There is a scientific reason behind why dogs find food puzzles and treat dispensers so enjoyable. It’s called contra-freeloading, and it’s the driving force behind animal enrichment.
Contrafreeloading is when an animal has a choice of putting in the effort to get food or helping itself to freely available food, it will choose to work for the food reward.
For example, animal psychologist Glen Jenson gave 200 rats the choice between food in a bowl and identical food that they could get from pressing a metal bar. Nearly every single rat chose to get the food by bar pressing.
The 1963 study found that animals preferred to work for food even when more accessible food sources were present. As such, earned food was a greater reward than freely available food.
Another study published in the 1969 issue of Science titled, “Animals respond for food in the presence of free food” got the same result using pigeons. This behavior has been also observed in rats, giraffes, gerbils, pigs, chickens, parrots, bears, starlings, chimpanzees, wolves, and, of course, dogs!
Why choose the option that requires more effort?
The contrafreeloading phenomenon is primarily seen in captive animals and domesticated animals in homes (with the exception of domesticated cats — go figure). They are acting on species-specific animal behaviours that their wild counterparts rely on.
There is a relatively sad reason behind this. Zoo animals in captivity and housepets don’t always get adequate environmental enrichment, so when presented with stimuli — aka something to do — it makes sense that they would choose the more fulfilling action over the “principle of least effort” (the easy option).
It goes to show just how important enrichment is for overall animal welfare.
Bottom line: Ditch the bowl
Nina Ottosson’s philosophy is that dogs have four legs and one head, and all five need exercise in different ways daily, both physically and mentally. A traditional food bowl won’t get those mental wheels turning. Dog puzzles and enrichment games accomplish just that, keeping your pup happy, healthy, and sufficiently stimulated.
A little dopamine goes a long way. The anticipation of food dogs get while using natural food-seeking behaviors triggers that positive reward center in their brains. Loving pet parents give them that outlet with enrichment games and food puzzles.
Puzzles for your dog (or bird, gerbil, chicken, or pig!) to get its forage on
Treat Tumble Interactive Puzzle Dog Toy, Red, Large
The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Treat Tumble is a perfect puzzle ball for any pup! A level 1 treat-dispensing dog puzzle, the Treat Tumbler will keep your dog intrigued as they roll the ball and sniff around to find ways to release the reward. Easy to fill with two treat-dispensing holes. Made with food safe BPA-free plastic that is easy to wipe clean for outdoor and indoor fun!BEGINNER’S PUZZLE…
Dog Smart Composite Interactive Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Tan
The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Dog Smart Composite interactive dog puzzle is a fun way to get your dog excited about problem solving games! This mind-stimulating level 1 dog toy features nine treat hiding compartments that can be filled with your pup’s favorite treats and covered with nine pegs that release the tasty scent of treats through the top hole. Place on the ground and watch your dog use his…
Dog Brick Interactive Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Blue
The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Dog Brick level 2 puzzle dog game will keep your dog entertained for hours as they use their natural hunting skills to seek out the hidden treats! This toy comes with 3 easy-to-fill compartments to hide your dog’s favorite treats and snacks in. Flip lid compartments open up to reveal the first compartment and can also slides to reveal a hidden second compartment…
Wobble Bowl Interactive Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Multi
It’s fun. It feeds. It’s a challenge your dog needs! Nina Ottosson Treat Puzzle Games fight boredom, help reduce destructive behaviors & exercise your dog’s mind. Use the Wobble Bowl as a puzzle game to provide fun physical and mental stimulation. Or use the Wobble Bowl as a slow feeder to slow your dog’s eating pace and prevent bloat and indigestion. The Wobble Bowl holds up to 1 cup of food…
Dog Casino Interactive Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Turquoise
The Dog Casino interactive treat puzzle is a level 3 advanced dog game from Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound that’s ideal for bored dogs! This interactive dog puzzle features six treat drawers for dog treats which can be accessed by twisting the bone locks. Just simply place the treats in the drawers, slide them in, and twist the bones for an added sequential step challenge. Your pup will enjoy pawing,…
Dog Twister Interactive Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Purple
When you’re looking for a toy for bored dogs who have mastered the simpler dog treat puzzles, this engaging level 3 advanced interactive treat puzzle from Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound is the perfect next step! The Dog Twister interactive dog puzzle toy features nine treat drawers for dog treats which are secured in place with nine white tabs. Just simply place the treats in the drawers, slide them in,…
Challenge Slider Interactive Treat Puzzle Dog Toy, Multi
The Challenge Slider dog puzzle from Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound is an advanced level 3 game designed for pups who have mastered levels 1-2. This dog toy will promote the mental wellbeing of your dog by keeping them active and engaged while sniffing, nudging, and pawing for hidden treats! A sliding tray pulls out from underneath with 24 compartments that can hold up to 1 cup of food total…
MultiPuzzle Interactive Dog Treat Puzzle Toy, Blue
The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound MultiPuzzle level 4 interactive dog puzzle toy will keep your dog entertained for hours as they use their natural hunting skills to seek out the hidden treats! Your pups’ favorite dog treats or kibble can be hidden in the outer and central compartments by sliding the puzzle pieces and let the games begin! This puzzle is ideal for dogs who have already mastered levels 1-3…
Orbee-Tuff Snoop Interactive Treat Dispensing Dog Toy, Large
Planet Dog’s multiple award-winning Orbee-Tuff Snoop challenges the brain in fun and stimulating ways! This interactive dog puzzle toy is great for bored pups who need a rewarding brain teaser or to encourage slower eating habits in fast eaters. The Snoop is translucent and squishy with a deep crevice that conceals the treats. Just pop open, fill with treats, and pop back in before playing with your pup!…
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