Canine Meals Toys, Charges of Reinforcement, and the Matching Regulation

Three dog stuffable food toys: a blue Westpaw Toppl, a red Kong, and a Greenish-yellow Westpaw Tux

Are you able to inform which one of many meals toys within the photograph above probably presents the best fee of reinforcement when full? Your canine is aware of!

Lewis taught me this lesson. He’s pleased to lick and munch on a Kong (heart) filled with frozen meals when there’s nothing else occurring. But when he’s excited within the automotive, he’ll ignore a Kong stuffed with the identical meals. It’s not excessive sufficient worth in that state of affairs, however the identical meals in a “Toppl” toy (left) is.

What makes the distinction if the meals is similar? It’s the speed of reinforcement. The speed from these two toys is drastically totally different. That is due to the bigger obtainable floor space of the Toppl and the dearth of the “bottleneck” impact of the Kong.

One other issue that impacts the speed of reinforcement is whether or not the meals is frozen. Frozen meals is slower to return out of the toys. Lewis has additionally demonstrated that cool or room temperature meals is extra attractive, because it raises the speed of reinforcement even larger.

These are very fundamental observations, however I had by no means considered them systematically earlier than.

Meals Toys and the Matching Regulation

Toys fluctuate within the accessibility of the meals due to their design and mechanics, and canine should typically carry out a number of behaviors to get the meals out. In case you watch your canine eat out of a meals toy from starting to finish, you may see nice examples of the matching law.

The matching regulation tells us that we (animals together with people) carry out behaviors in a ratio matching the ratio of obtainable reinforcement for these behaviors. Meals toys can provide us real-time examples of a canine altering behaviors to optimize what pays off essentially the most at any given second.

Closeup of the fabric of a denim blue snuffle mat with kibble embedded in it
This snuffle mat at this second would have a excessive fee of reinforcement

It’s best to grasp with two toys full of the identical meals. If a canine can get meals out of Toy A a lot quicker than Toy B, they’ll empty most of A earlier than they change to B. They’ll change when B’s fee of reinforcement turns into larger than A’s.

However we are able to additionally see it with one toy, as a canine modifications their conduct to make use of the simplest one at that second to get the meals out.

Meals Toys and Operant Studying

Let’s again up just a little, as a result of we’d not be accustomed to fascinated by operant studying concerning meals toys. We often assume when it comes to coaching: people giving cues and the canine responding. For example, my canine go to their mats after I cue them to take action as a result of I’ve given them meals a whole lot of instances for that conduct.

How is a meals toy like that? A meals toy supplies cues, too! These visible, audible, kinesthetic, and olfactory cues point out there may be meals inside and the way a lot of it there may be. The toy ejects or permits entry to meals as a consequence of various behaviors the canine performs. The speed of reinforcement modifications in the course of the course of, relying on how a lot meals remains to be within the toy and different elements. The matching regulation is available in because the canine varies their conduct for optimum reinforcement at every stage because the toy empties.

Six fillable dog food toys: a Nina Ottosson Pyramid, a pink rubber bone shaped toy, an orange Tricky Treat Ball, a puprle Busy Buddy Twist N Treat, an orange Westpaw Tux, a purple Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug, and a black Kong
Every one in all these meals toys requires a special set of behaviors to get the meals out

It’s the identical with an open bowl of meals; the method simply goes lots quicker. The speed of reinforcement is far larger at the start when the canine can take massive bites of meals than it’s on the finish when there are just a few items left, then crumbs. There are nonetheless a number of meals accessing behaviors. These embody:

* strolling to the meals bowl;
* scooping up the meals with their mouths;
* licking the bowl; and
* looking for spilled meals exterior the bowl.

Each canine who eats out of a bowl is “food motivated.” It’s simply very simple work, for many.

Most meals toys comply with the same reinforcement sample: the speed of reinforcement is larger at the start than on the finish. Just a few have a “hump” of issue to recover from at the beginning, then a excessive fee of reinforcement that tapers off just like the others. I have reviewed a toy called the Foobler that deviates from this typical development sufficient that it could confuse or frustrate some canine.

I’m going to supply some observations I’ve made about several types of meals toys: their charges of reinforcement and my canine’ behaviors in response.

