Ditch the bowl: How to get my puppy to eat from a food dispensing chew toy?

The solution to so many normal puppy behaviours like chewing, nipping, biting, annoying other pets, barking, whining and getting the “zoomies” can be addressed by having the puppy eat their meals from a food dispensing chew toy. A puppy that eats from a stuffable chew toy learns to:

  • Be alone and rest in their special “puppy zone” like an X-Pen, crate, or bed – great for home alone training, ensuring the puppy has sufficient rest and teaching the puppy how to behave inside the house.
  • Chew appropriate items not your shoes or underwear.
  • Problem solve to get the food out of the toy – brain exercise is critical to having a fulfilled, confident puppy who learns to channel their energy appropriately.

How to get a puppy to love eating from their food dispensing toy?

So you know the benefits of having the puppy eat from a food dispensing toy but how do you get them started? Often we purchase a toy, stuff it with the puppy’s food and hand it to the puppy. We are then disappointed when the puppy is not interested in the food or the toy. The common reason for this is that we haven’t taught the puppy that interacting with the toy will be rewarding for them.

Step 1 – Choose an appropriate starter toy

Select a toy that allows the puppy very easy access to the food. Consider toys like a licky mat, slow feeder or a chew toy with an open top. With these toys, the dog’s food is readily available as soon as you present it to the puppy. They can see and smell the food and they can eat it immediately with very little problem solving required.

The aim of this step is simply to teach the puppy to enjoy interacting with the toy. At this stage, it is likely that they puppy will eat their food very quickly. This however gives you the opportunity to practise this step many times throughout the day for the puppy’s entire daily food allowance.

Mix it up. Use different “toys” or bowls at this early stage, so the puppy learns to interact with different food dispensing items. We don’t want them to get “stuck” on just one type of toy.

Here are just a few inks for great starter toys:

https://www.westpaw.com/products/toppl-treat-toy – These are great as starter toys but can be configured as a more challenging dispensing toy too.


Step 2 – Increase the challenge on the starter toy

Now your puppy is anticipating their meal when they see the starter toy (s), you need to make it a little harder for the puppy to get the food. At this step, you will start to see the benefits of ditching the food bowl as we are introducing problem solving and increasing the time it takes the puppy to consume their food.

Tips for increasing the challenge are:

  • Freeze the puppy’s meal in the toy and present it to them when the food is partially defrosted so the puppy needs to work a little harder to get the food out.
  • Mix dog biscuits with something soft like mince, tinned fish and / or mashed vegetables so the dog has to lick harder to eat the biscuits.
  • Hide the stuffed toy inside cardboard boxes or under towels, so the puppy has to problem solve to find the food.

When you first start step 2, don’t make it too hard for the puppy to get the food, too soon. Increase the challenge very slowly.

Step 3 – Increase the challenge of the toy

After step 2, you will have a puppy (or a dog) who fully understands and enjoys the challenge of getting their food from a dispensing toy. You can now increase the challenge of the actual toy, if you want. You can select toys that are more enclosed, so the food is not quite as easily accessed.

The benefits of increasing the challenge of the toy is that it will take longer for the puppy to consume their meals and you can continue to use this method of feeding / enrichment for the remainder of the dog’s life.

When you increase the challenge of the toy, make it super easy for the dog to get to the food, so they don’t give up.

Tips for stuffing more challenging toys:

  • Fill a toy with dog biscuits or small “non-sticky” food items (i.e. turkey fudge etc) and don’t block the ends of the toy. As soon as you present the toy to the dog, food will start to fall out. By now your dog understands how to interact with toys, so they will be happy to work out how to get the rest of the food.
  • Fill a toy with soft, “mushy” food and add a food item as a “plug” so when the dog eats the “plug” the rest of the food is pulled out of the toy also.

Ideas for toy stuffing and “plugs” are:

  • Stuffing ideas – Mackeral, sardines and natural yoghurt, mince (beef, chicken turkey, roo) and steamed vegetables (i.e. carrots, pumpkin etc),
  • Ideas for “plugs” – Air dried tripe pieces, chicken neck, chicken foot, carrot stick, dried fish tail/ sticks

Here are some links to more challenging food dispensing toys:


As your puppy becomes a master problem solver you can increase the challenge of accessing the food from the challenging chew toy by freezing the contents or hiding the toy for the puppy to find. Ideas for hiding the toy are:

  • Burying the toy in the dog’s digging area or ball pit.
  • Concealing the toy in cardboard boxes, laundry baskets or wrapped in newspaper or old towels.
  • Elevating the toy for the dog to seek out – put it in the fork of a tree, place it on a chair pushed under a table or place it on the window ledge.

At this stage, you have a puppy that anticipates their meals from a toy and enjoys the challenge of working out how to get to their food. They will be content to “work” on their toy alone in their puppy zone.

For more tips on how to use food dispensing toys to curb normal puppy behaviours, please speak to our friendly and experienced Puppy School trainers. Teamwork Dogs offers puppy training for dogs aged 10 weeks – 8 months at Taigum and Caboolture. Our courses provide further information on how to use “stuffable” chew toys to help you with home alone training (to proactively address separation anxiety), puppy nipping and biting, and chewing.

For more information on our courses, please click here.

Happy training!