Canine enrichment and how much is too much protein?

Apparently protein is not always a good thing. All the information out there about what to feed your dog is so contradictory but we have a new diet to try thanks to advice from Kubo’s behaviourist. Also, in an attempt to keep our pup mentally stimulated, his meal times have been becoming more and more enriched …

Canine Enrichment

We have been working on ‘enrichment’ and different ways of feeding Kubo his standard meals which he is loving! The idea is to keep him more mentally stimulated, rather than just dumping the food in a bowl for him.

It really started when he was much younger as he gulped food down like he had never been fed and was very gassy because of it (swallowing lots of air with the food). Rather than buying an expensive ‘slow-feeder’ bowl, we bought a smaller metal bowl which went upside down in his bowl. This slowed him down in a similar way to these bowls as he had to eat round an obstacle.

We then toyed for ages with the idea of getting an interactive toy for him where you fill compartments with food and the dog needs to push, pull or lift various things to release their reward. The problem with this however is that Kubo would pick it up so quick that very quickly it would not be a challenge at all and it would not take him long to release  the food. These gadgets also tend to start from about £15 for a decent one and for something he would only get any real challenge from two or three times, it seemed like a waste of money.

Instead we purchased a rubber puzzle ball. Food goes in one end and there are obstacles inside the food must travel through before coming out of a hole at the other end. It was a big success! Kubo will nudge it round with his nose dislodging the kibble and getting one or two bits at a time as they come out. Yes, he has figured out what he needs to do very quickly but the action itself cannot be quick and he has to work every time to get the food.

entertaineze treat snack puzzle ball
the first puzzle ball

It all evolved from there. We recently purchased another similar ball one by iQuties from a pet shop when we were in Cornwall. This one requires you to remove a plastic insert which goes some way through the ball to fill the inside with snacks. This insert has slots in it that allow the food to be released. Kubo finds this one much more of a challenge as it needs to be moved in a different way.

iquties snack attack puzzle ball
snack attack puzzle ball

Some dinner times he gets food in one, or both of these but another thing we have started doing is ‘find it’. Food is hidden round the house in corners, under things, behind things etc and he must sniff it out. It can be made as easy or as hard as we need and often will have some food in a puzzle ball.

I recently discovered that a lot of his rubber toys have a large-ish hole in them that I can pop some pieces of kibble in. This is really handy and now often in his ‘find it’challenge I  will include some pieces sneakily hidden in random toys, too.

The difference between putting food in his bowl and him having to work for it is incredible. Ignoring the obvious time factor, he actually enjoys working and solving puzzles. A good ‘find it’ will take him 20 minutes or more and the whole time he is as happy as … well, a working collie! He gets excited when the puzzle balls come out, rolling them with his nose or batting with his paws, occasionally picking them up and dropping them so they bounce around the room.

Last night we tried a new ‘find it’. His kibble was hidden entirely in toys: stuffed into ripped soft toys, tucked into others where possible, inside puzzle balls and Kongs that were all put away in his toy box. He absolutely adored taking every toy out and having a different challenge to get the food from each one. His tail was in the air the whole time and it took him at least 40 minutes to get every last piece (and of course double check each one!)

We have purchased and are waiting for the delivery of a Kong Gyro as another food dispensing option to keep things new and interesting. I have also seen people making their own things such as the bottle on a string, or hiding food in a ball pit … so many different things for us to try!

canine enrichment bottle feeder
something for us to try

We also do the good old classic of filling Kongs with various things from kibble with peanut butter to frozen with watermelon as a treat.

Too much protein? Time for more carbs

When Kubo was younger, Dave did some research and decided that he should be on a relatively high protein diet. We wanted to keep him on dry kibble however rather than a raw diet or any of the other many options for feeding so he used to have Orijen (a whopping 36% protein at least) and later switched to Guru (approx 26% protein).

We have now been advised by his behaviourist that the percentage of protein in his diet is potentially a bit too high.

Protein is obviously very important for healthy growth and repair as well as an energy source. The best protein in dog foods should come from meat or fish as dogs have evolved to easily digest and use the nutrients. Or at least that would be best. Meat is a bit expensive as things go and so lots of brands on the market substitute with a cheaper protein such as soya meal, potato or vegetable protein which are apparently harder for dogs to digest.

There is so much information out there and it all seems to contradict! ‘High protein diets cause kidney/liver problems and will make your dog fat’; ‘low protein diets will leave your dog’s skin flaky and your dog will have no energy’; ‘high carb diets will result in excessive energy’. I really do think it’s a bit of a minefield. We both scrutinise references on articles and check research (which always seem to be done or sponsored by the manufacturer – I wonder where the bias would be?!) but knowing what to feed is still complicated. I guess it should always be individual to the dog and its lifestyle.

Now we are told that diets with a protein content over 25% are being linked to behavioural problems and excessive energy. Interesting, since we moved to a high protein diet to try and target excessive unwanted energy. Though when you think about it, working dogs will often have more meat/protein so does it give just as much excessive unwanted energy?

We have now begun upping Kubo’s carbohydrate intake and there is some interesting studies behind this is to do with altering the transfer of amino acids. It focuses around  tryptophan and its conversion into serotonin which can be aided by B6 and having a starchy diet. High protein levels can lower brain tryptophan levels therefore resulting is less serotonin being produced.  Reactivity and activity levels can be increased when there is less serotonin present whereas with more serotonin, reactivity can decrease and learning and decision-making can be improved. I am happy to share the information I have received on this but I would always suggest doing your own research and checking references! I am not saying that this is fact or the absolute way to do things; this is advice that we have received from one qualified professional and we are trying.

Kubo’s dinner is now being supplemented with various carbs and there are lots of options: potatoes, rice, carrots, oats and pasta. We’ve been told to feed the additional carbohydrates about 3 hours after his normal meal.

I imagine that it will be difficult to say what difference the diet itself has made as we have stepped up the training and changed the way we handle things. Not a very stable experiment! But I am happy to try the new diet: it is not particularly taxing for us and Kubo has enjoyed getting an additional rice-stuffed Kong for the last three evenings!


border collie banana pancakes
though he’d prefer dad’s banana pancakes …

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