Wobble Toys: The Kong Wobbler, Nina Ottosson Pyramid, and Others

These arduous plastic toys have a weight on the underside and switch themselves upright after motion like inflatable punching baggage. Meals spills out of a gap after they tip, so canine be taught to push them with their noses and manipulate them with their paws to make that occur. The speed of reinforcement modifications relying on how a lot meals is within the toy. If there may be, say, a half a cup of kibble within the toy, nearly each motion goes to knock some out at first.

The behaviors I’ve seen canine carry out to entry the meals are:

* approaching the toy;
* knocking the toy over with their paw;
* pushing the toy over with their nostril from the highest of the toy (uncommon; I’ll clarify why);
* pushing the toy from the underside with their nostril;
* rolling the toy on its aspect in a circle with their nostril;
* looking for kibble which will have scattered away; and
* coming to me for assist with the final bits.

If pissed off or left too lengthy with the toy, a canine may chew on the opening or the place items be a part of.

At first, the canine could also be consuming always for a few minutes. However because the toy empties, it takes extra work, extra actions to get each bit of meals out. On the finish, there could also be two or three intransigent items of meals that require a number of minutes of labor to entry. The speed of reinforcement may be very excessive at the start, slows down because the canine should work tougher to get the meals, then may be very low on the finish when there are solely a few items left. A canine with much less expertise or who isn’t hungry would possibly surrender and go away these final items of kibble. It won’t be well worth the effort. My canine be taught that I’ll choose up the toy and assist them with these previous couple of items.

I hadn’t realized till I watched the video that Clara has a sequence of behaviors she often makes use of with a Wobbler toy. First, she knocks it over along with her paw. Then she pushes it in a circle along with her nostril. If she pushes the toy along with her nostril when it’s standing, she pushes the bottom. Her technique prevents the toy from punching her within the nostril.

My accomplice’s small canine both acquired punched within the nostril or noticed the chance of it. I launched her to the smaller Wobbler. It has a proportionately heavier weight within the backside and the motion is stiffer. It’s tougher to push over and comes again up extra forcefully. After a few pushes, she wouldn’t work together with it. We switched rapidly to a special sort of toy, and I filed that bit of knowledge away for future reference.

Rolling Toys

Rolling toys have a reinforcement schedule much like the wobbler varieties. Loads of meals comes out at first, then the quantities diminish because the canine rolls the toy round. I’ve observed that when the speed of reinforcement will get low, Lewis will take a break and scout round for any kibble he could have knocked out earlier than and never observed. Matching regulation! He could get extra items of meals in 20 seconds of scouting the world than in 60 seconds of pushing the almost-empty ball round.

The meals in search of and accessing behaviors I’ve noticed Lewis doing are the next:

* discovering the ball (I fluctuate its placement);
* pushing the ball together with his nostril;
* rolling it together with his foot;
* carrying the ball to a special place;
* leaving the ball and looking the world;
* when indoors, reaching beneath closed doorways to attempt for kibble that escaped; and
* sitting by those self same doorways to get me to open them.

I concentrate when he carries the ball. He could do it to get the ball to a extra optimum space, say, away from one other canine who’s giving stink-eye from the opposite aspect of a child gate. However carrying will also be a precursor to making an attempt to chew up the toy. That occurs particularly when the speed of reinforcement will get low. This, too, displays the matching regulation. The time it takes to get these final couple of items of kibble out will be very lengthy, however chewing will be reinforcing in itself and may occur instantly. And who is aware of, you would possibly get to the kibble that manner. (I confiscate the ball at that time, buying and selling a couple of items of higher meals for it.)

Gentle mannered Summer season ate out of the Difficult Deal with ball for a lot of her life and by no means tried to chew it up. She acquired every bit of meals out, although. She beloved the toy; she discovered its identify and will discover it on cue. Right here’s an adorable video of that for the Summer fans.

Clara, however, chewed nearly each toy I had when she was a teenager, earlier than I discovered to oversee her higher. The one toy that proved impervious was the Ottosson pyramid.

Snuffle Mats and Meals Scattering

Snuffle Mats have reinforcement schedules much like these of the previous toys. The speed of reinforcement is richer at the start, then thins out as there may be much less kibble obtainable and extra looking obligatory. However in my remark, they’re simpler than most different toys at the start and on the finish, and the speed of reinforcement doesn’t change as a lot as with the wobblers or balls. The meals is extra accessible typically, even to an inexperienced canine. There may be little manipulation concerned; it’s principally the nostril!

