Our pet beagle eats his food fast—really fast. I wondered if we should do something about it.
So my wife told a friend, the friend told another friend who was a veterinarian, and the veterinarian told the friend to tell my wife that eating so fast was unhealthy. That’s when my wife came to me with a call to adventure. She always has calls to adventure for me. That day’s adventure: the fun feeder healthy slow-feeding dog food bowl.
Have you seen one of these things? It’s a bowl with something like a maze in it. Think of the hedge maze in the movie “The Shining,” but imagine all that in a dog bowl.
The meal-lengthening ridges in the bowl keep the dog’s tongue moving through the maze to capture all the food, but it takes time—lots of time. I don’t recall little Danny Torrance in “The Shining” having much fun in that garden maze while Jack Nicholson’s psychopath character chased him down with an axe. I think my dog was equally as “thrilled.”
As he dealt with this new bowl for the first time, our dog’s face didn’t resemble the face of the happy-go-lucky pup pictured on the box the bowl came in. But that bowl was what the vet suggested. Well, it’s what my wife’s friend whose friend, who’s supposedly a vet, had suggested to my wife’s friend to suggest to my wife. Sounds confusing, I know. It usually is.
Still, it wasn’t as confusing as that fun feeder bowl was to the dog. He just tilted his head like the iconic RCA dog looking into that Edison Bell cylinder phonograph, pondering the mystery before him. When my dog went in for the food, he was more lost than ever.
I couldn’t watch. His struggle stressed me out. I don’t normally watch the dog eat, so I considered going back into the house like usual, but I couldn’t leave him alone to starve to death. I had to stay. And I had to help him with his food.
As I did, I wondered if I’d done the same type of thing with my son, who’s now 13. Did I allow him to struggle and figure things out on his own, or did I jump in and take over as, at that point, I was doing with our dog, feeding him bit by bit? Before I could think of an answer to the question, I had the whole bowl of food in my hands so the dog could wolf it down.
That night, I tried the fun feeder bowl again to see if the dog had learned anything, but still he struggled. And why not? I’d done all the work. That seemed to be my teaching method.
I recalled the days of “teaching” my son how to ride his bike, how to swim, how to use a computer, and “helping” him with his homework. I ruined my kid. I didn’t teach him anything. He’ll never be able to solve problems on his own!
I had to let my dog struggle with that stupid bowl. It was more painful than watching the Bravo Channel. He looked confused, mad and eventually defeated. I shifted the food in the bowl to see if that’d help, but it didn’t. The dog had no choice but to do what he does best—sleep.
That’s when my son called from the frozen yogurt shop down the street. He’d gone there with some friends to get a snack, and was asking if I could take pictures of the front and back of his debit card, which was in his wallet in his room, and text them to him. He’d forgotten his wallet and couldn’t pay.
“They’ll need the actual card,” I told him.
“No,” he said. “I can import the images into Apple Pay on my phone and pay that way.”
It wasn’t the most secure thing to do, but at least the kid was problem solving.
I decided to leave my dog at home to work out his fun feeder, and I went down to the yogurt shop with my son’s card to bail him out.
By the time I got there, he’d already borrowed money from a friend to pay the cashier. But he took the card from me, said thanks, went to a nearby ATM machine, got out what he owed his friend, paid him, and then he thanked him for the loan. He’d come up with the whole plan on his own!
Maybe I didn’t ruin my kid after all. Or maybe he just takes after my wife.
But my work with the dog was coming along. When I got home, I discovered he’d done some problem solving as well. His bowl was completely empty, and he was on his way to his favorite dead spot on the lawn.
Each day the fun feeder bowl has become easier for him to eat from, and his tail is always wagging. The problem is that he’s got the bowl mastered and he’s eating the food too fast again. Now I wonder if there’s a fun feeder that’s made for even more fun.
This story appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in June of 2017. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.