top of page

Unlock Your Dog's Happiness with Canine Enrichment Strategies

Canine Enrichment is a popular topic of discussion these days.


Today, I invite you to join me in exploring this concept. We will delve into the essence of enrichment and discover how it can be provided to our dogs.


Canine Enrichment

The definition of enrichment in the Oxford Dictionary:

1) the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something ("enrichment of the soil for more plant growth", "environments where youths can experience cultural enrichment").

2) the process of making someone wealthy or wealthier.


The Cambridge Dictionary says:

The act or process of improving the quality or power of something by adding something else.

 

Animal enrichment is being practised in zoos to improve the welfare of the animals by creating environments as natural as possible to their natural habitats and meeting species-specific genetic and behavioural needs.


This encompasses offering activities that facilitate options for the animals, thereby enhancing their perceived control over their habitats.


For further details, please visit https://wildwelfare.org/enrichment-animal-welfare/.


Canine enrichment provides activities and environments that look after our dog's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The quest is to find activities to make our dogs feel good about themselves and give them a good time. It is vital to choose the best enrichment for our dog. Activities and equipment must be safe and suitable (non-toxic, hazard-free) for the dog.


This includes considering the individual dog and any health, ability and dietary needs. We must consider our dogs' preferences - what motivates them and what they like and dislike.


An enriching activity is an activity that engages our dog, and they interact and enjoy the enrichment. When a dog seems bored or frustrated, it could be too difficult, or they may have something else on their mind.


The challenge is to find a few favourites we can mix up and modify to keep them interesting.

Let's take a look at some enrichment ideas together.

DOG'S enrichment ideas


Choices:


We control many aspects of our dogs' lives, such as when, what and how we feed them, when, where and how long they go on a walk, and the shape of their day.


Giving your dog choices regarding their personal surroundings is the easiest way to make them feel good.


Maybe let them choose where they want to sleep or, during the summer months, allow them to move freely between inside and lying in the sun outside. Being able to make these choices for themselves will enrich their lives and help them to build confidence.


Games with toys - Canine Activity Ideas:


Playing games with toys with your dog is beneficial to them physically as well as mentally. It also helps to build their confidence and will help to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. "Play together, stay together".


Here are some suggestions for toy play:

  • Playing chase with your dog is fun, and dogs love it. Rabbits don't jump or fly through the air; therefore, toys should stay on the ground (lifting them in the air can encourage jumping) and don't chase after your dog, as this can backfire on you.

  • Collect all of your dog's toys into a box and let your dog watch when you empty the box in the middle of a room or outside. Observe your dog and let your dog choose the top three toys. Repeat this three times and make a note each time which three toys your dog interacts with first. Observing your dog is exciting; you can collect information about your dog's favourite toys. And your dog will love the freedom of choice over toys.

  • Rotate your dog's toys weekly. This will keep them excited and interested in them.

  • Let your dog win games. Your dog will enjoy it if you take turns and both win a few games, with your dog winning most games and always finishing on a win for your dog.

  • Your dog may rip soft toys up – this is natural behaviour. Just make sure you are constantly supervising when they are playing with these toys. You don't want them to swallow any small parts. If you do need to take away a part of the toy, offer your dog a swap with another toy or food which, in your dog's eyes, is of higher value. Place the food on the floor away from the toy, and when your dog is busy eating the food, pick up the toy and put it away.

  • Dogs will naturally hold, tug and shake toys with their mouths. If you feel their teeth on you, stay calm, still and quiet with the toy to end the game. Then, calmly move away if necessary. Take a short break. Your dog may be tired / highly aroused, and play should end at this point, or you can continue playing so they learn that the fun continues when their teeth stay on the toy. Please consider the suitability of the toy for the game you are playing.


Puzzle games:


A huge variety of puzzle games is available, and they can be great for mental stimulation but also create frustration. I remember when my daughter got her first puzzle and was not amused by the activity.


However, when I sat down with her and accomplished the puzzle together, we both smiled, and it felt good.


Puzzles vary in difficulty - 5 pieces to 5000 pieces, three dimensional, and the jellybean or baked bean puzzle - and teaching our dogs to solve more demanding puzzles can be fun and make you and your dog feel good, and you're spending quality time together.

Food-based enrichment:


Mealtimes are often the highlight of the day for our dogs, and making this more interesting is an inexpensive and easy way to transform a meal served in a bowl into an enjoyable experience.


Sniffing, licking, chewing, digging, and shredding are calming activities to balance emotions for our dogs, and we can incorporate that for some food-based enrichment.

  • Spreading food on different textured surfaces for the dog to lick, i.e. recycling material – be creative and make your licky mats

  • Scattering food in different areas to sniff out with their nose

  • Laying a food trail to follow with the nose

  • Crunch paper, old cloth, or towel up and put into a suitable container and hide food inside

  • Muffin tins/ice cube trays/egg boxes can be used to serve dinner

  • Plastic bottles / empty toilet rolls/balls in a container are great to rummage amongst for food

  • Cutting old t-shirts/fleece blankets/cloth into strips and popping them into a box is an alternative to snuffle mats

  • Unrolling a towel or thin mat to discover hidden food


Please stay with your dog while engaging in their food activity in case they need help. This is particularly important with any homemade food enrichment articles and new feeders.