A multicolored homemade snuffle mat with long fabric strips
Home made, fleece-free snuffle mat

Scattering meals on the ground round the home or on the bottom exterior is usually a related train. However for those who scatter it evenly over a big space, there gained’t be a excessive fee of reinforcement at the start. Though discovering meals on the bottom is one thing most canine be taught simply, it pays to make this train quite simple at first. If I had been to unfold a half cup of kibble over my again yard as my pet’s first scent train, they’d surrender quick. The speed of reinforcement can be low to begin with and fall to zero in the event that they didn’t transfer out of the unique space, which they wouldn’t know to do. Their meals in search of conduct would go into extinction in that state of affairs. You can begin with an space of some sq. toes (an invisible snuffle mat), then enlarge it because the canine beneficial properties talent and an understanding of the sport.

I discussed above that Summer season beloved her Difficult Deal with Ball. What does she inform us on this video concerning the differing charges of reinforcement between the ball and a snuffle mat?

Sound alert: there are jingling tags within the video.

Toys for Gentle Meals: Kongs, Westpaws, and Others

These container sort toys will be stuffed to be very simple (excessive fee of reinforcement from the very starting) or tougher. In case you have by no means used one in all these toys, try my video, “Kongs for Beginners.” It’s simple to make these toys too tough at first. Additionally learn additional on this publish, as a result of I made that video in 2012; there at the moment are a lot simpler toys of this kind to begin with.

When first introducing these toys, use very yummy meals at room temperature so the canine has quick entry to it and may be taught some strikes for manipulating the toy. However as a result of freezing them will increase the variations within the fee of reinforcement, I’m going to debate frozen ones.

Now we’re going to revisit my opening level: toys with larger openings have a better fee of reinforcement for the canine.

An orange Westpaw Toppl and a red Kong food toy, both filled with canned dog food. The opening to the Toppl is much bigger than the opening of the Kong.

Though the orange Topple within the photograph incorporates extra meals total, that’s not crucial level. The floor space is larger, and extra meals is accessible than within the Kong, even when the canine can solely lick it. The speed of reinforcement is dependent upon the dimensions of the opening, what behaviors can be utilized to get the meals out, the speed of thawing, and the dimensions of the canine in comparison with the dimensions of the toy. Originally, the canine can lick on the meals and scrape their backside tooth at it. Because the meals thaws, the toy turns into extra versatile and extra chewing strategies are attainable.

The Toppl begins off with a average fee of reinforcement when frozen. The canine can lick, scrape their backside tooth towards the meals, and chew on the rim space with their high tooth. There may be extra room to get their tooth in. Loads of the meals is uncovered to air and may thaw fairly quick. Because the meals thaws, the speed of reinforcement quickens much more, till the top the place it slows down as they get the final bits of meals out. The Kong, however, begins out arduous. The meals opening is small, and the frozen stable toy presents little entry to the meals. It thaws slowly because the canine at first can solely lick and scrape their tooth towards the small opening. There could also be some energy chewers who can crush a frozen Kong of their tooth so the meals crumbles and comes out quicker. However even for these canine, the Toppl would probably nonetheless be simpler.

Canines can construct some attention-grabbing expertise with Kongs. Apart from licking on the contents and chewing across the gap, some canine be taught to toss the Kongs within the air so the contents will loosen and fall out.


* Observe your canine with a meals toy and rely the totally different behaviors. It’s enjoyable and you could be taught one thing.
* Watch for true enjoyment. Simply because one thing is known as a meals toy doesn’t imply a canine will take pleasure in it, or take pleasure in it at that second.
* Be careful for frustration. Not solely is it disagreeable for the canine when behaviors cease working (go into extinction), this case predicts that the canine’s conduct will fluctuate extra. That is after they would possibly begin chewing the toy reasonably than working to get the meals out. So watch carefully when they’re ending up the meals.
* Supervise, supervise, supervise. Do better than I did with Clara. Chewing arduous plastic will be harmful; swallowing it may be deadly.

I plan at the least two extra posts on canine and meals toys: one on contrafreeloading and one on whether or not licking is intrinsically extra calming than chewing.

I’d love to listen to about your canine’ distinctive approaches to meals toys!

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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