What is Canine Enrichment?
Taking care of your dog’s mental and emotional health is just as important as taking care of their physical health. The happier and healthier a dog is the less likely they are to have behavioral concerns as they get older. Although most people take time to consider the physical needs of their pet (food, water, bathroom time, shelter from weather) not everyone takes the time to really consider the emotional and mental needs of their dog.
Enrichment can mean a lot of things but what we consider enrichment is anything you are adding to your dog’s life to make it more interesting. Enrichment could be a short activity, a snack, a game, exercise, or a break in routine. Below are some great different enrichment activities and tools.
Mental enrichment is one of the most neglected areas of keeping your dog happy and healthy but thankfully, it is one of the easiest and most rewarding to add to your routine! Anything that will give your pet some mental stimulation in a structured way is a great addition to their life.
- Flirt poles- this tool is a great way to use your pet’s energy as well as their brain. With a flirt pole, your dog is using their brain to try to anticipate your next move, their brains go into chase mode and are looking for the next chance to grab the toy. Flirt poles are a great way to burn excess energy in a structured way that is a bond between you and the pet.
- Puzzle toys- wobblers, kongs, licky mats, puzzle feeders- any activity that will make your dog use their brain in order to get their food/treat is great mental enrichment. This will focus them on one task and help them use their brains for something that is normally commonplace in their day.
- Positive reinforcement training- training can be a great bonding activity between you and your pet and can give great structured time to your routine. Training uses your dog’s mind, helps them associate fun and positive behavior with a high reward, and keeps them mentally engaged. Going to a group class or writing down a few simple tricks you want to learn and doing small bouts of training every day can go a long way!
- Hide and seek or search- Engaging your dog in a way that they have to use their sense of smell to get a reward is a great way to stimulate their mind. Hiding a treat under cups and having your dog try to guess which cup has the treat. Hiding treats around your house and creating a “search game”, or even playing hide and seek with your dog and yourself!
Provide your dog with opportunities to experience new and different environments! Dogs can benefit from any outside social situation to help them feel more confident. This is especially important with young dogs to help them adjust to changing environments.
Some good examples of social enrichment are:
- Go shopping together at dog-friendly establishments like Home Depot or your local pet store.
- Bring your dog to the office once a week, if you’re able to.
- Go on a trip outdoors. A walk in the foothills, to the river, or any other environmental change can be fulfilling.
- Go on a car ride. Don’t have time to go on a full adventure but want to set a change of pace for your pet? Go for a car ride around the block!
- Doggy daycare is a great place for your pet to blow off steam during the day in a safe and structured environment.
- Hire a drop-in dog sitter or dog walker during the workday every once in a while.
Getting your dog enough exercise is a really important way to make sure to prevent behavioral problems and keep them emotionally and physically healthy. Look into adding simple steps to your routine to keep your dog physically engaged:
- Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Have times structured for walking and times structured for sniffing. Giving freedom to your pet to smell things can be a great enrichment tool.
- Go for a jog, run or hike. Physical exertion can be a great stress relief for both you and your pet!
- Swimming is a great way to get exercise without hurting joints.
- Fetch, tug or chase are great ways to play games with your pet while also getting good exercise.
- There are lots of cool training opportunities that allow for physical exercise as well. Look for urban mushing, scent work, agility, barkour, or flyball training in your area!
- Get a kiddy pool and fill it with sand. Hide toys in the sand and encourage your dog to dig in the area
- Use alternating scents in your living area to keep things new and exciting! Make sure you are using pet-safe scents and do research on how different scents affect your dog’s mood.
- Playing music (specifically dog tracks) or audiobooks during the day can help reduce stress.
- Fun games like blowing bubbles to chase can be incredibly fun and exciting for dogs.
- Playing with a sprinkler or water to engage multiple senses.
We mentioned food puzzles and kongs previously but there are other great food enrichment tools to use like:
- Put treats or toys into ice cubes/blocks to see if they can lick them free.
- Hide treats in a muffin tin with tennis balls on top to have them move things around to get access.
- Hide treats and toys under a blanket to make them work to get access.
Create a Schedule
Enrichment does more than just help with boredom. For us at the shelter, enrichment helps dogs become more adoptable, lowers stress, and allows them to have more focused energy. It doesn’t take a lot of time or energy to make a lasting difference for your pet and simple steps every day can make for a happier and healthier relationship between you and your pet!
The best way to get started is to write down a simple schedule with 2-3 different activities you will do with your pet every day and work through a rotation.