What is scatter feeding?
If you have never heard of scatter feeding it’s a very simple process of throwing a proportion of your dog’s daily food allowance over the grass. They then must root about for it. It really is as simple as that.
Why is scatter feeding a good idea?
Dogs are scavengers by nature, it’s hardwired into their DNA. If they were wild, they would spend the day hunting and scavenging for their next meal. Being given food direct into their bowl every morning and every evening seems ideal, but in fact it does them a disservice and can be bad for their mental health. Working for food is part of a dog’s nature, it even has a name, ‘contrafreeloading’. Think how much they enjoy chewing a bone or nagging on a hoof.
Scatter feeding can calm your chihuahua
Scatter feeding is a calming activity, dogs enjoy the process of snuffling around in the grass and eating what they find, so if your chihuahua is a bit reactive and stressed then this simple activity can help calm them down. It also has the added benefit of helping them become calmer in the environment. So, if they are normally running the fence or barking at pigeons, scatter feeding gives them a new focus and brings down their arousal level, making them feel less stressed outdoors.
It’s also extremely useful if you have visitors coming and your chihuahuas normally charge the front door in a barking frenzy. Get your visitors to give you a moment to chuck some food on the grass before they come in the door, and your chihuahua will have something to do while your visitors come in.
If you don’t have a garden, you can improvise, indoors you can use a snuffle mat or roll out some fake grass and sprinkle some of their food onto that. If the weather is nice then take them to the park and eat alfresco, scatter feed on the grass. I do this with Arlo who can be a bit worried by the environment. It calms him down, brings down his arousal level making him less likely to be worried by everything he sees and therefore less likely to bark at it.
What sort of food can you use?
Use their dinner rather than treats, this way you can be generous and make it a real experience for them and they won’t get fat. It’s best with a semi moist food. You can use dry as well but remember to take some water if you are out. Raw is more problematic, but because we are solution based, you could freeze it or dehydrate it. However, you can successfully mix raw and cooked food so maybe for this exercise boil some pork mince.
When to do it
People tend to feed their dogs twice a day sometimes once. (For a small dog like a chihuahua I recommend twice a day). I often do a small scatter feed first thing in the morning and let them go hunt for it while I get myself a cup of tea. As I mentioned above, I will use this method to calm them down if visitors are arriving or if I think they are a bit bored and need some fresh air.
One of the main worries my clients have about scatter feeding is how to gauge how much their dog has eaten. If you only have one dog, then this is easy to manage. Weigh out their daily food allowance and you will know how much your dog has eaten. If you have a multi dog household reduce each dog’s daily food allowance by the approximate grams they have snuffled on the grass.
I am quite strict about how much I feed my dogs and always weigh out their daily food allowance and this notion did worry me for a while. But just keep an eye on your chihuahua, then if you feel they need it, adjust how much they eat up or down. If your chihuahua is overweight read this.
My chihuahua gives up
This can be a thing if your chihuahua is a princess and very used to being given everything. So, the first step is to avoid feeding them treats, treats put them off their dinner, makes them fat and can make them lazy. Grow the scatter area gradually, so in the beginning only throw the food over a small area, as they get more skilled at it you can scatter further afield.
Give it a try and let me know in the comments how it went.