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Winter Enrichment Series: Lick Mats, Puzzle Toys, and Frozen Dinners, Oh My!

Even though we’ve seen some warmer temps lately, it’s Wisconsin and winter is not over! This is our last post in this winter's enrichment series and gives you one more idea to keep your pups busy and happy when it's harder to exercise outside.

Dogs get great enrichment from sniffing and licking! So why not give them a mid-day snack or feed them dinner in a way that makes them use their sniffers and lickers and helps wear them out? For this activity we recommend getting some extra supplies and always monitoring your dog while they are using them. Some items you may want to pick up include:

  • Lick mats

  • Puzzle toys (like treat dispensers or other puzzles)

  • Kongs, Toppls, or other sturdy, fillable toys

Once you have the toys, now you have to decide what to fill them with. Not only are there a number of dog-safe human foods that you can use, but you can use your dogs normal food too, whether it's kibble, wet food, or anything else. Here are a few ideas for each toy and how to give them to your dog. However, you should always consult your vet before changing your dog's diet.

Lick Mats

Lick mats are typically flat, with maize-like features to help keep the food on the mat and challenge your dog. Because of their structure, spreadable foods work best. Try some of these out and you can freeze the mat too, to make it extra challenging!

  • Pumpkin or sweet potato puree

  • Smashed sardines

  • Plain Greek yogurt

  • Canned wet dog food

  • Mashed bananas

  • Peanut butter

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are great to use with treats, or just normal kibble! Some of the toys are even big enough to fit your dogs whole dinner in. There are so many varieties out there, so just head to your local pet store and follow the instructions on the item.

Kongs, Toppls, and Other Fillable Toys

Fillable toys come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like the Toppls, can be big enough to fit most of your dog's dinner in too! A great tip, is to plug any extra holes in the toys with something like peanut butter or banana and then add your dog's dinner to the toy to freeze it. If you feed your dog kibble, you'll also want to add water, bone broth, or goat's milk to the kibble to help it freeze in place. Then you can make it extra fun by topping it with other dog-safe goodies too. Some ideas to try in addition to those in the lick mat list above are:

  • Fish skins (dog-safe)

  • Blueberries

  • Other dehydrated dog chews like chicken feet, bully sticks, turkey necks, etc.

  • Carrot sticks (you can soak them in bone broth for extra excitement)

  • Green pepper pieces

The opportunities to switch up enrichment for your dog are endless. Check out this list from the ASPCA on foods you can share with your dog for more ideas.

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