Remember, you must be careful that your dog isn't gaining too much weight from regular food-based enrichment. If they have this during the day, take it out of their daily meal portion. You can always split their food allowance into portions and use them differently throughout the day.

Scent-based enrichment:


Sniffing is a natural behaviour and a fundamental way our dogs gain information about their environment. Our dogs love using their noses, and we can give them an outlet for their passion.

  • Make some of your dog's weekly walks and let them decide the directions they want to take and how long they want to sniff a specific spot. Allow your dog plenty of opportunity and time to sniff. Make sure you go to different places as this will give them new experiences and of course, new smells.

  • You could buy dog-safe plants and herbs for them to smell. Some plants are toxic to dogs, so be very careful to avoid these and introduce any plants gradually to your dog.

  • Hide your dog's favourite toy/tennis ball and let them sniff it out. You can make this more challenging by rubbing the toy/tennis ball on the ground and putting scent spots down before hiding the article in some longer grass or under some leaves.

Scent-based enrichment:

Environmental enrichment:

  • Visiting and exploring new places can be fun. Most dogs will find experiencing a range of environments enjoyable, and it will be incredibly beneficial, too. That is because the different sights, sounds and smells will stimulate their senses. However, exploring new places and meeting new dogs and people is tiring and little and often is preferable.

  • Give them the opportunity to walk on different surfaces, smell and even taste (as long as they are safe and dog-friendly, of course) new things.

  • Water can be great fun for your dog – as long as it is safe and suitable for your dog, and they feel comfortable in it. You could always start with a shallow paddling pool in the garden or visit a shallow stream. This will give them a new experience and is great for playtime. Plus, it's the ideal way to cool off on a hot summer's day.

It is beneficial and strengthens your connection with your dog to explore new routes and experience different places; you can also make the most of your regular walks by making them interactive.


As well as stretching their legs and having a sniff, you could include activities such as:

  • Sitting down to watch a sunset/sunrise together

  • playing with toys

  • throw or scatter their food/treats for them to search for

  • practise tricks in the park

  • lay a treat trail for them to follow

  • encourage them to place their paws on objects (provided it's safe for them to do so)

  • Get them to walk along fallen trees (just make sure they don't fall or lose balance.)

Training to Support Your Dog's Behavioral Needs:


The mental exercise of training can be just as tiring as physical exercise for our dogs.

So, teach your dog new tricks using reward-based training. Not only will they learn new skills, but it will also help improve your relationship and boost their confidence.

You could teach your dog to:

  • Give you their paw, one at a time (or high five)

  • Do a figure of eight

  • Tidy up their toys

  • Put their paws up

  • Sit between your legs.

As well as teaching your dog tricks, you can do other basic training, including guiding them through valuable life skills such as loose-lead walking and recall. Not only is training in a positive reward-based way stimulating for your dog, but it also is fun and strengthens the relationship between you and your dog.

These are all exciting ways to liven up a walk, leaving you and your dog feeling happily rejuvenated.

Many different dog sports are available, and I encourage you to check out all the options available, including breed-specific training. You will know when you find the activity your dog feels passionate about and enjoys most.


Healing therapies - Support your Dog's Mental Health:


Many holistic enrichment therapies are available, and therapists feel passionate about treating dogs. My dogs enjoy regular massage and Reiki sessions. Our therapist, Maxine, came to us, and after only a couple of sessions, the dogs appreciated the treatments.


They communicate with Maxine well and tell her which areas of their body need attention, and my dogs' responses to the Reiki are incredible.


We had a Reiki session recently where all three dogs stretched out and fully relaxed with their eyes closed. We are offering a workshop with Maxine on Sunday, 20 August.


You can find Maxine's details here: https://www.metaxia-therapies.com.


Woody and I have also enjoyed visiting two sensory gardens recently.

The visits are dog-led and personalised to the dog's individual needs. It made me very happy to see Woody navigating through the gardens and enjoying himself very relaxed and inquisitively.




We plan to start a sensory garden in Guildford shortly; watch out for announcements on our website and social media.


Enrichment for your dog is important as it promotes emotional balance and well-being. It would be best to incorporate time to rest into your dog's daily routine to recover, decompress, consolidate, and process the different experiences.


Make sure your dog is always enjoying the activity and has the option to leave. If your dog ever shows any sign of becoming worried by something they see, hear or smell, calmly lead them away.


You should also ensure your dog is comfortable travelling in the car before heading off for an adventure in a new place.

Please sign up on our website for free resources, including some yummy dog-treat recipes and a list of useful websites that will be available soon.



166 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page