrichment where you put various foods on a plate/tray/muffin tin in front of your dog and observe what they do – sniff, eat, ignore etc. For the dog, it introduces different food stuffs and encourages them to explore while the human can observe if some foods are higher value than others (useful to know for training, for example).
I have a fairly good idea of what my dogs value and I regularly encourage them to eat fruit and veg by giving them stuff as I’m prepping food. I know it isn’t most people’s preference to have dogs hang around in the kitchen but it doesn’t usually bother me, and it makes everything I hand them there more valuable which has encouraged Nell to eat things like lettuce and cabbage, and it’s easier to get her to eat medication when she assumes things I throw her in the kitchen are most likely to be valuable.
In any case, I had some time today so I chopped up some veggies for them – I decided to stick to vegetables only because it’s an absolute no-brainer that if I include cheese or ham, they’ll go first and I learn nothing new. So, my board had carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, courgette, apple and pepper (in the same order for both dogs). All except pepper are much loved by Nell – so much so that she runs into the kitchen when she hears me chopping!
I was interested in finding out if there was any order of preference, and whether Grace would be keen on them without watching Nell eat them too.
- Both dogs ate everything – Nell ate a bite of cucumber and carrot first, then sampled pretty much one of everything in true tapas style
- Grace worked a bit more methodically but that might be because she is smaller and therefore naturally ate the ones closest to her first
- Both dogs ate pepper last, which might be because it was in the furthest corner from them, or because they’re less familiar with it
All in all, I learned that my dogs really like veggies – both cleaned up the board at decent speed and I had to shoo Nell away for Grace’s turn because she wanted to eat another board… The most interesting thing was to notice they both chose a different veg for each mouthful – a bit like humans would vary the taste experience in their mouths over a meal.
I doubt I’ll use any of these as treats outside because of obvious mess reasons, but it was fun and I’ll probably play this another time with another board of super high value treats like cheese!
Today is a low-key home day with lots of sleep to “reset” the dogs after a busy weekend. Our weekends are often filled with beach visits, trips to the garden centre and generally lots of activity for the dogs – in short, a ton of stressors because even a highly exciting trip to the beach winds up the adrenaline system for these two crazies.
Usually I let them potter a lot in the garden but today they are both obsessed with eating the (organic) plant fertiliser we put down yesterday, so I’m keeping them in more than usual which means toys and games.
They’ve already done a treasure hunt indoors (treats hidden everywhere), and in the morning we played with the Trixie game (below) which took both dogs all of 30sec to solve.
This is one reason why I rarely buy these more complex games – too often they are one-trick ponies that don’t entertain for very long, and also they require my attention. I love playing with my dogs, but sometimes I need to focus on other things and then independent games are just what I need.
So, today I have a selection of toys they can work on by themselves – different shapes mean different puzzles, and more thinking!
This pile meant 20min of entertainment with one filling – in the time it’s taken me to write this, they are already done so I need to go and collect the toys for a refill…
This morning I did my weekly ritual for the second time since Grace arrived in family: filled a dozen toys and froze them.
While it is common advice to new puppy owners to use Kongs and especially frozen ones, in the first two weeks I was too much in a haze to be that organised but since we switched (back) to Ziwipeak wet food and Orijen puppy dry food (more on that in another post!), I decided to try a different strategy for preserving my mental health.
Before Grace, I had a couple of the classic Kongs, but since they are way too easily emptied by Nell for kibble and treats, I used them very infrequently. Now, they have multiplied and I have large, medium and small ones for different purposes. The toys in the front (below) are Kong Quests which I’ve found to be excellent for entertaining Nell for long periods of time with treats and peanut butter. Recently, I’ve realised they work just as well or even better than the classic ones for feeding meals so I’ve ordered a couple more – the Frog, which we used to have, and extras of Dumbbell and Flower because they are very versatile.
