Enrichment is defined as ‘something you add to your dog’s environment that they choose to interact with and that has a positive impact on their psychological or physical well being.’
Although this sounds complicated, it’s actually really easy to do and just involves adding some simple but fun activities to your dogs day – it can be as easy as scattering your dog’s food on the floor instead of feeding them from a bowl!
Providing our dogs with adequate mental stimulation can be just as important as meeting their exercise needs, and can help to prevent a wide range of problems that occur when our dogs become bored and under-stimulated, such as excessive barking, destructive behaviour and hyperactivity.
To provide the best possible activities for our dogs, we need to look at the natural behaviours and activities they enjoy. This will vary from breed to breed and from dog to dog. For example, if you have a scent hound, providing some activities that involve sniffing are going to be really popular, whereas a border collie might prefer a puzzle type activity.
So what kind of activities do our dogs naturally enjoy? Here are a few examples of some natural behaviours that we can use to create enrichment activities.
We all know how much our dogs love to sniff – there’s always that one spot on a walk they just can’t tear themselves away from!
Our dog’s sense of smell is their primary sense and the way that they explore the world around them. Their sense of smell is over 10,000 times better than ours – they have 2 chambers in their nose, one for passing air to the lungs and one entirely dedicated to smell. The part of their brain that processes all the information they receive from the olfactory receptors in their noses is 40 times larger than ours, so letting them sniff really does give their brain a workout!
Chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs that extends way beyond the dreaded puppy teething stage. Alongside being a great way to redirect chewing of items you’d rather they didn’t such as furniture or your favourite shoes, there are also some huge benefits to letting our dogs chew:
- It’s a stress-relieving activity creating a release of endorphins, leaving your dog feeling calm and relaxed
- It’s great for their oral health, helping to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy.
- It’s a great boredom buster
Dogs are naturally very sociable animals and enjoy interacting with both other dogs and humans. Providing your dog with plenty of opportunities to interact with you through training, grooming, enrichment activities or just spending time together is a great way to strengthen the bond between you.
It’s important to remember that not all dogs enjoy social contact with all dogs and humans, and some can find it very stressful so always make sure your dog is happy with any interaction.
“Providing our dogs with adequate mental stimulation can be just as important as meeting their exercise needs.”
DIY Enrichment Activities
There are some really simple activities we can create for our dogs with their normal dinner – using their daily food allowance is a great way to keep them entertained without the added calories of extra treats.
Given the choice, dogs prefer to work for their food than just be given food, a behaviour known as contra freeloading, so enrichment activities can be a great way of encouraging even the fussiest of dogs to eat.
Scatter feeding is one of our favourite go-to activities – simply scatter some of your dog’s food over the floor! You can start simply by scattering the food over a small area to give your dog some quick and easy wins so they’re keen to keep going. If they’re happily finding the food then you can gradually make it more challenging for your dog by spreading the food further and in slightly more tricky places so they really need to work their noses to sniff it out! You could scatter the food around objects and on different surfaces to make it more interesting, or even try scattering the food while your dog is out of the room and create a treasure hunt for them.
If you feed your dog wet or raw food this is a great activity to try in the garden. If you want to try it inside, the paper cases you can get for cupcakes are great for putting a teaspoon of food in and scattering around the house (as long as your dog isn’t likely to eat the paper case too).
If they’re enjoying scatter feeding, you can also try scattering their food in a cardboard box with some crumpled up packaging paper, and letting them route through to find the food. This is a great way to build your dog’s confidence too, as they have to reach inside the box and move the noisy paper around to get the food.
Egg cartons make a great DIY slow feeder – just pop some food in each of the compartments and give it to your dog. Slowing down their eating aids digestive health and also encourages them to chew their food properly which is great for their teeth.
Another activity to try with an egg carton is to pop a different type of food in each of the compartments to see which your dog prefers! You could use their normal food, some treats, or even experiment with things like dog-friendly fruits and vegetables. Observe your dog to see which food they choose to eat first, which foods they enjoy, and which they aren’t interested in. Adding some variation makes their meals more interesting, and knowing which food they like best is really useful for training as we can make sure we reward their efforts with their favourite food!
Apples make a super healthy DIY food-dispensing toy that’s particularly good for power chewers that normally destroy their toys as the whole thing is edible.
Simply core an apple ensuring all the seeds have been removed, then stuff the hole in the middle of the apple with some of your dog’s food or treats and give it to your dog to enjoy. Just like chewing, licking is also a naturally calming activity for dogs so this is a great activity to try after a long walk or exciting play session to help them relax, leaving them ready for a snooze. You could also pop the stuffed apple in the freezer before giving it to your dog to create a more challenging and longer-lasting activity.
If your dog is normally easily frustrated, start off filling the apple so that the food comes out easily then your dog is rewarded quickly for trying. You can then gradually increase the difficulty – this will help increase your dog’s tolerance of frustration with lots of other things too. Just make sure you alternate between easier and more challenging activities so they don’t lose interest. The key to enrichment is to make the activities fun for your dog rather than making it difficult for them.
Alongside creating your own activities there are lots of brilliant products on the market designed with enrichment in mind.
Snuffle mats are designed to make use of your dog’s incredible sense of smell. Simply scatter some of their food deep inside the layers of material and let them sniff it out! If you’re worried your dog might find chewing the mat much more exciting than eating the food then try using some of their favourite treats to start with so that the treats are more interesting than the material. You can then start to mix in their normal food too, keeping them focused on finding the food rather than destroying the mat.
If you feed your dog wet or raw food then Lickimats make a great alternative to a snuffle mat for your dog’s mealtime. You can experiment with different foods too, such as a natural fat- free yoghurt or some doggy-safe peanut butter. Once filled, lickimats can also be popped in the freezer for a longer-lasting treat.
Whether you want to try some DIY activities or invest in some new enrichment toys, you’ll find huge benefits to adding some enrichment to your dog’s day – it’ll leave them calm, happy and ready to chill out.
I started The Cognitive Canine Company to help owners keep their dogs mentally stimulated, which we do through our enrichment subscription box ‘The Canine Brain Box’. Every month it’s packed with products, treats, chews, activity ideas and expert advice so your dog will never be bored again!
For More Information: http://www.cognitivecanineco.co.uk