Alternatives to Food Bowls: More Delightful Ways to Enjoy Dinner!

January 2, 2021
Alternatives to Food Bowls: More Delightful Ways to Enjoy Dinner!

There are plenty of different options to use instead of a food bowl. Instead of just dumping your dog’s food into a dinner dish, why not try:

Puzzle toys work your dog’s mind and body as they earn their food. They’re different from slow feeders in that they encourage your dog to use his nose or paws to crack a problem of some sort.

However, just like slow feeders, they will slow your dog down as he eats, which can be helpful for dogs that wolf down their food and water in seconds. They also provide much-needed mental stimulation to keep your canine’s brain sharp.
Puzzle toys have other advantages too – for one, they make your dog appreciate his meals more. Working for something actually increases its value. This is called the IKEA effect in humans. Basically, by having your dog earn their dinner, you’re actually making dinner better!

Use Dinner Time as a Training Session

Why not teach your dog something new while you’re doling out dinner? Taking 10 minutes to teach your dog something new is far more valuable than just tossing kibble into a food bowl. Some fun ideas to teach your dog include:

  • Practical behaviors like sit, down, stay, heel, and come.
  • Basic tricks like shake, high five, speak, and roll over.
  • Handling Practice. Practice letting your dog handle his sensitive bits by feeding him for letting you check his paws, ears, teeth, and private bits. This becomes an especially valuable skill set for veterinarian visits or show handling.

Hand Feeding

Feeding your dog out of your hands is a great way to promote bonding and work on bite inhibition. This is especially great for puppies, as they’ll learn to control their teeth around your fingers. New and shy dogs also benefit tremendously from hand feeding – definitely give it a try!

  1. Start by putting some of your dog’s kibble in your cupped hand.
  2. If you feel the sharp end of a canine or incisor on your hand, close your hand. It’s ok if you feel the flat side of teeth as your dog eats.
  3. Open your hand enough that your dog can easily lick kibble out of the opening in your hand.
  4. Your puppy will quickly learn that she needs to be gentle in order to earn her meals!
  5. I think of my hand like a Kong and shape it so that puppies need to lick instead of bite to get the kibble out of my hand. I’ve actually used this to teach bite inhibition to sharky puppies!

Are There Dogs Who SHOULD Use a Food Bowl?

In general, I believe most healthy dogs will benefit from getting their food bowl tossed in the trash.

That said, there are some dogs who may be better off with a food bowl:

Dogs with very specific diets. If it’s imperative to his health that your dog gets his exact meal every day, a food bowl might be the easiest option. That said, you can still try to hand feed or feeding through training – that way you can ensure he’s getting everything he needs!

Dogs that need soft food or are fed raw diets. Some types of food simply aren’t well-suited to puzzle toys, training, or hand feeding. I like to freeze Kongs full of wet food, but some dogs can’t handle the frozen food. Dogs that are fed raw diets of chicken and peas may not do well being fed through most puzzle toys. Shop around and see if you can figure something out that works with your dog’s diet!

Dogs with disabilities or very limited mobility. For some dogs, the challenge presented by throwing out their food bowl is just too much. A coworker of mine has a deaf and blind dog dog that enjoys very simple puzzle toys. I worked with a three-legged deaf dog who still earned his meals through training. But some dogs just won’t thrive living this way. Do what’s best for your dog.

Dogs that are struggling with their weight. Dogs that are severely underweight or lose weight quickly might not be well-suited to food bowl alternatives. Talk to your vet to be sure!

Even if your dog isn’t well-suited to throwing out their food bowl, you can always just put some extra-tasty treats into a puzzle toy or take some time for training.