If you’re considering any of these, here is a short summary of each one:
- Kong Classics – L holds 60ml of food (1/4 cup), M 40ml, and S 20ml which is not very much at all, so for a full meal for a medium sized dog I need two Kongs
- Kong Quest Foragers Quad
- Holds 60ml+ wet food, requires a lot of licking to get the food out
- More difficult to clean if you use raw
- Also works well with “squishy” treats that you can push in, but are hard for a dog to get out – or with small swabs of peanut butter as you don’t need to use much to keep the dog’s attention
- Kong Quest Foragers Flower
- Best used with either wet food or spreads – treats fall out easily unless they are soft and dog needs to lick to get them out
- Holds an incredible 120ml of food which is twice of a Classic Kong’s capacity
- Lots of little cavities keep a dog busy licking for a long time – also for a puppy or a smaller dog, they can easily lick each cavity with their shorter tongues unlike a bigger Kong
- Kong Quest Foragers Dumbbell
- This is one of my favourites because it’s fairly easy to fill, and has different types of cavities – the ends are easy, and the holes in the middle are usually licked last because they are quite hard
- Also holds and incredible 120ml of wet food
- This also works well with different types of treats – the ends need a bigger, crunchy treat and smaller ones go in the middle
- Downside is that with the current heavy dishwasher rotation the rubber at the ends is bending a little so they no longer hold treats (wet food is still fine)
- Kong Quest Critters Frog (not in pic)
- We used to have two of these but they are currently in the “out of rotation” box in the shed – however, they are so good I wanted to mention them in conjunction with the other Quest toys
- Capacity TBC for the large version
- This one is great for both wet food, peanut butter and treats that can be squashed in – Nell loved the first one so much it lost a leg! Again, lots of little cavities to thoroughly work through, which keeps a dog busy for a long time
- Kong Quest Wishbone
- This one also holds a huge amount of food – this time I filled only one side (60ml) so that it isn’t as messy when it thaws on the floor
- I also really like to use this with big, crunchy treats like fish cubes or anything else that crumbles because it means Nell has to chew the toy to crush the treats, and then eat the crumbs – although it makes a fair bit of mess, she loves it enough for me to use it
- Kong Quest Star Pod (not in pic)
- Another good one in the Quest series – and like the other ones, it has lots of little cavities
- Downsides are that the edges are essentially holes, so wet food is a little tricky and so are treats – I have tended to use this with just little swipes of peanut butter or other spread inside the rings which encourages Nell to investigate each pod carefully
- Kong Puppy Goodie Bone
- Surprisingly, the two ends of the bone hold 20ml of food which is the same as a small Kong Classic!
- Not as captivating to Grace as I had hoped but maybe she will take an interest later – I have used this with treats previously and now wet food to be used as a quick treat to entertain her when a delivery arrives unexpectedly or I need to otherwise briefly distract her
- K9 Connectables
- I previously used these as a full set and connected them in different combinations but they are too easy for Nell so I haven’t used them for a long time
- Now, they work perfectly well as small Kongs that hold about 20-40ml of food each, and of course they also work with peanut butter or other spreads
- As Grace grows up, I will use this in it’s original way and connect them, but at this point she doesn’t have the strength to pull them apart (although I’ve just realised that by connecting them I can make the second toy harder – one to try next week!)
- Beeztees Fish Mint
- This one holds only a pinch of wet food or small treats, but the small cavities keep a dog’s interest for a long time because it’s so difficult
- Another toy I use to briefly distract one of them as it is also quick to fill and keep with you when you go to a restaurant or other public places
- Rogz teeth ball
- This one holds around 60ml of food
- It’s really good because the hole at the top is so small, it takes a dog a lot of licking and especially sucking to get the food out – it’s such a simple toy, yet it holds the attention of a busy doggy for 20-30min
- It also works really well with small treats
- Cheap, widely available and versatile, so I definitely recommend trying this one alongside your Kongs!
Filling all of these took me 30min this morning, and will buy me 10x as much peace, quiet and sanity in the next week.
In the coming weeks, I’ll also do a post on toys that work with different types of treats, because that’s what I have found to be a missing piece of the puzzle when dog owners are recommended these toys – matching them with the right shape and size of treat makes all the difference in how well the toy performs.
Last night, we made a sandbox. Both dogs, especially Nell, have a deep love of digging – pun intended, because the first thing she did when we moved here in November was to dig huge craters in the garden. So, in the interests of keeping our new garden (once it is ready) safe from the little diggers, we decided that a shady, tiled corner of the garden had just enough space for a small sandbox – and it would also fit perfectly in my plan to create a sensory garden for the dogs because it’s their garden just as much as ours.
Grace enthusiastically joined in on the building process and immediately understood the point – we still have some persuading to do with Nell, but we’re sure she’ll soon discover the joys of the box too!